By Tashia Harris
There are infinite ways to kill a People.
Institutional education is imperialistic in that it relies on anti-black exclusion to thrive. Its function is contingent upon seeing black, queer, trans, southern bodies like mine erased and destroyed. As Tupac says, this imperialistic world “eats its babies” and pushes the myth that our deaths are suicide. As the marginalized, we are never human enough to be considered children of anyone or have any place within any institution.
Now, I’m back in a classroom once a week focusing on education, pursuing another degree, accruing more debt, all with the hope of becoming a full-time educator. I do this because I’m still working to understand my role in liberation at the cost and burden of being surrounded by people and mechanisms that perpetuate anti-blackness and white supremacy within and through education.
Out of all the ways I could have chosen to find my role in disrupting intersectional anti-black oppression, I chose the field of education. Maybe I chose it because I knew institutional education was somewhere I was never meant to be, somewhere that held a type of knowledge we were never meant to have or contribute to.
But this country makes it clear we aren’t supposed to be anywhere or have anything, especially ourselves.
I knew that becoming a credentialed educator would be difficult, and more often than not, I’m asking myself why I’m even here. I’m hyper-aware that I’m not wanted or heard beyond diversity optics; my opinions rendered biased by those who have never asked themselves what it means to be black, yet consider their position and viewpoints more valid than my own. I suppose I’m here because I feel like I’m supposed to be, even though at times it feels lonely.
It’s painstaking that I’m forced to be the person with multiple marginalized identities who uplifts oppressions others want to ignore. To be the person hoping that others recognize how slothful and negligent perspectives on Black childrens’ existences mature into sustained harmful policy.
Clearly, the ultimate purpose of imperialistic education is to maintain white domination. My white professors remain ill-equipped to holistically educate Black youth due to their oppressive anti-Black behaviors and tactics. I witness how they fear losing institutional power and cling to a laziness compelling them to think in ways that are uncritical.
I want to teach because I’m unafraid to be critical. I hope to change the curriculum, pedagogy, administration, response to trauma and community needs, plantation mentality, and overall anti-black practices that still happen, to prevent this from happening to black children. I can’t let the people I sit in educational spaces with continue to “teach” black students and students of color that we deserve our oppression. I refuse to stay silent when I know other black educators are fighting the same fight that I currently am. Our presence is support and motivation to keep going, to keep questioning, to keep seeking transformational justice.
By being in a predominantly white institution, I’ve learned the blueprints of oppression. And being in black feminist queer spaces helps me move through these blueprints beyond the teachings of resilience and efficacy, a narrative that is taught in education studies as a goal—a request for accepting what life is and always will be, while demanding that oppressed bodies build up enough muscle to withstand it.
Black people have been withstanding oppression and violence forever.
I’m finally at a point where I am bold enough to radically dream of possibilities for new realities that are not contingent upon the modes of oppression that institutional education has always taught. I wholeheartedly believe that liberation can materialize in ways that are plausible.
My newfound boldness sustains me on this journey. I hope to teach from a liberation-based foundation for and with black folks who share similar intergenerational histories and experiences that acknowledge our past while simultaneously giving space for us to finally contemplate what we want, what we need, and want our futures to be.
I’m here so we can find each other, and equitably and responsibly co-create new realities together as a community of students and colleagues outside of the guise of white supremacy and its practices that ignore, steal, appropriate, and invalidate our remembered and unremembered past.
I’m here to name our trauma alongside others. I’m here to acknowledge our wounds in spaces where expressing black pain is minimized, where absorption and silence around it is expected. I’m here to learn, to teach, to build, and to make sure I can truthfully say that I did all I could with the time that I was given or reclaimed.
Although I’m unsure if staying in education is a revolutionary act, a perpetuation of a detrimental institution and its systemic impacts, or an adequate strategy to dismantle such detriment, I hope that me still being here is the right decision.
Tashia Harris is originally from Montgomery, Alabama , holds a M.A. in Urban Affairs, a B.S. in Interpersonal and Public Communications and is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Education in Portland, Oregon. They currently work as a Racial Justice Program Director at a nonprofit and worked previously as an Associate Director of Women and Gender Studies. Tashia focuses primarily on how to merge political, popular, formal and non-formal education across knowledge fields among folks with marginalized identities in hopes of co-creating new and sustainable futures that don’t rely on the death of many for the blood soaked prosperity of a few.