“Now be very careful and vigilant when you enter these schools because there might be a shooting or something.” These were the words uttered by my English teacher while she was giving us tips before we started tutoring at our respective schools in the nearby area. Shootings? Really? I knew that Cincinnati is a city notorious for crime but dramatically telling her students that there might be shootings at the elementary schools that most of us decided to tutor at I thought was a bit extreme. And of course, me not being able to take off my feminist/social activist hat thought that it was just not just a coincidence that these schools we were going to tutor at were majority black. A wave of annoyance, frustration and anger began to develop in my stomach. While writing this post my blood is starting to boil again. So you are saying that because these schools are “inner-city” that they are automatically unsafe and ghetto? My teacher was completely unaware of what she was implying and for that I felt sorry for her but also upset that she was so unaware. I don’t know how much it helps that my teacher is white, but then again there is something I learned about called white privilege. Because I was about to enter a warzone once every week to lend my services to delinquent children, I had to prepare myself for this violence I was about to witness and make sure that I knew where the nearest exit was.
Unfortunately, there was nothing I could have done to prepare me for what I was going to witness on that fateful Wednesday morning. I think I should put this whole situation into context and mention that I have only been in the US for a little over a year. I am originally from the Bahamas, a small island archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean. We are a majority black country so as you could imagine, there was culture shock just from seeing people every day. However, before coming to America, I never noticed this or paid much attention. Never before in my life had I had to constantly remind myself of my skin color because I would be judged solely off of it. Oh, yeah, and that I am a woman. Wow, did I underestimate this. It’s a cold Wednesday morning bright and early around 8:30AM. I just stepped off of the van and entered into the high school that would become my new school. Never had I been in an American high school before and so I had no idea what to expect. High schools back home aren’t as fancy and modern as the schools here and so that took some getting used to. I enter the building and the first thing I see are metal detectors by the doors. Yes, I did say metal detectors. Our supervisor, whilst giving us the tour, tells us that the bathrooms are locked at the beginning and end of each period so the students would have to get permission from the security officers in order to use them during those times. There are security officers almost around every corner. The wave of emotions that came over me I cannot put into words. After looking back on it, I realized that I was extremely close to having a nervous breakdown. It was terrifying. As we are walking down the halls, I witness a few boys are being chastised by their teacher who seems to have no idea how to handle them. I think that it is relevant here that I mention that he is white. Actually, most of the teachers are white at this school. I was the only black tutor out of our group of six and this realization really bothered me.
I think this entire experience was so moving to me because I am accustomed to something completely opposite. Growing up, most of my teachers looked like me and none of us were never automatically categorized as delinquent, deviant children. This is what I got as the perception of all the children at these inner-city schools and it didn’t help that the majority of them are black. It didn’t help that the educated college students who came to help them mostly didn’t look like them either.
After first visiting this school and having my eyes opened even more, my first impulse was to try and do something. I thought about the action research that I learned about in WILL. I wasn’t sure how to approach the situation. I know that the most I could relate to these children is through skin color but that’s about it. I feel completely helpless. Being so emotional about the issue doesn’t cause me to think rationally. It bothers me that this flies over so many people’s heads. It also bothers me that many of those who are made aware either deny it or never acknowledge its existence. I have a deep urge to do something whether it is some kind of social experiment that makes people aware or just letting people know about the realities of the society we live in. This experience and many of the other experiences I have had so far in the United States has confirmed where I will settle down in the future-not in America. Sorry America, I literally will drive myself crazy if I stayed here knowing that I can live somewhere where I wouldn’t be treated as a second class citizen.
Mica Cunningham is a first-year WILLer and a sophomore majoring in Chemistry.