Target on my Black

target on my black

You know what’s sad? I almost didn’t leave my home that day because I had a feeling that what eventually did happen would happen. I carried this feeling because it’s happened to me before. At this same exact school. 

Disclaimer: I’m not the best teacher. I’ve seen people do work a lot better than me. I’m not the most effective, nor the most organized, nor the most cutting edge. I have so many flaws. But I am good at a few things. And one is detecting racism. And making sure that it’s called out when it happens.

That gets difficult when I become the target of racism


[Reader, I am going to walk you through this one, okay? Starting with the title, “Target on my Black,” which I think you’ll find is an astute metaphor for the fuckery that I experienced on this day.]


I heard from three former students, on separate occasions, about their excitement for the upcoming volleyball season and their anxiety around their very first home game of the year. They were now in high school and had made their junior team. I looked at my calendar and fortunately had some time on the day of their game. So I mentioned to each of them that I’d try to come support. Support, you know–the thing that propels youth and community forward? Yeah, that thing.

I arrived at the school maybe forty minutes after the school had let out for the day. Coincidentally running into these students in the hallway less than a minute after entering the building. We laughed at how nearly their entire team was comprised of students from our old school

I wished them good luck as they left to warm up.

Who knew I’d be the one needing it? 

Less than a minute later, I ran into some more former students. We talked, I asked them about their grades, they lied, I told them to make sure they were going to class. They nodded. We dapped. I left.

By the time I made it to the gym doors, two adults––a white lady and a south asian female––were peeking through the glass, trying to get in. “Y’all here to watch the game too?” I asked.

“Yup, the guy…he’s on the other side of the gym. He doesn’t see us.” The white lady responded. She was referring to a hall monitor inside. 

“Are you here for the Home team kids or the Away team?” I continued, confident enough that at some point all three of us adults standing here would eventually get into the gym.

“Away,” the white lady said. “My daughter is playing right now.”

“How about you?” I asked the other woman standing there, quietly watching.

“The Home team,” she said. “I’m here to watch my sister…I actually came to this school.” 

“Me too,” I said. “Yeah, I teach at the middle school down the road. A few of my former students are on this team.”

“Oh, wow, I went there too,” she said. She looked at me like she wanted to ask me more questions but before she could the gym door swung open.

“Mr. Morris! How you doing?” another former student said as she exited the gym. “Angel! What’s good? Where are you going? Aren’t you on the team?” I said. 

“Yeah, I am. But I have work. Gotta’ make that bread, juhknow?” 

I laughed as she skirted past all three of us and down the hall. The three of us walked in and went our separate ways, but not too far from each other. Maybe fifteen feet. That’s probably because the bleachers were yellow-taped off so there wasn’t anywhere to sit. There were less than a handful of adults in the gym who weren’t the teacher-coaches from the two schools. Me being one of them. 

The senior teams of the two schools were going into the third set. A few more students who I had taught turned around on their team bench to nod hello. 


[I know, I know. Trust me, I’m getting to the point. But a part of the point is the amount of students in this space whom I clearly had a relationship of familiarity with…]


While they were huddled up preparing for the tie-breaker I walked over to the junior team to chat. You know. That whole support thing. After two minutes or so, I was back holding the same spot where I had been standing for the previous fifteen minutes. Right beside the doors we came in, out of everyone’s way. 


[Right here is where the only objective defense that I will acknowledge. You could argue that by walking over I had made myself known. Hence why what was about to happen, happened. I would argue, doesn’t going over there and talking to the entire team indicate that clearly I had some form of relationship with them?] 


Ten minutes after that was when the bullshit started. A coach from the home school walked up to me. “Hi, ugh..” he stuttered, unsure of exactly what to ask me. “Ugh, who are you?” He finally spit out.

“Hi,” I said with a smile, “I’m Matthew Morris.” I mean, he asked me who I was. And even though I knew what he insinuated I still wanted to make him be as direct as possible with the racism he was about to project. 

“Uh, yeah. Um, but but how come, why are you here?” He asked, even more unsure of how to precisely frame my estrangement from every other person in that space. He didn’t know how exactly to tell me that I looked like someone who didn’t belong. How to tell me that I ought to prove myself. How to let me know that I needed to defend my presence in a high school gym at a high school game even after demonstrating a clear relationship with a bunch of high school students. 

“So, I taught at the school down the road and a few of my former students told me about their first game. They asked me to come. That’s why I’m here.” I said, flashing a brief smile again. Thinking that this would aid him in forming a rational, logical, contextual, and sound conclusion that answered any of his future questions. “Yeah, so we’re colleagues.” I said, just to add a little extra seasoning and reasoning.

Unfortunately, you and I know that racism somehow always bends around reason. Slips through cognition. Get passed sound judgment. 

He walked back over to his team bench. To where his other coaches were sitting. To speak to his colleagues. He bent over to speak with a white guy sitting at the end. He walked back to me. Instead of just sitting his bitch-ass on the bench, he walked back over to me. I laughed to myself. Knowing that the bullshit clearly wasn’t over. 

“Yeah, so there are no spectators for this game.” He said, this time with an iota of added surety. “I can see that.” I said, now intent on making this guy stand in his not-so-subtle racism. 


[I hope that you can see how this interaction is completely racist without me having to explicitly explain why. But if not, this next part should make it clear as day.]


He stood there, too timid to actually make eye contact with the person he was telling to leave. Maybe, as public discourse would tell you, because I am Black I am threatening by default. I find it interesting how Black men can be simultaneously threatening yet feeble enough to be approached for no ostensible reason.

“But, I’m not really a spectator. Like I said, I’m a teacher. Who taught these students…literally your entire junior team. I’m just here to support them.” I said. “And…we’re colleagues.” I let my facial expression say, do you get it now?

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry,” he said. He was lying. We both knew he wasn’t sorry at all.

“So what about them?” I pointed to the two females I came in with. “Are you also going to ask them to leave?” I asked.

“No, parents can stay.” He said.

He told me this without having once spoken with either of these other adults. No clue who they were or where they came from. It was simply unspoken, I guess, that they were allowed and I was not. It was simply unspoken that the other adults, by disposition and appearance were validated while I was not. It was simply understood that these other visitors were verified in the space; they belonged and it somehow made sense for them to be in the gym. They naturally fit in. I was unnatural to the environment. 

Even after telling him that I was there to support former students. For students who asked me to be there. There because I am an employee of the Board that school belongs to. Belonging even more so because I was also once a high school student at that school.  

I didn’t even bother to mention that. That I could show them my photo on the wall made no difference. They already could not see the racist intent behind their actions from the very beginning of the encounter. Yet another example of having a target on my Black. 


[The worst part about anti-Black racist acts is that they are typically so overtly racist that it almost, counterintuitively, becomes easier to shrug them off by simply saying, “that wasn’t racist.” 
In education, racism is often couched in student safety, a position those non-Black folk would have undoubtedly stood on that day if I pointed out their racism.
What’s worse is that the man who came up to me doesn’t even realize the racism he was subjected to by being asked to validate my existence in that space. Him being a marginalized man; he didn’t even take in the subliminal racism he was subjected to by being told by a white man to go see why that Black man is here… Or maybe he did, which is just as disgusting.]


I should let you know…I did end up watching that game. And supporting my students.

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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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