Picture it: Brooklyn, 1990. A seven year old me is in her first year at public school. It was also the first time I ever had a white teacher. Her name was Ms. Tadri, and she never had a second grader like me. Me, a Black girl, with a name that twisted Anglo tongues in knots, did math using a Korean Finger Math technique, and required special snacks because well, I was vegan.
Let’s just say the fall of 1990 was a learning experience for both of us, and a lot had been learned even before I was assigned a worksheet in celebration of Columbus Day.
Even at seven I was just a shorter version of the Black Girl Unicorn I am today. Before I landed in Ms. Tadri’s class I was a star student at Black Genius On The Rise, the school I attended from nursery through first grade. But I knew what I had to do, this white lady didn’t want the truth, she wanted me to repeat what she believed Columbus to be and not call into question her flawed Eurocentric world view. And that’s what I did until my parents got wind of the assignment.
After a lecture about the horrors of Columbus (which I already knew, duh) and the horrors of conforming to be more palatable to “theMan” I rewrote the answers on my worksheet to state: Columbus was a rapist, who set in motion colonialism and enslavement of Native Americans and African peoples. Oh and that he was lost.
I turned my worksheet in without fanfare and a few days later I got it back with unfamiliar markings. It was covered in red ink and had a giant U for Unsatisfactory. It was the first time I got anything less than a B. I was crushed.
For years I was angry at my parents for forcing me to write the truth. Even at 7 I knew that’s not what school was about. School, at least public school, is about regurgitation.
But good can be bad and bad can be good. When I graduated from that public school I received the history award, because I did better than every other 6th grader in the subject. I spent all of high school in AP history courses and then for 5 years I was a phenomenal history teacher. So while Ms. Tadri wielded her power for evil, the prodding of my parents to speak truth to power sparked a passion to seek and speak truth that lives on today.
And in honor of all of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the African continent who are still fighting against the harmful effects of events set in motion by a lost Italian in search of “spices” let us all continue to seek and speak our truths.