To be Black in America with a learning disability

I’m not gonna lie to you... It took me a while to decide if I was going to write a piece on this important topic: race and learning disabilities. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I wanted to make sure that I speak from a place of honesty and not sugarcoat my experiences. I also wanted to make sure that people don’t get hurt by what I have to say. 

Being Black in America is already hard on its own because the roots of systemic racism run so many years deep. By systemic racism, I mean the institutions in our society that create and maintain racial inequality in nearly every facet of life for Black people. Two prime examples are the brutality of our criminal justice system and the lack of equality in our schools and education system.

Along with systemic racism, I’ve had to cope with having a learning disability. It’s a lot of weight to carry, but I don’t have the option of setting down either my race or my learning difference. Nor do I want to. No, I want to do what I can do to be a part of the solution. I think I’m taking the first step by writing this piece. I feel I have been given this voice and platform for a reason, and I don’t want to waste it.

Being a Black woman with a learning disability is something that I’m very proud of. Proud because I feel like I have a hunger and determination that other people don’t have.

Even though I am proud, it’s often been hard. It was difficult in school to receive the necessary tools and accommodations to be successful in and out of the classroom. Without my mother (a strong Black woman) being so assertive, I know without a doubt I would not be who and where I am today. She was unafraid to ask my school the hard questions — like why isn’t Atira in mainstream classes?

Throughout my education career, there have been times when I noticed that teachers and educators automatically assumed things about me. To put it frankly, some thought I was not capable of doing or being much of anything. My experience is that when you have a learning difference, they either have no clue of how to help or will simply not try. And when you are Black, they think you are lazy. Put these two stigmas together, and you have what they would often think of me: dumb and lazy. (Boy, they were so far from the truth.)

Now, why would people who have chosen to be educators treat kids (especially Black kids) this way? As someone who has been in school for what seems like forever, my guess is that people don’t know how to teach kids who learn and think differently. And they’re just not informed or educated on how to reach Black students. I can’t help point out that the majority of teachers are white females. 

One of my favorite sayings is “Share your voice even if shaking.” I debated writing a piece on this topic, but I’m glad I did so — even if I’m shaking. My hope is that people will take the time to really read what I’ve written with open hearts and minds.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that if we are going to move forward, we need to be honest. We need to openly acknowledge stories like mine as well as stories from others who have endured racially biased stigmas. We need to not only listen, but also turn these stories into action so our experiences will not have been in vain. Action means reform, accountability, and so much more.

Then and only then will we be able to ignite a real change.

Read a personal reflection on why a Black boy couldn’t ask for help in school.


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