Black, unlike me

Student and staff share personal stories of discrimination

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Black, unlike me

Elizabeth Posey/Bear Witness

Elizabeth Posey/Bear Witness

Elizabeth Posey/Bear Witness

Annalise Freimarck, Managing Editor

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To be black is to sometimes feel alone, underestimated at best, despised at worst.

School counselor Joyce Davis walked through a picket line specifically protesting her presence at her elementary school. Special education teacher and Black Student Union adviser Tobias McLeod was among three black students in a high school where students were sometimes not subtle in their prejudice. Sophomore Sofia Nonga once wished about finding lipstick in her shade, and senior Bella Glass found it hard to see a cultural mentor.

At Branham, black students make up 2.3 percent of the school’s population, and there are only 2 black staff members on campus. In the district, black students make up 2.5 percent of the population.

As Black History Month reaches its midway mark, the stories of Branham’s black students and staff highlight their sense of isolation, in ways small and large, and the sense of sometimes feeling unwelcome in their community.

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Joyce Davis, school counselor: Unwelcomed at school

Once I open my mouth they are sometimes surprised at the eloquence because I’m an educated black.”

— Joyce Davis, school counselor

Elizabeth Posey/Bear Witness

School counselor Joyce Davis had to walk through a line of picketers with her mother in order to get to elementary school every day, the signs filled with racial slurs and expletives telling her she was unwelcome.

Davis was the first black student to attend the Daycroft School, a previously all white private school in Greenwich, Connecticut. Her parents felt that she deserved a better education than the other schools in the area provided; instead of receiving a choice education, she was met with discrimination.

Because Davis was so young when it happened, she does not recall walking through the picketers.

“I think that’s a good thing, in some instances, that the mind helps us take care of that and shuts things down, but I’ve never lost the impact,” she said.

Despite the protesters, Davis continued to attend Daycroft; however, the discrimination and prejudice did not stop at the doors of the school. She continued to face these struggles inside the classroom.

“When we would study history, and we’d get to slavery, the teacher would say, ‘Joyce, stand.’ This is an example of what a slave looked like,’” Davis said.

As Davis went through her education, she felt that her teachers and peers did not expect as much of her because of her race, when compared to students of other races. After graduating from the Daycroft School and Smith College, Davis entered the workforce as an educated black woman, something she described as being “a scary thing to many people.”

“People might judge me before they meet me or I open my mouth to speak,” she said. “They may look at my package and decide what they feel about stereotypes of blacks, black women in particular. Once I open my mouth they are sometimes surprised at the eloquence because I’m an educated black.”

Because of her experience in education, Davis pursued a job in education in hopes of being a mentor for students of color that may feel as isolated as she did.

“I wanted to make sure that if there was any little girl like me that she could see that there could be hope,” she said. “I didn’t have that until I got to college, there were no black mentors.”

Now, she advises students who might feel like she did to go and see her, so they can have someone to relate to and look up to who looks like them.

•••••••••

Sofia Nonga, sophomore: Beyond skin deep

You can tell by your peers, and even my teachers, that they aren’t as confident in you as the next white person or Asian person.”

— Sofia Nonga, sophomore

Sophomore Sofia Nonga has been the only black student in her classes for a while.

For her, this has become the norm, and she is used to being one out of many.

“You kind of get used to it because I’ve been the only black person in multiple of my classes, starting from preschool,” she said. “There’s always that little disconnect.”

Being the only black student in her class, Nonga has come to expect to not be looked at as smart as her peers of other races. To her, it feels like there is always that stereotype that in the classroom with her.

“You can tell by your peers, and even my teachers, that they aren’t as confident in you as the next white person or Asian person,” she said.

On top of being isolated in class, Nonga has struggled with her self image and loving herself because of her race. She often felt too dark to fit under the beauty stereotypes, and this affected her self confidence.

“When I was younger, I wished that I could straighten my hair like other people, or I wished that I had a lighter skin tone or lighter eyes,” Nonga said. “ You can’t [ask] ‘does this lipstick look good on me, does this color look good on me,’ because we’re not the same type of skin tone.”

As she grew older, Nonga credits movements like Black Lives Matter and the influx of black influencers as the push in her journey for self love.

“If we’re not loving ourselves, how are other people going to love us?” she asked.

•••••••••

 Tobias McLeod: Underestimated at school

Find your people.”

— Tobias McLeod, special education teacher

Special education teacher and Black Student Union adviser Tobias McLeod was one out of two or three black students in his high school, Carmel High School.

Due to the low numbers, he felt a sense of seclusion from other students, but for him, being within an incredibly small black community was the norm.

“I’ve always been [one of] a few,” he said. “It wasn’t a huge culture shock when I started working here.”

While attending Carmel High School, he faced prejudice on a daily basis, but one moment stands out to him. He came to school one day to find kids from Carmel Valley wearing Confederate flag hats, something that he described as “the one racist thing that happened in high school.”

“It [did] feel like a threatening thing for me,” he said.

As he progressed in his career as a special education teacher, he felt that he sometimes had to work harder to prove himself as an educated black man, versus his colleagues and peers of other races. He felt that others might not take him as seriously due to his race.

“There are times when I’m [thinking] ‘do I have to defend my position or do I have to work hard to prove myself in some ways,’” he said.

Once at Branham, the discrimination that he faced didn’t go away, even as he established himself in his career. One example he remembers is when he was wearing a straw hat and walking out to the track to coach, a colleague made a derogatory comment.

“There was a teacher, and he said ‘you look like my gardener,’ McLeod said.

In order to combat the discrimination that he and black students might face, McLeod recommends finding a group to relate to.

“Find your people,” he said. “Reach out if there are teachers, or if there are other students that are being racist in any way.”

•••••••••

Bella Glass, senior: Black and proud

People who you look up to, who you think is pretty, they don’t look like you.”

— Bella Glass, senior

Senior Bella Glass didn’t always love herself like she does now. When she was in elementary and middle school, she longed to fit into the white beauty standards, such as having straight hair and lighter skin, because of the lack of representation of black influencers in media that there was to look up to.

“Everyone that I looked up to, like Hannah Montana, even in Justice magazines, they were all white people,” Glass said. “People who you look up to, who you think is pretty, they don’t look like you.”

Glass credits the spur of discussion about the black community’s issues that began when Trayvon Martin was shot as what boosted her confidence in her ethnicity. She began to see more black influencers with natural aspects, like curly hair and darker skin, and that influenced her to accept herself more.

Seeing that awareness and black people appreciating themselves, that’s when I started wearing my hair curly and natural, and that signifies to me being able to accept myself,” she said.“Now that I’m in high school, I’m proud of that blackness.”