This skin I’m in;
this hair I wear;
the style in my dress;
my words so sage always feeling like I’m on stage;
But have you heard my heart, my passion for this work?
Have you seen me in the morning greeting students and families at the door?
Have you seen me take a walk with and refocus a student who just overturned a desk in frustration?
Have you seen me laugh and joke with a student talking about their day?
Have you seen me reassure a hungry student in the morning while making sure they eat?
Have you seen me welcome a new family in May and their nervous child who speaks no English?
Have you seen the excitement when I visit an in-person classroom?
Have you heard me advocate for students, hotspots, Chromebooks, buying from vendors of color, hiring staff of color? Have you heard me speak Spanish to calm a parent in distress?
Have you heard me give feedback to teachers that has been used and improved?
Have you seen when I provide space for staff to process what they’re going through personally?
Have you seen me planning faculty meeting professional development with my team?
Have you seen me receive difficult feedback that I’ve used and improved?
If your answer to these questions is no, then a “compliment” on my appearance is not only unnecessary, but also a microagression. Sure on the surface, it would seem that this is an innocent compliment intended be “nice.” But when a comment like this is delivered out of context, coming from someone with whom there is no relationship with its recipient, in the middle of a meeting, served up to the first and only black female principal in a small school district, it appears that she is being seen for superficial reasons.
I have been the only Black person, Black woman, person of color, in so many spaces throughout my years in education. I am not surprised, nor am I naive about the fact that microaggressions are an unfortunate byproduct of a lack of exposure, experience, and knowledge gap for many educators in our school districts. In this scenario presented, there were several other microaggressions thrust at me regarding to my writing, labeled as “well-crafted;” and my knowledge about a certain student demographic. Labeling my writing as “well-crafted” in and by itself in the context of a course or the process of writing a speech may not be seen as anything negative. However, when it is spoken of in a meeting with other school leaders spoken in the third person of the only black school leader in the room, and the mentioning of it is not germane to the discussion, it is most certainly a microaggression. Microaggressions can be so difficult to uncover sometimes. They often make those of us who are subjected to them have to do a double take. “Wait, did she just say that? Did he do what I think he just did?” People of color sometimes may ask themselves these types of questions when the subtleties of bias and racism creep into our workplaces and social lives. I am not sitting around waiting for these microaggressions to surface. I am not keeping a tab (that would usurp quite a bit of time). At the same time, I am not necessarily surprised when they come. The difference for me now as opposed to years ago is that I not only recognize them faster, but I am learning to address them as close to when they happen as possible, which I was able to do in this situation relatively quickly. However, confronting someone’s microagressions towards you is never easy; it is not for the faint of heart. Furthermore, the ability to address microaggressions in a public setting, as a leader, as a black female in school leadership, is even more complex and in some cases, a risk.
I never once thought that being a black woman in the principal’s seat would be a walk in the park. The principalship alone has its complexities which have been multiplied and amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a Black woman in educational leadership, having to dodge microaggressions from a predominately white teaching staff adds a whole other layer of obstacles to overcome on the way to doing the real work of educating our future. Do know that I am not saying that microaggresions are a part of my everyday experience or that they are projected from all those who are part of the dominant culture. However, because of the deeply rooted nature of institutional racism, implicit bias, and knowledge gaps about minoritized populations, comments, and actions that are focused on who a person is, what they look like, and what they do or don’t do are much more likely to rise to the surface. It is never easy to address what can sometimes be hurtful, disparaging, or demoralizing comments towards leaders of color. I continue to learn about how to do this in a way that not only honors me, but also, as I heard at a workshop, draws people to you rather than pushes them away.
So, the moral of the story is yes, my hair is beautiful! I love that I can rock many styles! And, I’m even glad you noticed! But rather it might behoove you to focus on learning about me through the work I do, rather than what I look like.