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I was on a Black Writers’ Zoom with three other Black female educators recently. We were reflecting on the impact of Trevor Noah’s farewell speech. In Trevor Noah’s farewell speech on his final episode of The Daily Show, he offered a self-proclaimed “random for some but special shoutout to Black women.” This “random” shoutout affected so many Black women.
The four of us Black women in education discussed how this speech reiterated our passion for education and emphasized the impact of Black women in education. We felt tremendous power in Noah’s words. With unadulterated, unfiltered, and unapologetic emotion as well as “matter of fact” no-nonsense honesty, he acknowledged, honored, revered, and elevated Black women.
Noah’s heartfelt words gave us an immeasurable sense of pride. We all marveled at how beautiful it was to see Black women continue to be a theme in Noah’s life. As Black women in education, we understand the importance of representation. Not only Black students but all students can have a transformative educational experience with a Black woman as their teacher.
Learning from a Black Teacher is a Unique Experience
Noah continued his speech with the following: “I’ve often been credited with having these grand ideas where people are like, ‘Oh Trevor, you’re so smart.’ And then I’m like, ‘Who do you think teaches me?’” Noah began. “Who do you think has shaped me, nourished me, informed me? From my mom, my grand, my aunt, all these women in my life. But then in America as well, I always tell people if you truly want to learn about America, talk to Black women.”
As a woman and Black educator, these words resonated with me on many levels. I thought about the importance of representation of Black women in the media. I thought about the importance of representation of Black women in America. I thought about the importance of representation of Black women in education.
On a personal level, I thought about the importance of showing up with my authentic self as a Black woman in my classroom. I thought about how much I also learned from my grandmother, my mother, and my aunts and how I strive to teach my students similar lessons. I also hope to not only teach but “shape, nourish and inform.” Like Noah, I, too, have been credited with being “smart” and having “grand ideas.” I can also directly attribute this to having strong Black women as examples in my life. I strive to be the same for my students.
“As a Black woman in education, I have the ability to teach things that were not always afforded to Black people in America.” Trevor Noah’s Farewell Speech Was an Ode to Black Women in Education Click To Tweet
The Struggle for Black Women in America is Real
“Unlike everybody else, Black women cannot afford to fuck around and find out. Black people understand how hard it is when things go bad, especially in America. But any place where Black people exist, whether it’s Brazil, whether it’s South Africa, wherever it is. When things go bad, Black people know that it gets worse for them. But Black women, in particular, they know what shit is genuinely.”
Again, I looked at this quote through the lens of both a Black woman and a Black teacher. Black women who are teachers face more adversity than we often care to admit. The system of education has so much “shit” going on that affects people of color. My Black students are always also at the forefront of my mind. Black students face so much trauma in this broken system, but their health and wellness are often put aside in the name of the so-often-talked-about efforts to close the achievement gap.
When people talk about how “bad” education is, I wonder if they think about how much “worse” it is for people of color, specifically Black people and Black women. As Trevor Noah’s words imply, Black women’s experiences in education are often exacerbated by our multiple marginalized identities. The experiences I have had being stereotyped, prejudged, and a victim of microaggressions help to shape my persistence, passion, and purpose I bring to teaching. As a result, I can relate to all of my students who have shared that they have had similar experiences themselves.
Black Women in Education Represent the Power of Education
“I’ll tell you now, do yourself a favor: you truly want to know what to do or how to do it or maybe the best way or the most equitable way—talk to Black women. They’re a lot of the reason I am here, and I’m so grateful for them.”
I am a teacher for so many reasons, but one is to show all students the power of education. As a Black woman in education, I must continually be mindful of who is watching me. I know that not only Black girls are watching and learning from me, but also non-Black students who may be having their first, and possibly only, direct exposure to a Black woman and all that I bring to the table. They are learning the curriculum and also learning from things I share from my past, my upbringing, and my experiences from my life as a Black woman in America.
Through vulnerability and honesty, I strive to demonstrate the humanity in us all and expose them to the complexity of being a Black woman in America: the good and the bad. I share stories from my past, reflect on lessons learned, and join them as they attempt to make sense of so much of the uncertainty of this world. I talk about racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination that all of my students, regardless of their cultures and backgrounds, can relate to. I honor their traumas as we work through our collective journey through this post-pandemic world together.
As a Black woman in education, I have the ability to teach things that were not always afforded to Black people in America: to have a voice, to affect change, or even to read. When I stand in front of that classroom, I know there may be not only Black girls but non-Black students who see themselves in me. They see my struggle as well as my success. They can learn how to turn a testimony into triumph. And like those who influenced Trevor Noah the most, they can see the phenomenal, positive, and purpose-filled impact Black women in education can have on someone’s life.
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