Kids of Color & Intellectual Intuition: Brought to You by Art

There are many stereotypes projected onto children of color. Black boys, in particular, have been statistically struggling academically at a nationwide level. There are some questioning why Black boys, and kids of color, aren’t performing well on standardized tests, while many have wrapped all kids of color into  boxes labeled “Deficit.”

Since I started teaching, I’ve been trying to uncover what’s getting in the way academically for all my students– particularly my Black boys. One, is performing at grade level; the others are not. This isn’t a new trend, yet, all have always been so brilliant– each holding unique skills that haven’t been uncovered.

My students been revealing their intellectual selves to me more each day. Or maybe they’ve always been revealing these characteristics, and I’m simply making a more concerted effort to uncover them. Whatever the case may be, I know that during today’s field trip to the Oakland Museum of California, I was mostly in awe and wonder of my students ability to interact with art in ways that I don’t think was expected of them.

Docents smiled at me approvingly as my students got excited when they saw Frida Kahlo’s, “Frieda and Diego Rivera.”

“Ms Peters! It’s Frida!!! We have this photo in our class!”

Then, they proceeded to look at other work and note artists’ varying styles, question some of the artists’ choices, and infer the different mediums that were used to create the art. But, really, I had little to do with their enthusiasm and their ability to interact with the varying pieces of art. Yes, I introduced them to Frida Kahlo, but I, unfortunately, have spent little time  teaching my students how to interact and talk about art. This sophisticated skill was intuitive.

Do others know that kids of color have intellectual intuition? Is this considered when discussions are had about how Black and Latino boys are underperforming compared to other groups of students?

By the look of surprise from some of the docents, I would assume no. Many times, even I underestimate what comes naturally to my students. But, as I eavesdropped on the two boys below observing and discussing art with each other, I realized that instead of focusing on teaching my students new things, I need to focus on bringing out their intellectual intuition.

Some might say  this is an obvious teacher move, but if it were so obvious, would kids of color still be underperforming at the level they are now?

Who I’m Listening To: FKA Twigs (Not Appropriate for Children)

I’ve been listening to a lot of FKA Twigs lately. So much so that I recently had a dream that I was playing, “Two Weeks” for my Fifth Graders, and  just as she was whisper-singing, “Higher than a motherfucker, dreamin’ of it, it’s my lovin’ (Open your heart),” someone from Oakland Unified School District walked into my classroom and looked at me with a face of much judgement. 

Fortunately, I know better than to play FKA Twigs for a young audience– her soft voice is kissed with a lot of raunchiness–but she has been the soundtrack to my drive to and from work. What’s there not to like about her? Her sound is intricate, and although her voice is delicate, it inhibits a sharp, strong quality. And with her double buns, gelled-out baby hair, and mixed background, she’s reminiscent of my teenage self (only smaller). Oh, and she’s British. I’m both jealous and wooed by this happenstance. I’m looking forward to seeing her perform at The Warfield in San Francisco in November, but until then, let’s enjoy FKA Twig’s visual homage to Aaliyah’s appearance in  Queen of the Damned with her video for “Two Weeks.”

Top 3: My Happy Things (September)

1. Settling into Home. We moved into our new apartment a little more than a month ago, and prior to that, we were “homeless” for a month. Visiting London and staying in our friend’s flat, is plane rides away from being down and out Dickensian-style, but there was some feeling of unsettlement, to say the least. Now, we are home. Furniture is in place, (many of the) books are on shelves, and our ancestors are smiling at us from our walls. My writing space is set up, and that feels right. I don’t have a room of my own (yet) for writing, but I have a space of my own, and that will have to do until I reach Virginia Woolf-status.

2. Dear White People: A Satire About Being a Black Face in a White Place. I’ve  followed this film since its kickstarter days and I’m thrilled to learn it will have a large release, Friday, October 17th. I get chills when I watch the previews. It appears to take on multiple perspectives of multifaceted Black college students who attend a predominately white university. There will surely be those who find the film offensive, simply because some people get all shook up any time you say “white people.” I’m hoping, however, it will illicit meaningful conversations around race. And if it doesn’t, at least there will be a film that features Black folks in college, other than School Daze (I love that movie).

I plan on writing a response to the film as soon as I see it, so stay tuned! Until then, watch the trailer and skip the comments (unless you’re in the mood for a lot of eye-rolling).

3. My Fifth Graders. I’m feel at ease with my group of scholars this year. They’re trying to act grown, since their “Fifth Grade Leaders.” But, they still love listening to me read to them, and they’re eating up the Superhero Unit we’ve been doing. Their love for books is infectious, and if they’re not making me laugh, they’re teaching me patience and leadership.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This time last year, this same group (I looped up with my fourth graders, which means I have the same group of students I had last year), had my stress levels escalated. Half the group spent most of third grade with a substitute teacher, which meant they were far behind academically, as well as emotionally. But, this year, they know what’s up, or as a couple of parents have said, they know: “Ms. Peters don’t play.” We still have many hills to crawl and then climb, but at least we all get each other—with our flaws, quirks, and specific needs–We. Are. Family.

