I never thought I would be ashamed of having my name associated with my former high school; up until today. Considering the recent events of cultural appropriation, racism, and the blatant disregard of the issue by staff I feel it is my obligation to share my story as a Black woman about what really goes on behind the closed doors of Fredericton High.
When I first started at FHS I was extremely nervous. At the time I didn’t think my nerves would have to be for the racism and cultural appropriation I would later experience. My earliest memory was in my ninth-grade science class, we had a supply teacher that day. Row call ensued and my name was next. Quietly I replied, “Here” to which she asked, “What are you”? This was a question I had heard umpteen times, however it felt different particularly coming from a person of colour. On this day, I had 24 classmates anticipating my reply. Having a confused look on my face did nothing to quash her nosiness, so she inquired again, “Is your mom Black or your dad, because you certainly aren’t white, and you aren’t fully black either?”
My heart sank. I had never been so humiliated in my life. Naturally I came home telling my mom what had happened earlier in the day, and we decided to email the Principal and the Vice-Principal requesting that she be removed from the supply teacher list. I was thrilled to be told that she was no longer permitted to work at my school but disappointed to see her there a month later. In that moment I didn’t feel looked after or as though they “had my back” it became apparent that their actions were a short-term solution to get us to stop complaining.
When tenth grade began my English teacher chose to read To Kill a Mockingbird. As she passed the books around, she loudly and proudly announced that, “We shouldn’t feel obligated to say ‘Nigger’ as it’s consistently used throughout the novel” but that she would be saying it because its ‘just a word’. She went on to explain how ‘[her] grandmother would walk down the street, walk up to a Black man and say ‘Hey Nigger’ to get his attention simply because she could. I was appalled to hear an educated professional not only use this type of language that has generational trauma associated with it but also openly share such a disgusting story with me sitting right in front of her. After discussing the situation with my mom, she made the recommendation of emailing said teacher and sharing my upset and frustration. However, I felt differently; I was terrified of retribution and even more scared of what else she would say. To this day, I refuse to read that novel.
My last year of high school was supposed to be an exciting time, experiencing fun filled graduate activities. For me, that was not the case. I had this white boy in my class, the type of boy I could look at and know he would say something about race, unfortunately my premonitions were correct. We had multiple courses together, and our initial interactions were filled with him asking stereotypical questions such as ‘was I from the hood’, ‘if I can give him cornrows’, and asking me to show him gang hand symbols. From there he moved on to stereotypical assumptions such as me being in a gang, how my father wasn’t in my life because he was Black and so on and so forth.
I voiced my concerns to teachers on multiple occasions but alas, nothing was done. From there, he escalated to saying “Hey ma Nigga” or “What’s up ma nigga” as an appropriate method of greeting me. When I voiced my dislike of him saying “Nigger” he informed me that because he has Black friends that means he himself is ‘basically’ Black and therefore he is permitted to say “Nigger.”
I had finally had enough, I was tired of being called ‘Nigger’, being shown videos of Black men being shot, and listening to his stories of his hyper sexualization of Black women. So, I took matters into my own hands and spoke to the teachers. Much to my dismay they informed me that “because [they] didn’t hear him say that directly, it’s my word against his and [they] can’t be sure if he said those things or not”.
I graduated a month later and have loathed the day I will have to walk back in those doors as I don’t feel protected or safe. The vision and mission statement of Fredericton High is to “focus on leaders in academic excellence and an inclusive education [including but not limited to] diversity, respect and responsibility. Through the promotion of inclusion and collaboration, [the]celebration of diversity by recognizing [how] our differences enrich our community and by creating a safe, supportive and respectful environment.” These statements have been around for many years and will probably stick around for many more. I like to believe in human decency and educating oneself on touchy subjects but in my opinion (based on my personal experiences) Fredericton High has and always will be a white privileged school.
This commentary was first published by the Nova Scotia Advocate.