Voices of #PhysEd: Not “Black” Enough?

I have always been aware of my race. I was made to be. Growing up in a predominately black area it was obvious that I didn’t fit the black ‘stereotype’.

Promoting stereotypes is never a productive practice. They limit potential and label unnecessarily. The people who hype the black stereotype are the same people who scoff at being labeled in the first place = my classmates, my “friends”.

See I played baseball, hung out with my white baseball friends, and included white females into my friend circle. None of that sat well with my black peers. Many labeled me as being not “black enough”. My parents stressed ignoring these people because I was a great person who never saw race as a reason to not include others.

M4034S-4211The criticism never caused me to change my behavior. But I did have inaudible resentment. This bitterness caused so much pain, yet no one ever knew. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just like what I like and still be black. I have extreme pride in the fact my parents grew up as a part of the inner city culture of Washington, DC. I love how my knowledge of black history was built by trips to the museums and daily facts about famous black trailblazers.

However because I liked different things I wasn’t accepted.  Not being “black enough” created extreme insecurities that I still struggle with to this very day.

I came to grips with the complexity of my issue during one of the most influential experiences of my life. At the beginning of my sophomore year of college I received my first student teaching experience at the lower school of a local independent K-12 school. One of my classmates warned that kids that I would be teaching were rich, spoiled kids. Upon further research of the school, the school demographics were 99% Caucasian. I felt the familiar uneasiness begin to set in. My race would put me in the extreme minority around these kids. Had they even had a black teacher before? What would their parents think?

My past created tremendous sensitivity to my race and how I acted around both black and white populations. I didn’t know who would accept me. I struggled to think of a reason why they would acceptM4034S-4211 a person his own race didn’t accept.

The student teaching experience was life changing. The apprehension lasted maybe three days. It became clear very quickly these kids could have cared less about my race. The students knew I cared. They knew I took an interest in them. Teachers praised how the students gravitated toward me and complained when I wasn’t there. Parents invited me to baseball and soccer games. I even became the unofficial go-to babysitter for one of my fourth grade families.

In the lower school, there were only four black students. I understood my significance to those individuals. It was important for them to have someone who looked like them in a caring, successful position in their lives. But I am going to go a different way with this thought. Maybe it stems from the resentment of my youth but I have always shied away from this blanket statement:

“You need to be a strong black male role model for the young black kids to see.”

That’s it? That’s all I need to be? A “black role model”? Is this the same “black” that I didn’t measure up to as a kid?

I am a role model who just happens to be black.

It is important for my black students to know they are “black” only in skin color, not in the stereotypical box some try to fit you in. It is important for my Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian kids to know that “black” isn’t what you are constantly bombarded with from the media and entertainment industry.

Skin color doesn’t make the person, the way they live their life does. That is a message that I will continue to pass to my students…all of my students.

5 Comments on “Voices of #PhysEd: Not “Black” Enough?

  1. Thanks for your honest comments, Jonathan. It helps to illustrate the complexity of race in this country. I can’t speak for other racial groups, but as a black person I’ve witnesssed our conflict–deep pride as well as self-hatred. There’s joy when we excel, but there’s also jealousy and anger from those who are still waiting for their big chance. In our history, we’ve gone from a singular experience (slave) to a plethora of experiences (laborer, professional, president). People who say you’re not black enough are limiting blackness to their experience. Someone once asked me to prove that I was black. Apparently he was waiting for me to describe an experience like his. He was looking for some stereotype. Like you, Jonathan, I know who I am and I refuse to be limited by others’ narrow view of blackness.

  2. Thank you, Jonathan, for broaching what often feels like the unutterable. We’re black so that means ascribing to a whole bunch of spoken and unspoken expectations from all sides, right? No. Not right as you illustrate so clearly here. No, you don’t have to take on others’ expectations, stereotypes, and narrow ideas of what it means to be black. We are all always more than a slice of our identity throughout our lives and it is our charge as individuals to dare to be all of those things in the spaces we inhabit. I am black and female, a parent and an educator and writer and an American who lives in Austria. All of those pieces make up who I am as a teacher. I bring all of those aspects of my identity to my teaching and know that my students and colleagues are all the better for it as it also encourages them to do the same.

    I can only echo what Susan comments above: people are looking for experiences which confirm their own. They and we want to see the world not always as it is, rather as they and we are. Breaking out of the mold, doing and being different from what others expect strikes me as a healthy way to lead a life. Being all of who you are and modeling that commitment may be the greatest gift you can offer the world around you: family, students, colleagues, community.
    Thank you again for welcoming us into your unique experience.

  3. Pingback: The PE Playbook – April 15 Edition | drowningintheshallow

  4. Thank you Jonathan 🎶👌🏾👌🏻👌🏽🎶

    Growing, up in the military family I understand.
    I have a blended Family🎶👼🏾👼🏼🎶😂
    We will be celebrating 65 Years Family Reuion come July 4, 2016🙏🏾

    Very well written ,would like to see more.
    May God continue to use YOU!!!🎶👼🏾👼🏼🎶
    I was captivated by it!!! 😉
    A wealth of Good information🤔

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