Like many people, I did not enjoy my high school experience. I wasn’t popular, I didn’t know what to do with my dry curls and my teachers treated me horribly. This treatment went on for four years and it wasn’t until after I graduated that I realized that this unfair treatment was solely due to the colour of my skin.
My first class of Grade 9 was an all-girls gym class. Being someone who doesn’t thrive in athletic environments I walked in very nervous, but was pleasantly greeted by one of my friends and one of the few other Black students at my high school. We nervously stood together during attendance and partnered up for our first exercise. Maybe 10 minutes into the class our gym teacher, a middle-aged white woman, walked up to us and asked if we were sisters. Excuse me? Sisters? This woman had just completed the attendance and knew we had different last names, we looked completely different and also what?! This was the start of a horrific term with our gym teacher who never learned to tell my friend and I apart.
I took Grade 11 physics. This was a bad idea for multiple reasons. I quickly learned that I despise physics and my teacher was racist, I mean incredibly racist. Despite not liking physics I worked very hard to maintain a good grade. I got a tutor and put in extra hours after school to keep up a grade I was satisfied with. I did decently well on my first test and was on my way out of the classroom when my teacher, a white middle-aged man, stopped me and said, “You did surprisingly well on your test. I had to grade it twice because I thought I made a mistake.” Not sure how to handle the situation, all 16-year-old me could say was, “Thank-you.” This treatment went on for far too long and eventually my mother sent him an email to address the situation. Nervous about what he would say or how he would treat me, I tried to slip out of class as quickly as I could. Once again, he stopped me with an overly enthusiastic look on his face and said, “Your mom has a PhD! I wasn’t expecting that!” Of course you weren’t expecting that. You likely think all your Black students live in homes with parents who don’t encourage academics and don’t have a post-secondary education themselves. Even if that was the case, that does not excuse the treatment I received and I wish so desperately now that I had taken these incidents to the school board.
I occasionally flip through my grade 12 yearbook and each time I do my brown skin and weave become more prominent in a sea of pale complexions and blonde hair. Being the only Black person in the room was and isn’t anything new to me. My mother, who is also white, tried very hard to raise me with the idea that I am no different to everyone else. But I am. People see and treat me differently due to the colour of my skin. Had I known this, maybe I would have been more prepared for the racist treatment I received from my high school teachers.