My Story of Being a Black Girl Assaulted in a Classroom

(Photo: iStock/TheRoot)

(Photo: iStock/TheRoot)

Writing for The Root, The Burton Wire‘s founder & editor-in-chief Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. discusses what it feels like to be a black girl assaulted in a classroom by an authority figure. Check out an excerpt below:

“In 1978, when I was 6 years old, a female teacher assaulted me in a classroom. I was a rambunctious, intellectually curious child who talked a lot in class. I loooooved my homeroom teacher, Ms. S., who was kind and treated me nicely, which was important for a black girl growing up in post-civil-rights-era Lynchburg, Va., because that was rare, even from adults.

Most whites I came in contact with at that time were committed to reminding me that I was “nothing but a n–ger”—yes, I was called n–ger every day in elementary school, and sometimes by my white neighbors while playing outside at home. Ms. S., who was white, was different. She was nice, gentle and patient. I felt like she was my friend.

If I became too unruly, she would gently place her hand on my shoulder and say, “Nsenga, please stop talking and do your work.” Guess what? I would stop talking and do my work because I wanted to make her happy. Ms. S. became pregnant and went on maternity leave to start a family, so we got a permanent substitute. I was a sensitive kid, so I really grieved losing her.

Ms. F. was nothing like Ms. S. She was mean and impatient and one of those white folks who took every opportunity to remind me that I was “nothing but a n–ger,” even though I was the smartest kid in the class. I knew this, and she knew this and hated it. How did I know that she hated it? Unlike Ms. S., who looked at me with kindness and spoke softly to me, Ms. F. looked at me with hate and spoke to me in harsh tones, berating me at every opportunity. Even though I was only 6 years old, I knew the difference between love and hate.

On one particular day, I was being my normal happy, energetic and chatty self. From across the room, Ms. F. told me to shut up—I told you she was mean. I remember being shocked and embarrassed, but based on her tone, I actually shut up. One of my white classmates at my table was chatty. Ms. F. walked over to our table and told me to shut up again. I tried to tell her that I wasn’t talking this time, but before I could even get the words out of my mouth, she snatched me by my neck, pulled me out of my chair, dragged me across the room and spanked my bottom, all the while yelling, ‘I told you to shut up!’

When she caught herself, I was crying and said I was going to tell my mom. She then took her long fingers, with long, ruby-red nails, and pinched my cheeks as hard as she could, leaving marks on them, and shoved me into a bathroom (each classroom had one) with no light. I was afraid of the dark and small spaces, so I screamed at the top of my lungs because I was terrified. No one came to see what was happening. Not another teacher, not a classmate, not a staff member. No one helped except my big sister, who heard me crying from another classroom and came to get me. She promptly went home and told my mother what happened…

Read more at The Root.

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