Traveling While Black: Facing What You Left Back Home

I’m feeling conflicted. It’s my second day back from London, and there are many reflections I’d like to record. Thoughts of why I’m drawn to London more than any city in the world, accounts of the many great experiences I had, observations of how ethnicity and identity functions in the city… But, I’m distracted by what I’ve come home to.

I just read an article that in the month I’ve been gone, there have been four killings of young, Black men by our nation’s police. None of these men deserved to be killed, but there are those who are trying to find justifications for their death.

While I was in London, and, last year, while in Thailand, people asked me, “Are American cops really as bad as the news says they are?”

They’re increasingly becoming worse.

In London, I walked around with my Black husband, with no worries of being targeted for our Blackness. When we walked into restaurants, high-end boutiques, pubs, we didn’t worry about being poorly served, not receiving service, or being judged. When we saw London police, our instinct was to become tense, but we quickly realized they didn’t pay us any mind. We even felt comfortable asking two police officers, who were in front of a government building with intimidating automatic assault rifles in their hands, where we could find an Indian restaurant in the area. We were spoken to kindly and politely, and were given directions. Another evening, we went into Brixton—a mostly Black neighborhood—after there had been an all-day festival of reggae, dancehall, and drum and bass. It was rowdy. People were throwing their own after parties on the street, the crowd was predominately Black, police officers were around, but they weren’t intimidating folks, silencing partygoers, or being assholes. I actually felt like they were there “just-in-case” something went wrong.

London is far from perfect. London—the capital of the world’s colonizers—has had messy relationships with its continuously growing multiethnic city. There have been battles between ethnicities, and Eastern Europeans are currently at the brunt of ethnic stereotypes and prejudices.

Black people don’t have it easy either. A couple of years ago, there was a young Black man, Mark Duggan, who was shot by a London police officer. According to my friend, the city—particularly its young people—were horrified. Young people of all ethnicities, protested and rioted, because this tragedy was too horrific to ignore. My friend said that people were surprised, because nothing like this had happened before. That was three years ago.

Here, in the US, Black lives are being taken for merely being, by cops, neighbors, and people trying to police the actions of Black people. The news of another Black person being murdered for walking down the street with a friend, is no longer news, but a tragedy for some, and a mishap for others. According to MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, “From 2006 to 2012, a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country.” There are many of us who are angry, many of us who feel helpless, but too many of us who don’t really care.

This is home.

When you come home after being a way, you’re supposed to feel welcomed. The intensity of being in a foreign place melts, as your shoulders relax. You have loads of memories from your holiday, but you’re relieved to be back in the place where you understand the way things work. But, how is one to feel, when “knowing how things work” means knowing that you’re constantly negotiating your Blackness? Coming home means returning to a place where you’re repeatedly shown that people who look like you, like your brothers, like your sisters, like your husband, don’t matter. How is one to feel when you come home to a place that doesn’t always treat you the same way that they treat people with lighter skin than you?

If you return home to a place that makes you feel like you’re continuously on alert for personal safety and basic respect, is that place even home?

Happy 90th, James Baldwin!

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Couldn’t let the day pass without honoring the great and most inspirational, James Baldwin. His fearlessness, his pointed tongue, and graceful pen were before his time, but necessary for the progress of Black intellectuals, of American people. I’m forever in awe of the work he produced. To have known him, must have been life-changing, for to have read him has been soul-shifting.

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To have heard him speak live must have been chilling. His cadence, his dialect, his carefully chosen words… How does one finds power to confront such hate with absolute finesse and grace?

Wish he could’ve been my godfather; happy he is my inspiration.

james.nina

Happy Birthday Jimmy!

Have a drink with your girl Nina up in the heavens, dear Baldwin…and then have a chat with Maya, Amiri, Billie, Miles… What a fantastic birthday party you must be enjoying!

Would you mind including my Nana into the conversation– you two would have the most fabulous debates! Is Jesus turning water into wine again? What a treat for your 90th!

Traveling While Black: A Fragmented Response to London’s V&A ‘Disobedient Objects’

When we decided to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum, I didn’t have many expectations. I’d been before, and aside from the fashion displays, the V&A was never one of my top stops in London. Imagine my surprise when we discovered– in the midst of British textiles, and European busts–  a thought provoking exhibit exploring revolutionary things, called “Disobedient Objects.

disobedient.odjects.title.front.enterance.VA.

