I went to a relatively diverse middle school (diverse in the sense that there were as many African American students as White students). The advanced classes that I was in reflected this diversity, but when I got to high school that all changed. Very quickly the trend began in which I was either the only one or one of a small number of African American students in a class, specifically advanced classes. The first time that this happened to me in 9th grade, it was difficult for me to cope. I did not necessarily know a particular word for it at the time, but I experienced stereotype threat. My anxiety about being the only Black student in the class negatively impacted my performance in a subject I more than excelled at (mathematics). It took time to adjust to it, but I eventually did.
Although I never had any negative experiences with teachers in terms of racism and discrimination (at least that I could perceive at that time), there were some negative experiences with classmates that I had. People were never bold enough to call me something that could obviously be construed as a racial slur, but it was clear from the language used that I was different and that I would be constantly reminded of it every day. Another issue that I immediately noticed was that even though the school demographics were essentially split between Black students and White students, Black students were significantly underrepresented in the college preparatory classes. Even in high school, I knew that something was wrong, but I do not think I could articulate it as well at that point. Now I realize things like that are systemic and institutional. They come from a long history of inequalities facing Black students and it is not such an easy fix as “students should want to learn more.” It is going to take an effort from groups of people on different fronts in order to even the playing field and ensure that everyone has an adequate education.