I was a 16-year-old student at the Bronx High School of Science, scribbling Concrete Blonde lyrics at my desk, when my English teacher abruptly called on me, without a heads-up or any preparation, to explain my thoughts on the word nigger in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Truth be told, I didn’t have an opinion, at least not a sophisticated, nuanced one, because I was a teenager reading Twain for the first time. I was there to learn like everyone else. But suddenly, as one of two black students in the class, I was expected to enhance the learning experiences of my mostly white counterparts. I’ll never forget the terrifying and confusing feeling of going from a part of the classroom to a classroom accessory.