One Brown Face
My sons’ school is an oasis in the public school system. The environment is rich for learning and full of teachers whose curiosity about the world shines through every single day. Our current school board, the same one responsible for the U.S. Department of Education investigating segregationist activities here in Wake County, North Carolina, has a twisted perspective of education and student achievement. Their irresponsible and reprehensible antics just might dismantle my sons’ school. Their proposals will resegregate our county’s schools, in effect making my sons among the only few brown faces in their school. I know firsthand how damaging it can be to grow up in a world where you are mocked for being different.
It started in Mrs. O’Neal’s class in first grade. We were talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Being an ambitious young girl, I confidently remarked that I wanted to be President. My teacher sternly stared at me and snapped, “You can never be President. You were not born in America. Pick something else.” I was heartbroken, not having known about the 14th Amendment at the tender age of six. That teacher called me out in a demeaning, not nurturing, way. My classmates got further fodder to see me as different. They all snickered at my expense, not even fully understanding what was happening.
Such experiences peppered my school days. I used to throw away my lunch and go hungry to avoid being teased when my dad packed me leftover Tandoori chicken. I tried lying, claiming it was barbecue chicken, but the whole table of kids sneered at its orange color. My parents, both well educated professionals, spoke with an accent. They spoke to us in our native language, Bengali. After enduring much teasing for that, I started responding in English and gave up my mother tongue. I can barely understand Bengali now and know only a few words to teach to my sons. This is one of my life’s biggest regrets.
I recently dug up a photo of my high school graduating class. We were a small bunch of maybe 50 kids. We were beaming, boys in navy blazers and girls in pristine white dresses. That wasn't the only white in the photo. My five year old son commented that mine was the only brown face in the picture. It was a black and white photo so the contrast was even more vivid.Continued on the next page