Dear Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) educators,

It is with love that I present this letter. We are connected within a profession we pledge to commit our lives to for the children we serve. That’s a kind of unconditional love so powerful that it cannot fully be articulated. Please receive this love letter.

Daily we walk a fine line between cultures, complicated loyalties, and nuanced survival. We contort our spines and bend our knees in search of our centers of gravity. We remind ourselves that this single wire is our economic lifeline, and in order to sustain ourselves through the day, we must sway and adjust to balance our many roles.  These maladaptive practices cause immeasurable harm across generations.

BlPOC educators, this is our time to heal.

We are underrepresented, combat racial attacks on our humanity, burdened to carry the disciplinary load, and are expected to do the heavy lifting for anti-racist work as if we are the ones that created the inequities.

We are counselors, social workers, translators, advocates, nurses, and defenders of humanity. We are storytellers, coaches, historians, and warriors fighting for kids’ safety.

We are saddled with more work as our talents, ideas, and cultures are appropriated yet the minute we say “NO,” we are labeled angry and divisive, and are dismissed.

We are everything, but cared for, nurtured, and protected.

According to Dr. Robert Berezin, “Trauma is an assault so extreme that it overrides and rewrites our established play of consciousness.” (From “Trauma Outpaces Our Ability to Adapt,” Psychology Today, Sept. 15, 2015).

Racialized trauma lives within us all and to endure this violence, we have had to arm ourselves with different methods of survival.

If you’ve exceptionalized yourself because of your class privilege, status, or education, while distancing yourself from your roots, ask yourself why.  If you’ve echoed the statement, “As long as my family is taken care of, then it doesn’t affect me,” or argued that all lives matter while disparaging the strategies of the Black Lives Matter Movement, again why?  Have you felt the need to justify why BIPOC are angry and plead with white folx to acknowledge our pain?  Have you tone policed yourself when talking about race?  Have you made excuses for individuals and institutions based on their intentions instead of their impact on BIPOC? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it’s time to work on healing. 

Race-based traumatic stress has been passed on through generations and transcends our attempts to armor ourselves and protect our children.  These unhealthy coping mechanisms are chipping away at our very being and require us to periodically engage in what author and organizer Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price calls, “an internalized racial oppression colonoscopy.”

In James Baldwin’s 1963 book, The Fire Next Time,  he writes,  “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

It is reckless to continue as we have without first tending to our wounds. We must reject internalized sentiments of white supremacy in the way we operate. Our lessons must not center around devaluing one’s own cultural capital, teaching the art of code-switching, and assimilation because we are scared to remove “masks” forced on us to perpetuate systems of racial oppression.

Baldwin also observed, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

Kids are observant. If they see us adjusting for the white gaze, then that is the lesson they will internalize. Culturally responsive educators know who they are; intelligent, creative, resilient folx, our histories intertwined and liberations rooted in Black resistance. With great intentionality, we must represent our authentic selves to students so that they too feel safe and proud being their genuine selves. Our fight is being healthy, embracing our complexities, and unpacking the truth about our nation we love so dearly yet has not loved us in return.  We have the power to refill our tanks with radical love to support young folx who will continue the struggle for social justice with their crowns held high.

Healing is hard work.

We must first let go of the trauma that has chipped away at the lifespan and humanity of our ancestors, ourselves, and future generations.  Grieve all that has been stolen attempting to navigate spaces that were never designed with us in mind. Understand that healing is a lifetime and formulate a plan that includes safe spaces to unpack our experiences. Find communities rooted in love, truth, and support to nourish our spiritual, physical, and intellectual selves.

Liberation is breaking the cycle of internalized racial oppression and generational trauma through radical self-love.   

Unapologetically prioritize our cultures, histories, and needs.  BIPOC educators believe Black excellence, breathe Black excellence, build lessons to teach Black excellence, and learn from Black excellence to cultivate the next generation of social justice leaders.     

Raquel James Goodman, NJEA member

Raquel James Goodman is the author of “Student Voices Lead Black Lives Matter at Schools Week in Hackensack,” which appeared in the April 2020 edition of the NJEA Review.