Naomi’s Words: Teachers should lift us up.

Naomi Wadler headshot By Naomi Wadler
April 22, 2019 9:45 am

As a black girl, I often feel as if I’m not enough.

In the past, I’ve felt this way because my hair wasn’t easy to handle. My hair was just so curly and required so much attention. People also often touched my hair. I thought shaving it off would help, but it hasn’t.  I felt I wasn’t good enough because my skin wasn’t as light as the girls’ I saw on TV.

When President Obama was elected I was very young, but I remember seeing on the news comics portraying Michelle Obama as a man or a monkey. The captions would always diminish black women.  In my young mind, I was black, therefore I must look like a monkey or be less feminine than my lighter skinned peers. This is the message the media is sending to kids like me.

These toxic messages are sent all the time to young black and brown girls. At school, white kids will describe black hairstyles as “ghetto.” I know it is not a compliment.

When President Trump was elected, Melania Trump was portrayed in the media as a beautiful former model, but once again she was compared to a Michelle Obama as the masculine animal.  Regardless of all her achievements as First Lady, her personification of health and good nutrition, regardless of how she was and is a role model to young women everywhere, Michelle Obama was diminished and compared to Melania Trump as less than.

This time, I was old enough to know this was wrong, but yet I still found myself questioning my own beauty–and ultimately, my own self-worth.  It was painful for me to go through this onslaught of negative, hurtful images.

It is a brutal message to send to any young black girl who is forced to question her worth because of the non-stop imagery and assumptions made by society, by the media and by our teachers and peers.

I know I am not alone.  All young black women and girls go through the same thing. Often, they too think they were not enough.

Even now, though I know it is simply not true, terrible, destructive self-images will occasionally cross my mind. I will admit, when society is perpetually telling you the same negative things, it is hard to get rid of this mindset. But that’s why I have made it my job to lift up all girls of color. I want them to know they are special.  In part, I do this to remind myself, I too am special.

Black girls should be made to feel special and beautiful. Adults around them need to counteract the media messages and uplift them.

It may be a long way to realizing self-worth, but when girls do, they will thrive. At the end of the day, if black girls aren’t taught to love ourselves, we won’t change how the world sees us.

I often feel not smart in school. The pressure to perform and the insecurity we already feel by society is just overwhelming.  Students are expected to understand a subject immediately. In school, I feel if I ask a question I will seem like the “dumb” kid. In class a few kids got a bad grade on a quiz, including me. When the teacher was reading the failing grades, the class started cheering. We were doing this to lighten the mood. We were laughing and having fun. It made me feel better about myself. But then the teacher told us not to cheer for ignorance.

The teacher’s words made me feel terrible. I wondered, “Am I ignorant?” When teachers shut down positive encouragement, what message does that send to the students? I then felt as if I couldn’t let on that I didn’t understand because then the teacher would view me as ignorant.

If the media portrays brown girls as ignorant, and I’m also told that in school, what does that tell me? Teachers should never treat girls of color differently than any other students, but they should be aware how their messages reinforce the negative. But teachers should also never ignore us. Remember, we can achieve great things, too. Teachers need to encourage us and lift us up.

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