As if the Equity Retreat Disaster of 2017 (its official name from here on out) wasn’t bad enough, I hear through the grapevine that my Uber Vanilla Latte VP said I scare her. And no, it wasn’t because of my sheer awesomeness.
In fact, it was for no reason at all. She just mentioned to coworkers of mine that I scare her. When one of my colleagues asked her to elaborate, she apparently tried to backtrack and said, “Well, I mean, she does scare me, but I guess you could say she intimidates me.”
Yep, that take was better. Not.
What’s weird is that I’m not totally surprised. I mean, I’m surprised that she would tell my coworkers behind my back at a supposed equity retreat (I mean, I could use this example to teach irony to my students) and then think that it wouldn’t get back to me.
What doesn’t surprise me is that she is completely oblivious to the staggering levels of privilege it takes to say something like that, and how it totally cements her place at exactly Step Zero of equity work. Let’s break it down, piece by privileged piece:
- It is a total abuse of her position of power to say that to people that she is technically the boss of.
- Let’s not forget the power dynamics between a white person and a person of color. It’s already there. But to make the divide even deeper by pushing forward that people of color are somehow threatening at a place of employment with zero evidence? That’s inexcusable. I’m scary simply because I’m brown.
- Also, because she is technically my boss, I cannot confront her without a) being insubordinate and b) just reinforcing her perception of me as some terrifying brown person. Pretty much, because she’s my boss, she’s able to say this and not fear (ha, pun not intended) any sort of consequence. At least, not from me.
So there I was, listening to my coworker recount this story, and she finishes it with, “if I were you, I’d be careful. Like, more careful than you already are.”
I’m not going to lie. I wish I could say that I shrugged my shoulders that instant and said something along the lines of, “She wants scary? I’ll show her scary!” and had suddenly grown giant and green, tearing down the hallways smashing lockers and tearing student work into confetti.
But alas, I stood there, brown and short, with the only thing being torn down being my dignity and sense of safety at my own school.
I spent the whole day processing the idea that I had somehow come across as a threat to my administrator. I know that we don’t get along super well. I’ve noticed that she literally avoids me in the halls, and she tends to go to my teaching partner with any questions about language arts. But I never thought it was because I actually, truly, scared her.
For a moment, I tried to figure out what I had done to make her feel afraid of me, and what I could do to make it better.
But let me tell you: I snapped outta that one real quick. Why? Because while she thinks I’m scary, I know that I have done nothing to deserve that title. All I have is my skin. I don’t have to do anything to assuage her fear. In fact, I refuse to do so.
She, on the other hand, has a ton of work to do. Her fear of me simply because I am different from her is something that she has to overcome. It’s completely up to her to navigate the forest that is white privilege, fragility, and stereotypes in order to see me as a person. It is up to her to want to get to know me as not the “angry Latina,” that, in her eyes, has a propensity for calling her out when she says ignorant garbage that could really hurt our kids or their families. (i.e., saying that some kids “believe” they can do advanced math more than others, or saying that we should all wear soccer jerseys to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month, or being scared that one of our trans students may “scare” some of the other kids, etc.).
If she knew me, she’d know that my comments came from a place of deep compassion, and from a teacher who wants to figure out what our roles are in allowing every student to feel welcome and able to succeed in our school. Terrifying, I know. What she doesn’t know is that I question myself and my practice all the time in the same way. She thinks I’m singling her out when I’m just holding her to the same standard as anyone else. She just takes it to a personal, prejudiced, and privileged level.
Basically, she has to get the hell over herself, check her privilege, and get to know me.
Because I know I’m not scary. I know I’m a damn good teacher that has her students’ best interest at heart. I know that I speak directly, and passionately about what I think is best for these kids. And I’m not going to apologize for that. Nor will I try to soften my tone or question her in a more pleasant tone. Not for her. Not so that her fragile Vanilla Latte skin stays intact while she continues to fear me for mine.
So, while she works on that, I’m going to continue being the best Mocha teacher I can be. I may have to wear my armor extra tight for a while, but I’m not going to leave the fight.