My call-to-action, this week, is simple. See color.

Hey Advocates,

This week, I went to a Barre class for the first time. A studio finally opened in my area, and I decided to go on a whim. It was so much fun, y'all. It was fun because I was greeted at the door by the instructor, who wanted to know my name, and after hearing my name, she repeated it CORRECTLY. Now, I know you are like, "Sholanda, why did you shout "correctly" like that." Well, let me stop for a second and tell you why.

Friends, I would be wealthier than the Carters and the Rockefellers combined, if I was paid for every time I said my, in my opinion, very simple name, and someone chose to call me something that didn't sound anything like what I just shared with them. Like, excuse me, who?? Were you listening to me at all? Because SHOW-LAND-UH sounds nothing like SHA-LUND-AH or Samantha, Shelandria, Shandra, Sandra, or whatever else "S" names my parents didn't give me but people wanna bestow upon me. Now, Sandras and Samanthas, my great sisters, I'm advocating for your names to be said correctly, too. Because if people hear your name when I say my name, what are they hearing when you say your name?

And you know what makes this experience worse? When people act like they didn't hear me the first time I said my name (the good ole "huh"), or they ask me to repeat myself ("Can you say it again?"), or they say, "I know your name is pretty, but I just can't remember it." Oh, but "Chloe" just rolls off the tongue so naturally? Can someone tell me why "Chloe" isn't ever mistakenly pronounced "Chlow"? Sorry, Chloes. I adore you, Girlies! My parents weren't trying to be cute or fancy. I wish they would have put an accent mark over the first "a" for a bit of razzle-dazzle. They didn't. My name is pronounced exactly how my mama and daddy spelled it. It is phonetically correct. All I want is for people to do them a solid and call me by the name they honored me with. 

Now that we have that out of the way, let me continue with this story. Okay…now, where was I? 

Yes, yes, yes, the amazing Barre instructor repeated my name correctly. Almost simultaneously, I was greeted by the receptionist who gave me my first-timer's gift. I'm feeling really good, at this time. I was greeted. I felt welcomed. I felt seen. I had my little grippy socks on, and I was ready to go. Then, there comes this woman, let's call her Christina, who thought she knew me from an earlier class. She didn't. As I stated before, It was my first time. I corrected her. She laughed. I smiled. She was probably laughing from embarrassment, a little nervousness, and maybe a hint of implicit bias shame. I was smiling at the thought of "Now, who is my doppelganger out here in these Barre streets? Sis/Twin, I hope they are calling you by your birth name, too," running through my mind. We moved on, and as we were getting ready for class, our group had a chance to warm up. Christina, seeing that I didn't know what to do next, invited me to sit next to her. I quickly realized that Christina is a true extrovert, and I would have to embrace my situational extrovertedness.

Despite her thinking, I have a clone walking around in these Barre streets, we hit it off. Christina and I lifted, tucked, pulsed, and conquered the bar. At the end of the class, we hugged and said we would be Barre buddies from here on out. I didn't go into the studio expecting to meet Christina, but I am glad that I did. Christina made me feel accepted, supported, and included. I didn't know what to expect from the class. I had only done Barre at home, and Christina made the class everything I hoped for and more than I expected. All because she was there through my leg quivers, the instructor's individual feedback, and that final sigh of accomplishment that we did that thang.

Most importantly, Christina always got my name right after hearing it. From the error of thinking I was someone else, something clicked in Christina and she intentionally made sure she saw me. I needed Christina more than she could ever know and definitely more than I knew. 

By now, you may have realized that I'm Black, and Christina is not. Earlier that same day, I had just had a conversation with a friend about needing to be cautious when I visit places. Friends, I don't know if you know this, but there are some places in the great United States of America where I and people who look like me are not welcomed, and we know it. We know it from the flags flying on the houses, the type of vehicles and the license plate designs in the driveway, the looks on the faces of the residents (grimaces on the faces, I should say), and the words said and actions taken. I do not live in a state where Black people are readily accessible. Therefore, the chances of me being the only Black person in a space is highly likely, and, for me, very uncomfortable. Not because I don't think I belong there. I think I belong in any space where my feet are placed. However, it becomes uncomfortable because I'm not made to feel welcomed there…and not for any reason other than the color of my skin.