The exhibit showcases varying objects that have supported social movements from the 1970s to present day. On display, are poster signs, quotes inspiring action, and other objects created to defy political institutions, and to symbolize human rights around the world. As a whole, the exhibit showcases the ways that seemingly simple objects can serve as points of resistance.

bottlemask

The above picture, also the cover of the exhibit’s catalogue, gives directions on how to create a protective mask from a water bottle. Protestors from many recent “occupy” movements used these masks to protect themselves from getting hit by police with tear gas.

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history.is.a.weapon

When I think of protest movements, I usually think about the past.  But, what was chilling about this exhibit was how recent many of these social movements were, some happening now (i.e. police brutality, LGBTQ rights, Palestine, budget cuts in schools). I wouldn’t consider myself ignorant to what’s going on in the rest of the world, or walking distance from my Oakland flat, but I guess I hadn’t really contextualized our reality– the daily grind of people all around the world fighting for safety, education, peace… As I walked through the powerful exhibit, it felt like I was looking in a mirror.

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boyfriend

Our reality is already being curated, and soon it will be neatly organized onto a timeline in our children’s history books. This exhibit not only highlights the revolutionary nature of signs, buttons, or water bottles, but it also reminds us that social movements aren’t glorified moments of the past, but critical conditions of our present.

lgbtq.rights

 

power.to.the.people

The question that always runs through my head when I think about my position as someone who wants to see social change is, how can my actions bring actual change, rather than mereley being an echo of the past? What happens with movements when the marches are over… when the objects of disobedience are obsolete?

audre.lorde

 

On a side note, it felt a bit strange to be in the ornate V&A, which– let’s be honest– reeks of the legacy of colonization, while observing an exhibit that responds to the disobedient usage of money and power.

 

All photos were taken by my lil’ ol’ iphone 4s– no filter.

Disobedient Objects will be open and free to the public, until 1 February 2015.

Top 3: My Happy Things

This has been an unusually busy  summer. It began with two weeks of Professional Developments. Then, for the first time since my grandmother died, I went back to Florida, which is now home to my mother. The following weekend, I turned 30 in Gatsby-fashion, and spent my first week of 30, packing up my apartment and placing my belongings into storage. Two days later, I locked in an apartment for the end of August, and hopped on a plane to London, which is where I’ll be until then.

Emotions have been high—from anticipation to excitement to worry to jetlag to gratitude to sheer happiness. In the hustle and bustle of my summer, here are three things that have been brining me happiness.

1. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. When life is feeling crazy, it’s comforting to escape into a book, and to envelop yourself into someone else’s chaos. The Lowland is much like other post-colonial books I’ve read—two family members, in this case two brothers, separated by different lifestyle choices. One is committed to a life independent of and against Western frivolity, and the other is soaking up Western privileges—in this case, American education. I’m only on page 100, so I know it will become more complicated, but more than the plot itself, I enjoy Lahiri’s ability to create moods, making me feel like I’m inheriting the experience of her characters. When introducing the reader to the third character, Gauri, she describes Gauri’s relationship with her parents by writing: “She had no memory of spending a moment, even in a house in such an isolated place, ever, alone with her mother or father. Always at the end of a queue, in the shadow of others, she believed she was not significant enough to cast a shadow of her own” (72). I know this sentence is prophetic for something, and I’m eager to read on to find out.

2. Travel. A few weeks ago, I was in Florida. I used to go there a couple times a year, but hadn’t been back since my Nana’s funeral, which was three years ago. My mother now lives 30 minutes from where my Nana used to live. Regardless of my complicated relationship with Florida (nothing like seeing a huge confederate flag waving amongst the lush greenery of it’s landscape), there is a piece of home there—especially now that it’s my mother’s home. Going back “home” has its complications, but, nonetheless it grounds you.

Now, I’m in London—another place I call home. This is my fourth trip to London; my first trip being 10 years ago, when I studied here for a semester. Like each trip, when I first arrived, I felt shy, like someone seeing a loved one for the first time in years– not knowing if the intimacy we once shared could last beyond the years of separation. But, as each day passes, I find myself getting back in step with what was once familiar—navigating the tube, staying in step with the bustle of High Streets, being amongst P.O.C’s in every type of neighborhood, and NOT receiving constant stares. There are multiple reasons for this trip, but regardless of what happens, I know I will not return the same.

“ I do not bring back from a journey quite the same self that I took.” – W. Somerset Maugham

3. Friends. It’s cheesy, it’s mushy, but it’s true, that I don’t know what I’d do without my friends. These past few months have been overwhelming,  and I’ve had to rely on the support of friends in a way I’m not used to. Friends have stepped up to listen to my worries, to help me pack, to celebrate my turning 30, to take care of my beloved dog…. I’m in awe with how many times friends have offered help, or replied with a “yes,” when I needed a favor. I understand that’s what friends are for, but I’m still humbled by their love.

What’s making you happy this month?