My friend Jaime Casap posted the following tweet-thread yesterday:
1/15 One experience of a brown-skinned person, a long thread.— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
I’ve been reflecting on something that happened yesterday; thinking about how to communicate the experience, not as a complaint, but rather as a way to share some perspective...
2/15 ...on what it’s like to be a person of color in America. I spoke at a conference in Breckenridge CO yesterday. I got there by driving a rental car from DEN to Breckenridge. I had never been and was in awe of the scenery.— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
3/15 On the way back, I had five hours to drive to the airport. As like three of you know, I recently launched a YouTube channel, and I had been shooting a new video this week. The background in CO was too good to pass up and I was scanning locations as...— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
4/15 ...I did on the way to Breckenridge the day before. I saw this background about an hour outside Breckenridge and wanted to pull off the road and film/take pictures. I pulled into a parking lot and took out my bag, tripod, gimbal, and camera (I travel with my studio.)— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
5/15 I found the perfect spot and filmed a few takes, took some pictures, and walked around. I was in this park (I think it was a park) for 45 minutes or so. As I am doing this (the parking lot was visible to me the entire time,) I see a police car roll into the lot.— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
6/15 The police car stopped, parallel to the parking spots, with its engine running and just sat there. I believe there were two officers in the vehicle. I kept taking my pictures, wondering what they were doing there and keeping them in my line of sight the whole time.— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
7/15 As I walked back to my rental, I turned on my little video camera and was able to capture these frames (see photos.)— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
I got back to my car, nervously packed up my bags, making sure to move slowly and avoiding holding anything small or black in my hand.
8/15 I was already nervous that I had a small camera in my hand and moved it slowly. I jumped into the car and drove away.) The police officers didn’t approach me. They didn’t say anything to me. Nothing happened.— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
9/15 In my head, I had lots of questions. I am wondering, was I in the most dangerous part of CO and those nice officers could tell I wasn’t from around there and so wanted to watch over me to make sure I was OK? Did someone driving by call the police...— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
10/15 ...to tell them that I was doing something illegal? Did someone driving by call the police because they saw a “strange brown fellow with black bags and equipment doing something in the park” and it made them nervous?— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
11/15 Did one of the cops recognize me as they were driving by because they subscribe to my channel? Did the police officers notice me and my equipment and were curious about what I was doing? And that is the point of this thread. I don’t know. People of color rarely do.— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
12/15 It’s never as clear as the narrative suggests it is. It’s not the one person calling the other person a name caught on video, or the President telling a group of brown and black-skinned people to go back to their country. It’s usually like this. You don’t know...— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
13/15 ...and don’t want to assume the worst. You’re nervous during the experience. You feel like you did something wrong. You feel guilty. All you want to do is get out of there. You fumble about, praying you don’t hear the door open, and if it does...— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
14/15 ...you pray you make the right moves and keep a cool head. That might be the hardest part because you know you are an American. You know you have the right to go where you want. You know you’re not guilty of anything. You know you shouldn’t be nervous or feel guilty...— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
15/15 ...and you start getting upset and frustrated. So you hope you can get out of the situation, and the whole time, you wish they just pulled into the lot because they are big fans of your YouTube channel and are sitting in the car, nervous to ask to take a selfie with you… pic.twitter.com/3qCIZKYqP9— Jaime Casap (@jcasap) July 27, 2019
And yes, if you are a person of color, this thread was probably not at all shocking to you. But for many white people who are able to spend their lives not thinking about being white in most if not all spaces, it can be very jarring to read. For me, as someone who lives and works in a very diverse community, it is still jarring to read, in no small part because Jaime is a dear friend and someone who, in most of the social situations where we are together, he is very confident and the notion that Jaime could be made to feel that way is a deep and profound reminder of the challenges that people of color face in America.
But it also got me to thinking about the students of color in our classes – especially in our classes taught by white teachers or in schools that have a significant white population. Although, even as I type this, I think it’s important to understand that this probably has ramifications for students of color in most, if not all schools because the overwhelming number of our schools in this country are implicitly – if not explicitly – part of the dominant paradigm of our nation.
So what I wonder is this — how many of our students of color experience school feeling as Jaime felt in that parking lot?
How often do students of color question, “Did that teacher make the call home / suspend me / expel me / fail me because of the color of my skin?”
How much mental energy do students of color spend thinking about how to make sure they are perceived by adults in a way that does not hinder their ability to get their education in powerful, meaningful ways?
Simply this — how many of our students of color are in school waiting to be judged?
And before any educator jumps to, “Yeah, but that’s not what I’m thinking my class…” think about Jaime’s tweet thread. Think about what it means to be Black or Hispanic in America today. Think about always wondering if you are safe… and perhaps this… think about a moment in your own life where you did not feel physically or mentally safe and all that you did to get through that situation. The point wasn’t that you or were not safe in that moment – the point was that something going on around you that meant that you could not be certain that you were in a safe space.
And then think about what it would mean to feel that way in school much -if not most or all – of the time.
For me, this is yet another why it is so important that schools, teachers and school administrators have to be explicitly anti-racist. It is on us as the adults to make sure that every student feels safe in school. The biases that students of color face every day in America means that students of color are quite probably walking in the door not feeling safe in their skin. And we know from all the work around the disproportionality of punishment for kids of color, that schools have not done a great job of ameliorating that fear.
We must do better.
Our students need to hear us take anti-racist stands.
Our students need to see policies enacted in school that actively create the conditions of safety for all students – especially our students of color.
Our schools need to examine every policy and practice through an anti-racist lens and ask ourselves, “Is this practice / policy creating the conditions of physical and mental safety for our students of color?”
Every child in America deserves to go to school and feel safe in their own skin.
Every child in America needs to know that when they walk into school, they are cared for and loved and able to learn.
No child in America should ever walk into school and worry about being judged because of the color of their skin or where they are from or what God they worship or how they identify on the gender spectrum or who they love.
It is on us as the educators to work every day to make schools safe for every single child with every word that we speak, every lesson we teach and every policy we enact.