A little over a month ago, I resigned from a job that would have killed me.
It would have been slow. It would have taken time and when it came people would have sworn I looked happy. They would have proclaimed what a tragedy it was to have lost such a good teacher.
I distinctly remember the night I sat in my friend’s dorm room choosing where I would spend the next two years teaching. I never planned on becoming a teacher. In fact, out of the 199 careers I committed to as a child, teaching was explicitly NOT one of them.
Imagine my surprise when I found my first love in teaching and in my kids.
But love has its consequences. Love makes you see to the depth of a person, beyond their walls and the wounds that placed them there. It makes you empathize. It makes you hurt. It makes you want to fight with every fiber of your being.
Love makes you step out of character. It makes you protect and defend, sometimes fairly, most times irrationally. Love makes you see and feel.
This is a letter to white women, for the white women teaching my kids. And it is written in love for these black and brown kids. Because contrary to what you want to believe, you are in the wrong place.
I know you think you mean well. I know you think you are making a difference. I know you think you are different.
You are not.
We are all a product of this shitty fabric we call society. And we are all playing roles written well before our existence. It’s redundant to say that our roles are different. That what you’ve been raised to believe about yourself and the people around you is vastly different from what black kids have had to internalize.
If you have the strength to understand it, know this: Your very existence in these quasi-plantation-turned-schools constantly reaffirms the “system” you claim to fight. Every time you stand in front of these children to “educate” them you confirm their belief that we can’t teach ourselves. That we can’t fix our communities. That we can’t do for ourselves.
Every time you use “structure” to silence their voice, you repeat and continue generations of suppression. Every time you tell them the importance of code-switching you tell them that who they are is conditional, to be presented and hidden at will.
I know it’s not just you. I know there are black teachers spreading the poison they’ve been thought to believe. I know I’ve taught my kids what I thought they needed to survive in this world. But you and I both know it’s not the same. And if you don’t know, or you’re reading this and asking why I am not explaining it to you, you are proving my point.
Your place is not in our schools. It is not with kids with whom you have little in common. It is not with people you don’t know.
Your place is with the aunts and uncles you like to Facebook shame after Thanksgiving dinner. It’s with the mile-long list of Blocked friends you don’t like to talk about.
If you’re honest, if you went deep down to the place you only ever briefly graze, you would know that “service” is a code word for your conscious. That your choice to work in “urban” communities with “underprivileged” and “under-served” children is about making yourself feel good. It is about this racially-conscious-intelligent-white-woman identity you have created for yourself. It’s about easing a guilty conscious.
If you really want to do something, Get Out. Leave our schools and our kids. Let us build for ourselves. Let us heal ourselves.
Because whether you voted for Hilary or canvassed for Obama, you are Rose. And Rose has been and will always be the most dangerous. We will believe in you even when we hear the keys to our freedom clinking in your hands. The keys you refuse to give us. We will make up excuses for you and fight for you, even though you will inevitably leave us for dead.
This is why I can’t, and won’t trust you.
Hirut (Rue) Mamo wrote this piece for Flux, a forum for those of us encountering adulthood. She is 26 years young and was a teacher in new orleans for 4 years. She is currently preparing to enroll in a doctor of naturophatic medicine program.