September 23, 2020.
This date remains etched in the minds of the Black community.
This is the date that the killers of Breonna Taylor were not charged for murdering her in her home.
Eerily, September 23, 1955, is also the day Emmitt Till’s murderers were acquitted of his torturous death. As I walked into my school building this morning I was beyond exhausted. Not the type of physical exhaustion that results from a lack of sleep but mental exhaustion. I knew that once I entered my campus I would have to wear a mask (literally and figuratively). It is not enough that we have to “mask up” due to COVID-19 and this ongoing pandemic. Black people are unfortunately used to having to “mask up” even pre-COVID. Paul Laurence Dunbar said it best in his poem, We Wear the Mask:
Black staff always have to wear a mask. We must smile through daily microaggressions and slights from coworkers and administrators. We must “push through” when our voices are dismissed in meetings or our work is second-guessed. We must grin and bear the “Karens” that walk our campuses ready to report any little thing that ruffles their feathers. We Wear the Mask. And today I didn’t want to wear a mask. However, I knew that when I walked into my school I would have to pretend that I was not hurt, sad, broken, and angry about another injustice against Black lives. Another reminder that #AllLivesMatter is a lie because if this country truly valued our lives as much as they do White bodies, we would see justice. I knew that some coworkers weren’t awake most of the night with the news like we were.
I knew that some had the privilege to change the news channel from the protests or log out of their Facebook…because they were tired of seeing Black people speak of their anguish. I knew that some of our faculty and staff were completely unaware that any of this was even happening. So, what do Black staff have to do? We must wear a mask. We are alone in our pain. We can’t speak of it at work because others don’t understand our heartbreak over Black lives that we don’t know personally. We know they don’t understand that we are a collective people and when one of us hurts- ALL OF US HURT. And that is the empathy we wish America had for us all.
So, we go about our workday teaching and leading while periodically stopping to mourn. We mourn during our planning period when we are alone with our thoughts. We mourn as we walk to the teachers’ lounge knowing we must muster up a greeting, or pretend to be unaffected to unsuspecting coworkers.
This act that we must play is especially draining and anger-inducing. There is a privilege of ignoring or not having to address lives being taken every month. As a Black staff, we feel the weight of that unfairness as we watch our community dwindle due to these injustices. We must also hold the pain of watching others justify why our lives should have been taken.
This is especially hurtful because we know that we can have pristine records, ivy league educations, and the patience of Job and still be murdered by racism and White supremacy.
So how can you help support your Black staff?
Send an email of support to Black staff to let them know that you are thinking of them and holding space for them
Acknowledge the pain
Offer coverage for mental breaks
Pop into their classes and just ask if they’re ok
Create an affinity space (before or after school) where staff have a safe place to process and decompress
#SayHerName & #SayHisName while acknowledging the news
Stay abreast of current news and societal happenings that affect your staff (especially demographics that are disproportionately affected)
Know that behind our grind, our smiles, and our work we are having to also navigate the very real reality that our lives could be taken without consequence. Understand the repeated trauma of the Black community has to watch death on video week after week. Month after month. And see the vicious cycle of acquittals and wrongful death settlements. While school is a place where we prioritize students and instructional needs, know that your staff is people first and these unfortunate happenings affect them.
Hold space for your Black staff.
Acknowledge the struggle.
Because we wear a mask.
And between COVID and racism…we can’t catch a break.
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
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