I go back to work tomorrow, and while I’ve been trying to ignore it, it catches my eye all the time.
The suit of armor is just sitting in the corner, a dull glint shining off of it. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the full armor many people of color have to wear whenever we go into the workplace. We wear it to protect ourselves from the daily onslaught of microaggressions, questions about our cultures, and offensive remarks made with “good” intentions. Vanilla Lattes never see it, but we have it on. They call it a “thick skin,” but my skin has been cut so many times that I had to upgrade. It wasn’t by choice. Many people of color will tell you that it took them years to develop their armor. All the while, it was getting dinged and battered by those around them.
Tomorrow, I have to lug that suit of armor out of the corner and put it back on.
I’m dreading it.
For a week, I’ve been able to wear the lightest armor. Maybe what would amount to a life-jacket. And, I’ve chosen when and where to wear it. If I was feeling drained, I just left it all heaped on the floor while I watched Cool Runnings on Netflix. It has felt like such a luxury to decide if I want to wear it or not.
As that luxury runs out, I find myself simultaneously trying to work up the emotional strength to get that armor on, and trying to ignore it and just get the most out of the unarmored time I have left. It’s a bit of a balancing act. I don’t want to feel caught off-guard when my alarm goes off tomorrow. I also don’t want this stupid armor to consume my entire Sunday.
It’s not that I don’t want to go back to my classroom tomorrow. Actually, if it was just me in my classroom with my students all day, I’d even consider leaving the armor at home. It’s the little interactions with other staff members or administrators that I need the armor for. They happen in five-minute increments, and if I didn’t have the armor on, I’d be covered in scratches and bruises by lunchtime.
When our counselor says, “Honestly, I think I’m tired because I’ve been focusing so much on our Latino students. It’s so hard, you know?”
When our vice principal says, “We have removed all information about our Latino Parent Nights from our website,” in response to what our school’s plan was to protect our Latino students/families from possible ICE raids.
When that same administrator asks me to present at a conference with her, and before I can even get excited, she says, “I want to tell them about how you’ve been my color buddy and about how far we’ve both come!”
That’s why I wear the armor. So why even bother going in, you might wonder?
Because if my armor is taking this sort of hit, just imagine what my students of color are experiencing. I had a student come up to me the week before break, and he told me that a teacher had told him to “go back to his country,” after he had asserted the fact that he was indeed Mexican, not just American.
I remember flinching, just imagining how that must have felt smacking against his tiny metal breastplate. I remember him shrugging it off, and already, I could see that his armor was well-worn.
No student should have to wear a suit of armor to school. No child should be subjected to those kinds of hits and dings that will show on their armor for the rest of their lives.
So, tomorrow, I will sigh (probably dramatically) when my alarm goes off and I will pull that heavy armor on because I need to do everything I can to protect my students from the swords of ignorance. If I can block a few blows, then it’s worth it.
Until then, I’m going to do my best to avoid the Sunday funk I have found myself in because of this armor I’m forced to wear. I’m going to paint my nails, I’m going to do the mini crossword on the New York Times, and I’m going to watch the entire second season of The Great British Baking Show. I need to do the things that bring me joy. I need to cling to this feeling of luxury.
Because tomorrow, the battle starts all over again.