My daughter responded to the three questions about her how race shaped, influenced and/or impacted her educational experience. Here’s what she said…

Where did you grow up? How did your childhood shape the person you are today?

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and moved to Florida when I was before my first birthday. I consider myself a Florida girl, for good or bad. I spent most of my life growing up in Florida, Orlando specifically. I mostly attend schools that were predominantly white but growing up that never bothered me. Even though I attended predominantly white schools I still had friends of different races. My mother did her best to keep me safe. Maybe too safe because I sometimes think I lived a sheltered life. My mother grew up in Louisiana and I think she didn’t want me to grow up and experience the harm from racism and other forms of trauma that she did. I always attended great schools, lived in gated communities, and had access to many resources I am sure my mother did not have access to. I feel fortunate to have grown up in a loving, stable home where we took summer vacations and volunteered to help those less fortunate than we were. 

How has your racial identity influenced your life?

My racial identity has influenced my life greatly. When people first see me they see a Black girl and make their judgment right then and there. As soon as I open my mouth people second guess my racial identity because of how I sound. All of my life I have been told I sound like a “white girl.” My first experience with this was in Shreveport, LA when I was in the third grade. One of my peers made fun of me for how I sounded. I was teased on the school bus and was called “Oreo” meaning I was Black on the outside but white on the inside. While this was harmful to me as a child, it has contributed to my resiliency. I have grown to learn that intercultural bias is alive and well. I am a product of my environment. I come from a loving, caring home where education is valued. 

Further, as an adult, I have learned that colorism and racism are deeply embedded within American society. My goal is to continue to grow as an individual and to do the best that I can to represent myself in a positive way. Blackness should not be associated with speaking or behaving a certain way. We deserve to be honored for our uniqueness as humans and valued for what we bring to society. 

Can you share an incident that happened to you, which you believe was based on race?  What happened, how did it make you feel and what was the impact of the incident on your life?

The clearest example was my experience in middle school, 8th-grade to be exact. I was frequently singled out for “talking in class.” While I clearly recall all the other students laughing and giggling, I was the one the teacher would use as an example of disruptive behavior. Of course, I would say “it’s just not me talking,” but they never cared. One of the most harmful examples of this was when one of my teachers had the audacity to remove me from the rest of the class and had me sit at my desk right next to her. She quickly learned that other students were also talking. One day, we were taking a test and I was reading the question out loud to myself and she called me out in front of the entire class. She said “she can’t help herself, she will talk, even if it’s to herself.” Wow! That was rude, unprofessional and no way to treat, particularly because I was one of a few Black students in the class. Whenever my mother came to school for a school conference, she was always told that I talked too much. They made it sound like I had little self control and was doing something so egregious and offensive and disrupting the learning of other students. This undoubtedly affected my self-confidence and my willingness to participate in classroom activities. 

It wasn’t until I took a college course on race that I began to understand how complex and widespread this problem is. The experience of Black girls in academic classrooms can be traumatizing and can affect their entire academic experience. Black students should be educated in classrooms by professionals who care about them and know how to teach across a broad range of social identities.

Camryn N. Littleton