Black Excellence Breeds Unrecognized Jealousy Among White Women Teachers

Mar 29, 2023 3:30:00 PM

by Shawnta S. Barnes

One day I was scrolling, and I came across a TikTok video by @teachthemkindness. 

In this video, a white teacher shared her perspective about why, at times, there is tension between Black and white teachers. It boiled down to jealousy entangled with racism. The teacher noted how even images she had seen in the media reinforced an idea that Black people are the help; they aren’t expected to excel. 

When a white female teacher is mediocre, and a Black female teacher excels, and the white teacher has an issue, it is normally rooted in an internal belief, conscious or unconscious, that the white woman should be excelling.  

When Jealousy Moves to Sabotage

When those feelings aren’t managed and dealt with, a white teacher with these issues can cause harm to the Black teacher through her actions. I have had white-teacher colleagues report to our supervisor that I added to the curriculum. 

This may not seem like an issue, but some teachers do not like it when a colleague deviates from the curriculum scope and sequence that is typically designed by a teacher coach, school administrator or district leader. They believe everyone should do the same thing. 

Even though what I did was permitted and students were learning, it was more important to my colleague that I get into trouble. Apparently, that made her feel better. 

I even sat in a meeting where a white female teacher straight up questioned my data because my students, her former students, didn’t perform that way for her. In both of these situations, I simply existed in excellence. That excellence was an issue for them.

Based on these experiences, my knee-jerk reaction to the Tik Tok video was: “she said the quiet part publicly.” I stitched her video and shared my perspective of what it’s like when you are the high-achieving Black educator and white women are jealous of you. 

I described how an evaluation tool was changed when I was the only person who had an effective evaluation. I also explained what it is like when you are not only the only Black person in your role at your school, but also in an entire school district. It is lonely. 

Focusing on Student Success

Except for my first year teaching in a suburb, I have taught in schools where the majority of students were Black, like me. By any means necessary, to quote good brother Malcolm X, I want those students to excel. 

When white women are consumed with why Black colleagues are excelling and fail to learn from them or work with them, the students are the ones who are harmed. I don’t care what race my colleague is as long as the person is in for the liberation of children through an excellent education.

What’s worse is that I’m not even competing with white women, any women, or any human. The only person I am trying to be better than is the person I was on the previous day.

I strive for excellence, Black excellence, because children, especially Black children, cannot afford for me to be anything but excellent.

The Conversation White Women Need to Have

My TikTok also started a larger conversation because Black women started writing to me. Each of them asked some version of this question, “How do you endure when a colleague is jealous of you and makes the work environment difficult?” I wrote back to every woman with tips. Yet, to be honest, the solution is beyond us. 

The answer resides inside white women. Why are you jealous? Why don’t you want to work with a person to be better? Why can’t you be as honest at @teachthemkindness? Until more white women start doing the internal work, we will continue having these conversations with no real significant progress. 

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Shawnta S. Barnes

Shawnta (Shawn-tay) S. Barnes, also known as Educator Barnes, is a married mother of identical twin boys. She navigates education from not only the educator’s perspective but also the parent’s perspective. She has been an educator for nearly two decades. Shawnta works with K-12 schools, universities, & education adjacent organizations through her education consulting business Blazing Brilliance. She is an adjunct college professor, supervises student teachers, Indy Kids Winning Editor-in-Chief, Brave Brothers Books Co-founder, & CEO, and Brazen Education Podcast host. She holds five education licenses: English/language arts 5-12, English to speakers of other languages P-12, library/media P-12, reading P-12, and school administration P-12, and she has held a job in every licensed area. Previously, she has served as a school administrator, English teacher, English learners teacher, literacy coach, and librarian. She won the 2019 Indiana Black Expo Excellence in Education Journalism Award. In 2023, she completed her doctorate in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a minor in Learning Sciences. She is an urban gardener in her spare time and writes about her harvest-to-table journey at gardenershicole.com. To learn more about Shawnta, visit educatorbarnes.com.

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