“I love Miss Letsaba because she is black like me”
That was my Grade 3 contribution to my school’s annual magazine. I think we might have been asked to describe what we liked best about our teachers. I remember a white “friend” reading this back to me in Grade 7, as if it were something embarrassing, our friends, most of them white, laughed raucously. I remember also cringing, dying at the thought that 9 year old me could have articulated a thought that would make my friends think I was racist, that I did not like them. I wanted so badly to fit in, that I cringed at the idea that they would think me gauche for even noticing race. So I laughed it off as me being silly and young.
Looking back on it, I wish I had told them to fuck off. Told them that even though their ancestors had colonised, enslaved and pillaged, that all the representations of themselves were positive. They had a plethora of “positive role models”, even in our school, labour was racialised. Black people confined to domestic, or ground staff jobs, called by their first names, while our white teachers and principal, “miss”, “Mrs” and “Dr”. I wish I could have been able to articulate that there many things that I loved about Miss Letsaba, but asked to provide a one sentence summary, well…I loved her because she was black, LIKE ME!
Seeing her brilliance, allowed me to believe that I am brilliant.
Miss Letsaba was brilliant in many ways:
she was smart, beautiful, kind.
I loved that she thought us all smart.
That she encouraged us to be creative.
I loved that she took time to get to know us, and our parents.
I loved that she cast me to play a young Simba in our stage remake of the Lion King.
Miss Letsaba befriended every black person who worked at the school, whether they be ground staff or the only other black teacher. She broke down the barriers between black parents and teaching staff, between worker and academic, between student and teacher.
She was a brilliant teacher, it was undeniable not only to us her crew of black girl admirers, but to the white teachers who could not comprehend her effervescence.
She was black girl magic, before I had even heard the term.
but we saw her detractors, heard their whispered criticisms, we saw her work five times as hard for half the recognition. We saw her be brave enough to cry in front of us, get angry and smile and laugh again.
She was strong enough to be vulnerable, vulnerable enough to be strong.
13 year old me left that party feeling irritated, frustrated that not only could I not express why it mattered that Miss Letsaba was black, I knew that my “friends” would never care enough to consider why I loved that the best teacher at the school was black like me.
9 year old me knew what I understand now. Representation Matters. I am becoming, because of womxn like Miss Letsaba, who taught me that a black girl like me, could be smart, beautiful, brave, vulnerable and kind. That I could dare to be anything and anyone I wanted to be. I love the black womxn who instilled this belief in me and who continue to make me believe this, Alek Wek, Assata Shakur, Rihanna, Viola Davis, Pumla Gqola, Nayyirah Waheed, Porsha Olayiwola, the womxn of the fallist movement, my friends… I have never stanned harder.
I love them, because they are black womxn, like me.
During my moments of self-doubt, the moments when I return to my 13 year old self, I hope that I remember to love these womxn.
To love me.