Fighting Our Fear With Valor: A Powerful Lesson From A High School Student on How to Transform Schools

Written By Jazmine Shaw

Fear is a dangerous thing. It is the source of everyone’s problems. Many people in society are afraid of being at the bottom of the hierarchy. It’s a constant battle to be at an equal level with anyone else because those who believe themselves to be superior always disempower others. This is just putting it lightly. As a Black girl currently attending a predominantly white school, I’ve become more aware of the injustices within society.  

I’ve come to learn that it is fear that drives people to act in a particular way. I see it every day with the white teachers and administrators in my school. When an issue about race is brought up, these teachers don’t know how to address the issue. They’re kind of afraid to even try or learn how. For this reason, these white teachers shut down the issue, brush it off, or just try their best to avoid it. It’s not that these teachers are bigots, but they are afraid to talk about such a sensitive topic. Without even realizing it, they’re aligning themselves with the ignorant folk within the white community. I’ve seen this most in my history class where the issue of race seems to come up the most. There was one incident where we were discussing the Great Migration and the Race Riots of 1919. A Black girl in the class raised her hand and told the teacher that in her grandfather’s opinion, the North was just as bad as the South at the time. The teacher retorted by telling her it wasn’t and that was a fact and that he was an expert. He basically just shut her down.

It isn’t just white people who are guilty of acting out of fear. Within the Black community, a lot of us do things solely out of fear and the best possible example I can give is myself. I’ve found myself succumbing to what white people want. They don’t want us to put up a fight, they want us to just accept that we’re ‘below’ them and I’ve found myself not wanting to do something right by my race because I’m afraid that something bad will happen. This is what stopped me from disagreeing with my history teacher about the issue I described above, even though I knew he was being unfair. White people have always drilled a fear of standing up for what’s right into Blacks by using other Blacks as examples. This is evident in all the lynching they did after Nat Turner’s rebellion as well as throughout the rest of history as a warning to other Blacks that they could be next if they don’t stay in their place.  

Another example within the Black community are Black men. I know too many Black men with fragile masculinities, too many Black men who are homophobic, and too many Black men who are misogynistic. So many of them claim to be ‘woke,’ but they aren’t for every person of color. I’ve seen this in school, on the internet, and within my own home. As a result of their fragile masculinities, Black men tend to talk down on women, but most of the time it’s only the women of their own race. I saw something a Black man tweeted that said, “Ok now, ladies. Line up in order from highest to lowest GPA.” Under this caption, there was a picture of a bunch of women lined up from a pale white to dark skin. It made me cry because, as a Black girl, I work so hard to keep my GPA where it is, over 4.0. Some white women don’t have to work as hard as I do because they have lighter skin. It also hit home because these Black men are disrespecting the women that carried them for nine months and do everything for them.    

We are all problematic. That’s the point. The first step to fixing it is by acknowledging it. Only then can we begin to fight our fear with valor.

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Jazmine Shaw is a high school sophomore in New Jersey. She is a guest contributor to the Metro Center blog.