Sayrie: Don’t be complicit, be an antiracist

Complicit: involved with others in an illegal activity or wrongdoing.

Hold that thought. I will circle back around to this. Let me tell you a story about middle school first.

I just know Mrs. F. could not stand to see me coming. She scowled every day I had the audacity to walk through her classroom door. It pained her see some skinny Black girl walking into her seventh and eighth grade exclusive honors math program. I knew she didn’t like me, the feeling was mutual and I still had the nerve to walk in with a smile on my face. She didn’t have to greet me, all of my friends did.

Mrs F. was not the only racist teacher I had but she was the worst. The most overt. Overt racists are my “favorite,” I can at least respect them for their honesty. At the beginning of the school year there were nine people of color. She was such a bully she successfully deterred the only two Black male students to drop out by the second semester, one of which was in jail by the end of the school year. It took a little more time but the others either dropped or switch classes too. Not me though, so she set out to give me hell.

She would often draw lines to create about six separate spots on the board for students. She would then write equations to be solved by each student, walk back and forth, and either correct and explain their work, or give them a thumbs up and tell them they could sit down. When it was my turn, she would write equations we had not learned yet from chapters ahead in the book. You can fool me once, sometimes you can even fool me twice, but I’m not going to let you just keep playing me for a fool. She hated the fact that she could not stump me, or make me cry from embarrassment. Because obviously this was her goal, not teaching me algebra.

My classmates would flip ahead in their books and mouth or use their hands to guide me step by step when she wasn’t looking. My mother spent good money on a tutor those two years as well. I still don’t like math or algebra but I remained an A student in her class.

The first thing in the mornings we had quiet sheet work. I would walk in, sit down, and do my work without talking to my neighbors just as my mother had coached me. My posture was that of head down, mouth shut, laser focused on my page. I heard everyone around me but I wasn’t tempted to talk. 

She used to play a “game” in which she would shush the class one or two times, and then sternly single me out to be quiet. The class would always address her before I did, telling her that I wasn’t speaking at all. This class will always be near and dear to me because unlike other classes, or other instances of public discrimination, they stood up for me as a group, time and time again. Anyhow, I never fell for it…until I finally did. Then I gave her everything.

I stood up on my chair and told her where to go! I already knew I was in trouble so there was no stopping me at that point. She wrote up a referral which she told me to come get and take to the office.

I don’t know why she wasted her time like that. 

She didn’t even have what it took to hand it to me herself. When her student aide handed it to me, I ripped it in half while looking her dead in the eyes the whole time. She was hot! She screamed at me to go to the office, so still standing in my chair I stomped across every desk and jumped down in front of the door. I bumped a few things before slamming the door on my way out.

I went to the office, and the principal offered me words of comfort. It was a feeling of defeat. In that moment I understood the principal was already aware of Mrs. F’s behavior. She admitted many students and parents before me had already addressed this problem. This was “just the way she was” but she was an excellent math teacher. For one reason or another, her tenure, or positioning within the education board would not make for an easy dismissal. It was easier to dismiss my referral, and offer me quiet time in the counselor’s office if I felt like I needed it. I was only 12 or 13-years-old at this time, so I was still becoming familiar with racism and its layers.

Before that day, I thought there was only right and wrong. I thought bad behavior had bad consequences, and the only people I had to worry about were racists. I knew nothing about the people or systems that protected and empowered them. This woman had used racial epithets towards me, told me I was less than a dog, prompting my mother to come up to the school to confront her, and nothing was going to be done about it.

Confused, hurt, and angry, I returned to class early the next day. Ready for whatever she was going to throw my way. I remember placing both of my hands on top of my math book waiting. I would not have a name for it until many years later but it was then and there I experienced my first panic attack.

There is disappointment in finding oneself in a discriminatory situation. The event itself can leave you reeling, but what gets me every time, are the nice White people. The witnesses who do nothing. The ones that just stand there with all that privilege and watch. 


I have always wondered why the crowd never did anything to put a stop to harm. A simple “Hey! That’s not okay. That will not be tolerated here.” I/we don’t need consoling after the fact. After the perpetrator has walked off,  “That should have never happened to you.” 

You think?

I was a young teen having panic attacks. Have you ever experienced a panic attack? It feels like you can’t breathe, can’t think straight, you’re shaking and clammy. Your heart is racing. There is nothing fun about it. I experienced them for years because of nice White people not wanting to stand up to hold racists accountable. Complicit.

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” ~unknown.

A native of Phoenix, Arizona Aundrea Sayrie is a firm believer in the power of words, faith and a strong spirit. Her greatest desire is to encourage those around her to discover and honor their truth, and to passionately live on purpose.