Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Young, Black, and Gifted--The Struggle

When I was in elementary school, there was a girl named Elizabeth who was blind. In fact, she was the only person there who was blind. It was the sort of place where almost everyone fit the same mold--economically privileged, white, and without any of those disabilities that might be considered unpleasant to look at.

Needless to say, Elizabeth stood out like a sore thumb and so did I. I really hated seeing the way that other children openly teased her, so I decided to try and befriend her. We became fast friends. She introduced me to R.E.O. Speedwagon and I taught her how to play a modified form of tag. We'd get out on the grass where there were no trees and run around to our heart's content during recess time.

One day, we were sitting next to the jungle gym talking about heaven knows what and I said something in response to her. What I said, I don't even remember but her response was "Quit talking like a black person!" I asked her what she meant and she went on to elaborate about how she didn't like black people. When she finished, I just walked away. I never spoke to her again.

I don't know why that moment in time has stayed with me all these years later. I remember feeling so let down that even this blind girl couldn't see me for who I was on the inside. I never did make a single friend at that school. How could I have? Even the blind girl understood that she was further up in the hierarchy that mattered to the people there.

When I think about my experiences at that school, I feel really used. They didn't let me into that school because I was gifted. They let me in so that those children of privilege would get the opportunity to see a "real live" black person that could walk and talk and even multiply and divide in kindergarten. I was the school science exhibit.

My parents didn't realize what that school would do to me. My dad was a college student from an underprivileged background who truly believed that the only thing that separated the rich from the poor was education and hard work. He wanted me to have all of the opportunities that he'd missed out on as a child, so he got us into the best schools possible. We wouldn't even have been there if he hadn't worked like a slave for the Parent/Teacher Association free of charge for a few years.

He designed educational programs for the computer/math lab at the school. He oversaw the book sales and silent auctions. He did it all so that we could go to that school and get a good education and I will be eternally grateful that I had parents who were willing to do anything to give us a good life. Still, I wish that he would have been able to see what putting us in a place like that did to us.

My oldest brother and I were both academically gifted. He chose to get out of the gifted program when he got to junior high school because he really didn't have the strength to be the token black kid any more. I stayed in the program but became suicidal during my teen years. I think part of that was because of how depressed school and my home life made me.

One of my younger brothers had a learning disability. Attending that elementary school where I went was really hard on him. My mother was constantly called to the school because of his "disciplinary problems", so she eventually got him into another school where his needs were well met. My youngest brother only had to deal with one year at my old school because my mom pulled him out when she had my other brother transferred. That turned out to be a good decision for him too. As soon as he was transferred, his teachers at the new school realized that he was gifted in the arts. He's now a very successful Jazz musician who will be going to North Korea in two months as a part of a cultural diversity/goodwill program.

TheGerman also had experiences much like mine except he had to deal with being the only bi-racial kid in a predominantly black school on top of being in the gifted program. Now, he and I face the same issues that my parents face. VanGoghGirl was tested and found to be academically gifted, talented in the Visual Arts, and talented in Theatre. She was also diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder. When she becomes an adult, I wonder how she'll view the decisions we made for her.


haha said...

thank you for sharing your experiences as a gifted person.

jo_jo said...

It's a tough moment, I wouldn't forget it either, and all that it meant personally and societally.

Thanks for sharing. VGG is lucky to have parents who are informed and aware and accepting of her giftedness. It will make all the difference!

brownfemipower said...

Hey there!
First, thanks so much for your comment on my site, I have been struggling through a really low point in recent months, it really did me so much good to get your kind words!

I really love your site! I especially love your "about me" section "I am proof incurable cancer doesn't mean your life is over..."

In response to this post...I wonder what it is that the girl designated as "black" in her mind. I mean, for most of us, it is obviously skin--we see skin color and make assumptions based upon structural lessons we have been taught. But for her, she labled you black (and made certian assumptions that had been taught to her by the structure) through *sound*--who would have thought that race can be signified and marked though *sound*???

I think that really belies the myth a lot of mainstream movies/press/books/etc like to perpertrate--that blind folks have acheived a certian amount of utopia through their lack of vision--they are living a TRUE color blind life, so to speak! In other words, to we all wish we could be blind!!

Oh, and I would love to hear from you your thoughts on the article you mentioned from my site....


Anonymous said...

Dear Bint,
Your blog is very inspiring to eople like me.

I believe I was born with an almost similar nature like you have, but I have been through so much that my gift could not find room todevelop. I am an African.

Of recent I have been trying torealize my potential, now that I aman adult, and I have to make up for lost time. I failed to continue with my education due to African political circumstances.

Now I am 38 years old. I want to start an organization for the gifted children and adults in my country for awareness. However, that requires a lot of things to be done.I want to inspire others so that they can utilize their opportunity while they still have a chance. My e-mail address is: giftedpeople@gmail.com

I will be glad to hear from you at any given time.

Thank God you are alive.