In his book, The Miseducation of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson states “if you can control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his action.” When I think about how so many K-12 school districts have historically and systematically manipulated the minds of Black students, I sum it up with 4 ‘P’s:
The whitewashing of American history has long been an issue in public schools. It wasn’t until I minored in African-American Studies at Temple University that I really started to learn about Black history. Every teacher should listen to Dead Prez’s “They School” and Boogie Down Productions’ “You Must Learn” to understand how the complete omission of historical facts is just as psychologically damaging to Black students as the purposeful altering of facts to create a culturally-biased and racist historical narrative. That’s exactly why Jada Huffman started her business, “Official ‘I AM’ Apparel” to highlight the unsung heroes of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous history. That’s also why my wife Natalie Gill-Mensah, a METCO graduate, worked diligently as senior class president, to advocate for the integration of African studies into the curriculum at the predominantly-white Arlington High School over TWENTY YEARS AGO! The fact that it’s 2020 and we’re still talking about this issue is a damn shame.
As a black man, I can’t speak on the benefits of privilege but I can surely tell you how white privilege causes irreparable damage to the psyche of Black students. Privilege is when sixth grade teacher Zakia Jarrett gets placed on administrative leave for teaching students about America’s original sin using the poem “I, Too” while a school board member Connie Bernard has the luxury to shop online as emotionally charged Black folks are outraged during a school board meeting focused on the renaming of a high school named after Robert E. Lee. Let’s not forget the school districts who are complicit in perpetuating the actions of racist white teachers! Just type “white teachers keep job” in your Google search engine and educate yourself.
POLICY & PUNISHMENT
Racist policies that have greatly attributed to the huge disparity in suspension rates between Black students and their white counterparts. The racist policing of Black hair, by far, has greatly contributed to the high black student suspension rates in recent years. Twin sisters Mya and Deanna Cook’s braided hair extensions were a “distraction” and needed to be “fixed” according to their school officials. Lawrence Charles’ durag did not fit the profile of a “college-ready” student. How so?! I’m a Black man who wore a durag all throughout college, earned two degrees, and has sported locs throughout his entire teaching career. So, am I an exception to the rules or do the rules defy logic?! I’ll let you decide.
In order to combat these issues, we ALL must play a role in shifting the education paradigm and combating the structural racism that exists within so many school districts nationwide. Here are three ways we can start doing this:
- Every white teacher must acknowledge their white privilege and TAKE PROACTIVE ACTION TOWARDS COMBATING STRUCTURAL RACISM EVERYWHERE.
- Support the Crown Act in fighting discrimination against race-based hairstyles in public schools.
- Integrate curricular resources that are accurately representative of Black history and culture. Websites such as Rethinking Schools and the Zinn Education Project are a great place to start.
In the words of James Baldwin, let’s brace ourselves for “the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance”. Paradigm shifting is the most revolutionary act you’ll ever do as a teacher so I hope that you’re prepared for the fight.