My job is heavily involved in STEM. We recently invited a STEM group to tour different laboratories and engage with professionals in the STEM field. A vast majority of the students were African American ranging from middle to high school. Based on the demographics, we believed this would be an awesome opportunity for them to gain exposure to different careers in STEM and to interact with professionals that look like them-Hashtag Representation Matters.
The day started off great. Upon arrival, we separated the large group of 50 into two groups- group A & B. I had the pleasure of assisting group A and my coworker assisted group B. Once the groups were divided, we were off to start the day. The first half of the day was a breeze. Group A learned mobile application development and met an African American Medical Toxicology Doctor. Group B toured the science labs. The students were engaged and very receptive. The two activities took up the majority of the morning and now it was time for lunch.
Groups A & B reconvened at the cafeteria for lunch. Mind you, the camp provided lunch for the students which included the standard sandwich, fruit, chips, and juice. The lunch was very appealing to the eyes; my coworker and I jokingly thought about taking a packed lunch for ourselves. Furthermore, once the students were settled for lunch, my coworker among other chaperones monitored the groups in the café while I straightened up the conference room for group B’s afternoon session- group A was going on a tour of the laboratories.
I arrived back to the café no more than 40 minutes later and found students missing. So, I asked the students that were still sitting in the assigned area “where is everyone?” One young lady responded, “Ordering food”. I thought to myself, “Self, why are they ordering food? They were provided a lunch, smh.” I began to feel anxious because I knew this would make us late for the afternoon sessions.
I proceeded to walk from the dining area to the grill to find 15-20 students ordering food. I checked the time and noticed we had ten minutes to meet the lab tour guide. Fifteen minutes later, group A was gathered with bags of food, ice cream and fountain drinks in hand to meet the tour guide. I informed group A before leaving the café that we had a 5 minute walk to our next destination and that all fountain drinks and ice-cream should be consumed or else it would be thrown away before entering the labs.
We arrived to our destination, and I reminded the students to throw away fountain drinks and ice-cream. Of course, that did not go over well. Attitudes started popping off. I thought to myself, “Hold the hell up; not me and not today.” So, I said, in my proper professional voice, “For those who do not want to follow the rules, we will be happy to escort you back to the STEM Director.” Everyone got quiet, and I proceeded to make sure all open containers were thrown away.
There was one little girl in particular who deliberately continued to eat her apple pieces. I kindly whispered to her, “Please put your apple pieces in your book bag before we enter the building.” The girl looked at me and ROLLED her little beady eyes. Time stopped. At that moment, nothing else mattered. My blood began to boil. I felt my pressure rising. I walked closer to the girl and had a stare off. The death stare. The stare that lets you know, if I was your mama I would knock your eyes straight. She gave in. She put the apple pieces in her book bag and zipped it up. Finally, we were off to tour the labs in SCPT- Standard Colored People’s Time.
Fast forward. The tour ended early. The students were rude and rambunctious. They received a stern lecture from the STEM Director once she caught wind of what had occurred. She apologized on the student’s behalf, and she instructed the students to write ‘I Am Sorry Letters’. But, for the rest of the afternoon, I could not for the life of me get that little girl rolling her eyes out of my head. I do not know why it made me feel some-type-of-way. For the obvious, she was disrespectful and ill-mannered. The more I thought about her rolling her eyes, it became slightly humorous.
To be honest, the average black woman rolls her eyes 20 times a day or more no matter the reasoning- a surprise, a joke, running late, somebody died, somebody lied, somebody breath stank, getting engaged, a bad outfit, a good outfit, no gas in the car, a full tank of gas in the car, somebody speeding, somebody driving slow, a red light, a green light, somebody talking loud, somebody not talking loud enough, not texting back fast enough, waiting, calling bullshit, hearing your favorite jam, feeling hangry, or feeling full.
No matter the reason, a black woman will roll her eyes. It is up to you, the receiver of the eye roll, to recognize the significance of the moment. You must factor in time, place, occasion, and unspoken tone of voice. For my situation, I knew the little girl was being obnoxious to which I proceeded to get within boob length of her and use the death stare tactic. The little girl was able to gather from my body language, she had messed up.
As a black woman, the rolling of the eyes is a rite of passage. The rolling of eyes is innate and has been passed down from generation to generation. Honestly, I’ve never seen a black woman not roll her eyes. It is a natural instinct we have like the sucking of the teeth. We suck our teeth even when we don’t have food stuck in between them. It’s a gift we offer to the world. The little girl who rolled her eyes at me, I ain’t mad at her. She just got it honest.
Disclaimer: This is NOT a pass for children to be disrespectful to adults. All children should be warned before rolling their eyes at adults, especially black women. Black women are liable to “pluck them out and make you put them back in your head”, “knock them straight” and or “give you something to roll your eyes for”.