Someone looked at me and said I was not worthy of existing in a space that likely didn't belong to them. It gets tiring, y'all. I really want to know what it feels like to wake up and just not be tired of being discriminated against. If you think I'm making a message between the lines, I am not. Let me make this very clear. I am unapologetically Black. I do not dream of being not Black. I do not wish I was never born Black. I am proud to be Black and proud of Blackness. What I want is for others to see my Blackness and to not fear my Blackness, to not hate my Blackness, to not misunderstand my Blackness, and to not judge my Blackness. And, for goodness sake, get my Black name right…the first time. 

I've learned to agree with people when they say, "I don't see color". They are not lying. They don't. These people have no idea, or maybe don't care, how much people of color have gone through, how many tears have been shed, how much blood has been lost, and how many voices have been silenced for them to haphazardly say that they don't see color. Their self-proclaimed inability to see color also renders them inappropriate and ineffective in responding to cultural differences and seeing human similarities. Thus being the reason members of historically oppressed groups 

  • Can get passed over for nominations and promotions 
  • Can do the most work and get the least amount of recognition and appreciation
  • Can be left off retiree lists or can easily be replaced, not told "Goodbye" or "Thank you for your service" or not even be given a handwritten card when they are moving to another venture
  • Can put forth 110%, and their work be credited to the person with below average-to-average performance
  • Can be seen as incompetent when they ask questions instead of having a desire to seek knowledge.

Now, if I'm going through all of this, as an adult Black woman, what are our students of color going through in our schools? I may be pessimistic, but I have zero hope that racism will go away in my lifetime. People keep saying, "Well, it's not like it used to be". That is not good enough. Why is that good enough for us? Since when is it the standard to just be better than a good two centuries ago? We are in the 21st century, and Jim Crow existed up to the early part of the 20th century, but okay with the "not like it used to be." I don't want racism to be watered down and tolerable. I want racism to be eradicated, and I think, as long as it gets passed down like a quilt or a recipe, we will continue to need transgenerational learning and healing.

In educational settings, the treatment of staff of color often mirrors the experiences of students of color. If you want to know how students of color are treated, take note of how staff of color is treated. Like the adults on campus, students of color must navigate the complexities of institutional culture, expectations, and systemic biases. Microaggressions and unique challenges impact our sense of belonging and how effective we are in our role as a staff member or as a student. Adults understand that, even if we choose not to, we can advocate for ourselves and use our voices. Students don't always realize that power or know how or when to use it effectively.

Furthermore, when students of color try to advocate for themselves, they end up being disciplined for being defiant and disrespectful. If schools want to see students of color thrive, they must first ensure that they are taking care of the staff of color. It's very important for me to state that seeing people, in spaces, who look like me doesn't make me feel immediately safe, even though it may make me feel welcomed. Representation does not equal liberation. I would feel like I'm able to be myself, when my experiences are positive and inclusive, with depth and breadth. 

If schools truly want to understand and improve the experiences for students and staff of color, here are four simple things that can be implemented:

  1. Give credit where credit is due. Stop giving kudos to the people who bring the work to the front and find out who really did the work. Most of the time it's not who is getting celebrated, promoted, or recognized. 
  2. Seek feedback and listen to our voices. We should be able to share our thoughts and experiences without fear of mockery and retribution. If you want your school to "glow up," allow authenticity, be open to criticism, and make the necessary changes. 
  3. When the few staff members of color on campus are eating lunch together or the students of color are sitting at the same table, don't make assumptions. Students of color and staff of color prefer to sit with peers who share similar backgrounds because it provides comfort and safety and also because we want to. Why do we have to explain why we want to sit together? Are all staff members being interrogated about their lunchtime preferences? Allow us to have our very short and intimate sanctuary of connection, empowerment, and belonging.
  4. It's almost shameful to add this one, but it makes us feel human. That's it. 

Staff of color and students of color deserve spaces that allow us the opportunity to grow, to explore, and to learn. Are you genuinely equipping us with the tools we need to succeed? Are you considering intersectionality in decision-making? Do you notice when you have only one person of color in a space or consider how uncomfortable that can be for us? When we are in the learning spaces, are you seeing us and all of who we are? Are we important enough that you are willing to remember our names and say our names correctly? 

There is still much work to be done. Until we get to the point where the first [insert a race of color] is no longer worth "Breaking News", we must do what we can to ensure that students of color see possibility, hope, and potential. My call-to-action, this week, is simple. See color.

Written By: Sholanda Smith, Content Creator Leading Equity Center


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