Why I hate Abbott Elementary
Even as I write this, I would prefer not to, but I hate Abbott Elementary.
I know. *heavy sighs and reluctantly pulls black card from pocket*
Truly, I get it. To quote a random Twitter user,
“I love how black Twitter has collectively gotten behind Abbott Elementary.”
Have we? I mumble to myself filled with a seething shame that anyone with decency to wonder if they’re aligning with the wrong side of history, has felt.
But I hate it.
So much so that getting through the first episode I stopped and started three times before making it to the end.
Look, I love Quinta’s eye for a story, her well-placed humor, I am a true fan of her work.
I fell in love with her inspiration for the show long before I even saw an episode, I mean, a comedic homage to her mother and her work as a teacher in an underserved school?!?!?!
Come on. The rave reviews write themselves.
Yet, here I am cringing at the week after week, record-breaking viewership marks.
“Y’all fuck with Abbott elementary?” I texted all my black ass friends…
The yes’s piling in one right after another.
Of course, they did.
You know what, I think that shit makes me sick to my stomach thinking about all those white people watching confirming every dirty secret reality that their factionalized and sensationalized news and pop culture had ever presented an inner-city school to be.
“Yeah, but that shit is true AF,” my bestie chimed in…
Yeah… I know, sulking at this point… I think my feelings are just hurt, just to think that these are the thoughts going through white people’s heads when they meet me when they see my children and me at the library or the park. God, forbid they catch us at the grocery store when I’ve lost control of the situation.
The soul-crushing betrayal that the inner child third-grade version of me is feeling has got my heart racing, she had done everything she could to fit in with her all-white peer group at her all-white school… yet it had come up short.
For as long as I remember, I have always been the black girl white people felt comfortable around. I’m cringing about how good it made me feel knowing how much more comfortable my very white debate partner was saying “nigga” than I was.
I’m afraid to see how deep this line of mental interrogation will go, how much more of my world will crack. Was I just a black girl, that give white people just enough access to be curious to appease their curiosity? I do not like the thought, yet my mind begins to fill with enough supporting evidence to convince me there is no other option.
In my junior or senior year of high school, my underserved black-ass school hosted the national qualifying tournament for forensics.
Forensics is the glory sport of the smart and nerdy. Being that it was a national qualifier meant that no matter what well-funded school you attended, that Saturday, you were on a bus to the hood.
The national qualifier isn’t just a regular degular tournament.
No, see. You gotta be here. Break here. To go to Nats.
One fine Saturday hundreds of privileged white kids from schools with plenty of funding and three-ply toilet paper trolloped their asses down to the inner city school that sat adjacent to the abandoned houses on the corner.
Their big ass gawking eyeballs as they came in the door through the metal detectors. Peering at what felt like the equivalent of someone watching me put Spanx on. All at once, memories of the shame and embarrassment I felt as the jokes and the wise-cracks about watching for bullets and how they were in the hood. Laughing at our paint-chipped lockers, chucking about how small and outdated everything was, spilled out of my eyes.
There I was a black girl who had always tried to squish any unapproachable amount of blackness out of me, “you’re not like other black girls — — you know, ghetto”…
No. I didn’t know. But I got that it meant that white people accepted me, and I had held that dearly.
I think somewhere in my little mind if I couldn’t get the love I would covet being accepted.
That deep sense of caring felt similar to every time my 9-year old, only black girl in her class, daughter, has asked for me to turn my black ass music down when I’m dropping her off… I cringe, torn between the defiance wrought in the wisdom of my older age saying fuck that, the whites are gone get this Latto… and her tiny fear-filled face as we turn the corner bass basing.
This is why I cannot like Abbott, I can’t even begin to join in on the jokes, or follow the plight and hero’s journey of our characters because I am too consumed worried about the millions of white faces across the country, a seething curiosity in their eyes, joking and laughing. Laughing at me- at this urban inner-city school. Their minds using Abbott to confirm every horrible assumption they’ve ever made about inner-city schools and the students that go there.
That’s trauma Miriam, let that little version of you be free, reclaim your childhood innocence. My black childhood innocence.
With every one of my sister’s words, it is like an invitation to forgive the parts of me that would have chosen the white doll in a modern doll test.
My brother trying to build a case of how some stories need to be told, but what matters more is who tells them. Quinta is a safe gatekeeper to our stories. I agreed. I’m just afraid, who will explain me. Will this make me look bad?
The pressure I feel sometimes in an all-white room to explain, to apologize, to make them feel comfortable reminds me of when I take my 21-month-old son to the library and he gets excited… I worry that some white parent will take one look at my boy pushing over the legos and not know that’s the same boy that will crawl in my lap and ask me “what’s wrong mommy” any time I take a deep breath, and that at that moment their sticky uncomfortable feelings about black men will find him.
I don’t know when this performative part of me will wash away, I think back to all the feelings my ancestors must have had as generations of themselves squeezed themselves into whiter and whiter spaces trading their blackness for access.
“You talk like a white girl”.
I did. Maybe I still do.
My dark-skinned grandmother, Minnie, was taken out of her family home and brought into another family during her childhood. They raised her white. To dress, to act, to think like a white girl at a time where being dark-skinned black and having a nice life, was only guaranteed if you presented adjacent to whiteness enough for them to feel safe around you, to accept and respect you.
These were the rules I learned to get ahead. To become something that white people accepted and respected because your dark black skin couldn’t get you that.
Maybe I don’t hate Abbott Elementary, maybe I just hate all the parts of me it makes me confront… and maybe I don’t hate those either.
I’ll give it another go, thank you Quinta.
I dedicate this piece to my recently passed grandmother, Minnie. I don’t know much about the feelings from her childhood. I know she went on to be a teacher, a principal, a superintendent, and a well-respected member of her community. I pray she Rest In Peace, that she got what she wanted from life and that as she looks down from above at me and my black ass kids as we navigate blackness in our time to know we are grateful for every sacrifice she made. We will take your love with us into every white space we enter. Proud and authentically.