School, Interrupted Part 4: What It's Like For Us Every Day
To be black in the Winston-Salem Forsyth County school district means to be, on average, academically 2.8 grades behind white students. That’s according to "Miseducation," a report published by ProPublica in 2018 about racial disparities in educational opportunities and school discipline.
This is not an isolated issue. Nationwide, white students are almost twice as likely to be in advanced placement classes as black students. For Radio 101 student Christian Taylor, little things made him start to wonder what it really means to be a student of color in today’s American schools.
“I remember one time in middle school, I was just sitting there, and some kid just goes, ‘Well, why don't you just go pick cotton?’ or ‘Do you want some fried chicken or watermelon?' Like, just silly stuff like that.” Taylor explains.
But researchers have found that the inequalities between black and white students start to develop right after kindergarten. A study by Brown University and Princeton University suggests that from kindergarten to third grade, black students receive a number of suspensions and/or expulsions that's three times higher than their white counterparts.
“It messes with your psyche and the way you view yourself. It damages your self-esteem. It kind of distorts you a little bit, you get used to being treated like a second-class citizen to the point where it doesn't bother you anymore,” says Radio 101 student Cayle Manning.
According to Manning, being a black student means constantly having to battle stereotypes. From being lazy to being a troublemaker to grown-ups telling her that she was just not good enough, or sometimes that she’s actually “one of the good ones.”
“A couple of years ago I had an older counselor. She would always recommend the black kids to be in lower-level courses and encourage the white kids to be in higher-level classes. During my freshman and sophomore year, she wouldn’t even talk to me about AP classes,” Manning says.
It is important to note that after getting a new counselor, Manning started taking two advanced placement classes and she is now part of the 10 percent of black students at her school that make up the entire population of students in AP classes. However, according to Radio 101 student Jodishae Haughton, the racial divide goes beyond academics.
“One of the things I went through when I was in school was that I was going to the bathroom and the teacher let me go because the pass was stolen. And since the bathroom was, like, right across from the classroom, he let me go. One of the administrators came, and they were like, ‘Where's your pass?’ And I was like ‘it got stolen, the teacher's pass got stolen.’ And they were like, ‘well, since your classrooms right there, you can just go back and get a note.’ But then one of my white counterparts from the same class got to go in the bathroom without a note and I'm like, how is that fair, you know? I just think sometimes my white counterparts get away with things more,” said Haughton.
And statistically, they do. The question now becomes “why?” and to find the answer we need to look into the idea of implicit bias. At least that's according to Omari Scott Simmons, Howard L. Oleck Professor of Business Law and author of Potential on the Periphery: College Access from the Ground Up.
“One thing also we have to keep in mind is that a lot of black students ... are in situations where they're being evaluated by people who don't look like them. It's not going to change when they go through some types of professional environments and other places. I think a lot of white students have not had that experience where the overwhelming majority, who are people who are ever evaluating them, happened to be someone who looks different than them. And I think having that experience or putting yourself in that experience, can actually change your perspective quite frequently,” says Simmons.
The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that only seven percent of public school teachers across the United States are black.
But according to Simmons, there’s hope.
“One of the first stages is simple acknowledgment. Acknowledgment of how it can operate at an individual level, and how that compounds itself in on a broader stage at a broader level, even systematically working to the disadvantage of students,” says Simmons.
And as one of Radio 101 students, Cayle Manning puts it, dialogue is the way forward.
“The biggest problem is we don't listen to each other at all. We just assume, you know ... thinking about what the other person's going through and, like, having empathy for one another is the best way we can try to combat this,” says Manning.
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