“We have a unique experience here at Amana. Our principals are 3 African American women. If this isn’t a Barack Obama moment, I don’t know what is. And they’re pouring into us. They’re saying, “I’m going to help you get to the next point.””
– Tiffany Everett, Amana Teacher
“The rules are different.”
I grew up in the projects in the southside of Chicago. There weren’t a lot of people going to college around me, so I remember it was a big deal when I was 9 or 10, when my mom went back to school.
Once my mom started college, I noticed that our life began to improve. I associated my mom’s drive for higher education with our drive to get out of that environment. When she got her certificate, we moved to a different neighborhood. When she got her Associates degree, we moved north. When she got her Bachelor’s degree, we got a car. It became so obvious to me- a higher education meant opening doors.
I remember there was this one moment after we had moved to the northside of town. I got a trade job in a metal workers program through my high school. My mom and I had gone to the grocery store one evening, and we had gotten all of our groceries and we were now standing at the checkout. Then out of nowhere, this old white lady puts her groceries in front of us, and the cashier checked her out. My mom lost it. She was going through similar challenges at work, where other people were getting promoted over her, so it all came crashing together.
At that moment, race became a thing for me. I was mad- I went to school all day, then I worked all night, and now I just wanted a couple things from the store. That’s when I realized that white people can do things that other people can’t do- the rules are different. I would never have been able to do what that white lady had done without consequences.
“Those are silhouettes.”
I first became aware of my own biases when I was in the military. I was attached to an infantry unit after 9/11 at the border of North and South Korea at the DMZ. One day I was taking water cases for soldiers, and as I looked across the border, I noticed there were people on the other side. I told one of the soldiers, “There are people on the other side.” He said, “No, they aren’t”. I looked again, and I was like, “Those are definitely people over there.” And he looked at me and said, “Those are silhouettes. They’re not people.”
That was the scariest moment of my life. I was in a war where a whole race of people was dehumanizing another race of people. In any given moment, you can take everything away from a person when you dehumanize them. This was programmed into them. “That’s a silhouette, it’s not a person”.
Dehumanize it, take it down, and move on.
“Can you read the roles for all the African American characters?”
Several years ago in New Mexico, my daughter was paraded around her school during Black History Month. They took her around the building and visited a different classroom each day to display her African heritage, and her braided, beaded hair. She was 6 at the time.
What they did to my daughter was not education. It did not bring awareness to a culture. They didn’t ask my daughter to speak. They asked her to use none of the skills she has. Parading is not educating.
Recently in my daughter’s high school Literature class, they’ve been reading ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Her teacher asked her, “Do you mind reading all the roles of the African American characters?”
Do you mind being paraded around the building to represent all the African Americans? No one person can represent everyone. We’re not all the same. We have different personalities- some of us came from affluent backgrounds, and some of us struggled for everything we had.
That 6 year old who was once paraded now at 16 had the confidence to tell her teacher, “No, I will not read all the African American characters. I want to read the lawyer’s part.” That made me very proud.
The funny thing is, you can gain intellect and accolades and the highest achievements, but unless you’re recognized as having those things, you’re just a Black person. I became louder about being African American for my daughter. I was born proud of myself, and that’s what I wanted my daughter to have.
“Even though they took us out of textbooks, they didn’t take away our greatness.”
This is the time for white people- this is their time to learn.
Even though they took us out of textbooks, they didn’t take away our greatness. We’ve always been great. I knew why the caged bird was singing when I was seven, and by the time I was 13, I could digest the color purple. I don’t need to relearn anything. This is the time for you to appreciate us and appreciate what’s always been there.
Why do we continue to have these conversations rooted in trauma and making them feel ‘less than’, stripping them of humanity, and then labeling them as a dehumanized thing just so you can make yourself feel superior?
I’m looking forward to elevating the conversation past “you used to be a slave”, because the moment you keep reminding people who they used to be, you give them permission to keep you beneath them.
I’m hoping that Amana is a place where we recognize the trauma, but we also focus on educating our kids that everyone and anyone can be something. We can all contribute to changing the world- it’s not because you’re black, white, or brown, but because you have a passion and you want to do something with it.
“I’m going to help you get to the next point.”
Once we move into suburbs, we’re isolated. It’s a lonely place, but it’s a necessary place – the only other option is poverty, or going to schools that will never prepare our children for college.
In the suburbs, you don’t have anyone but your immediate family. There isn’t a place for African American women like me who come from a different world. Once you try to drive yourself out of your previous life, you lose community. You don’t belong anymore. When you visit your family back home, they’ll tell you- “You think you know it all.” They don’t accept change. And then when you return, you realize that you weren’t trained to sound like suburban people. You weren’t born and bred with it. You’re neither here nor there.
As African American women, we don’t have people pouring into us. Either you’re going to work, or you’re going to work. People don’t look past the ‘angry Black woman’ to see your potential and pour into you – not compete with you- but pour into you.
We have a unique experience here at Amana. Our principals are 3 African American women. If this isn’t a Barack Obama moment, I don’t know what is. And they’re pouring into us. They’re saying, “I’m going to help you get to the next point.”