A message for the brown kids


Q Wideman
WW photo: Brenda Ryan

This is for the brown kids.

This is for the free and reduced breakfast club.

This is for my loudmouth fistfighters.

My under-the-covers-reading all-nighters.

My late-shift-working in-class nappers.

My back-of-the-classroom rappers.

My mother-tongue-speaking back-talkers.

My always-finding-death-threats in their lockers.

My always-late-to-class little sibling caretakers.

My smartass saggy-pants troublemakers.

My brown genderqueer hip-switchers.

My test-anxiety-prone class-skippers.

My outside-agitator walkout organizers.

This is for my never-meant-to survivors.

In kindergarten, I already knew not to go anywhere unless I was sure there wouldn’t be a check-in.

I was always too chicken to speak to the men with guns on their hips.

And slurs in their snarling lips and I didn’t even go

to a school where they met me at the door.

So I’m gonna try to compute just how much more afraid I’d be today if the
first school club I was introduced to
was a billy club.

I’ll try to raise the number of panic attacks I’ve had this year to the power of
pepper spray, taser, glocks, handcuffs and a badge.

I’ll try to multiply my fear by the number of kids who look like me who had their faces slammed into pavement last semester.

And I know I haven’t been good at math since I was told I was a poor tester.

But something about the trauma of going to school under occupation seems
to add up to walking out
with less capacity to trust
than we walked in with.

To fear and resistance to authority.

To hyperactivity and needing to get free.

Critical Thinking Question: Why were the millions of dollars Wake County [N.C.] spent on police station contracts and security guards somehow easier to budget than even half the recommended number of counselors?

Answer: Because our minds are worth more to them terrified than understood.

See, our schools might look like prisons, but the bars aren’t for keeping us in; they’re for pushing us out.

Our schools are factories producing marketable products,
not making good citizens, but punishing manufactured misconduct.

There are more of my people incarcerated today than there were slaves in 1850 and black students in Wake County account for 60% of suspensions because their definition of defiance is “looking kinda shifty.”

Schools claim to be invested in teaching critical thinking but from us brown kids, asking questions equals dissension which leads to detention, suspension, and apprehension by state henchmen with the intention to arrest.

So ask us again why we don’t feel like participating in class discussion.

We dare you.

Ask us why we’d rather spend 90 minutes in a bathroom stall or wandering empty halls than in your classrooms.

We know that when we ask questions
we scare you.

You thought you were ready for us.

You’d already bought us jumpsuits
instead of graduation gowns.

You’d even opened up a whole new prison
by shutting some arts programs down.

You thought you were ready for us.

Us brown kids?

We’re ready for you, too

We are:
Healing our black eyes in
peer mediation sessions

Channeling Laila Ali in
Second Round Boxing lessons

We are:
Staying up all night reading
Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow,
comprehending all kinds of things we were
never supposed to know.

We are:
Working the late shift paying bills
to stay alive,
even though we know we were never
meant to survive.

We are:
Rapping about restorative justice
and letting our spirits soar,
spittin’ about the day when Central Prison
is no more.

We are:
standing together, from AP English
to ISS to alternative schools to
Central Prison.

We are:
teaching you a lesson, and this time
you’re gonna have to listen to us,
the brown kids,
the kids from the back of the bus. n

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