by Stacey Joseph, ODCP, CDP, MBA for ImpactEDI™
Over the past several weeks, an increasing number of white educator friends have reached out to me inquiring how they can better support their Black students. Specifically, they have asked questions like what to say to show support to their Black students, how can they show their students that they believe that black lives matter, and are there books that they should read that would increase their knowledge and understanding of the Black experience, and help strengthen their capacity and agency around the work of Allyship, so that they can affect change.
I preface the below list of twenty recommended books for (white) educators to start reading now, with this statement and subsequent considerations: “Black Lives Matter,” is a statement of truth that everyone ought to embrace, whether or not you support the organization or the movement. Additionally, it’s imperative that people, and especially educators understand that neither the statement, nor the movement, is exclusively about issues of police brutality. Black people, and Black students’ experience racial violence in other aspects of their lives, and sadly, what the data tells us is that more often than not, for Black children, their first experiences of discrimination, bigotry, racial violence, and racialized trauma, tend to take place in school. More than any other group of students, Black students experience violence inflicted upon them in school buildings and classrooms at a much higher rate. Increasingly, reports in public and private schools, and depictions on social media signify that racial harassment is quite prevalent in the lives of black students in the United States. Incidents involving the use of racial slurs and other derogatory language and name calling, as well as wrongful and unjust accusations of misbehavior, drug use, theft, and “disrespect” of faculty members are all experiences of violence that Black students endure from the group of adults in whose care parents have entrusted their children.
The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) puts out a report every two years that tracks the percentage distribution of school discipline by race. A January 2014 joint letter from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice warned schools across the US that exclusionary forms of school discipline, like suspensions and expulsions, could constitute unlawful discrimination. In the letter, OCR noted that “the substantial racial disparities of this kind reflected in the CRDC data are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color.” Among the data that the OCR reported, was stats on harassment and bullying that revealed that Black students are disproportionately likely to be victims of bullying and harassment in school, making up 35% of the students who reported being bullied or harassed on the basis of their race. Yet, Black students are suspended and/or expelled at rates disproportionately higher than their white peers.
In February 2018, The Anti-Defamation League reported that white supremacist groups have increasingly targeted college campuses since the 2016 election. Investigators found that the number of racist flyers, banners, and stickers found on college campuses were more than three times higher in 2017 than the previous year. Accompanying data reveals that students and teachers alike, have reported that they have seen an increase in hateful language and attitudes towards Blacks and other marginalized student groups, by other students and teachers alike. The most pressing fact to understand related to all of the data, is that evidence shows that racial discrimination in school, negatively affects students’ ability to learn.
For educators to begin to understand their role in supporting Black students, they need to understand the current role they play in harming the spirit and lives of Black students. They must come to terms with the fact that bias, bigotry, racism, and inequity in the classroom, and the policing of black student bodies and the way black student bodies show up and interact, is both a form of policing, and is also a form of racial violence and racialized trauma. To the extent to which we all carry our beliefs (be it conscious beliefs or implicit bias) in our bodies, white educators specifically, if they are to support Black students and do the work of Allyship in school buildings, need to be mindful of the way that white bodies (their own, other white school faculty, white students, and “school resource officers”) show up and interact with black students’ bodies.
Black students make up just 15% of students in public schools across the US, yet, they account for 31% of the students who were referred to law enforcement or subjected to school-related arrests. In 28 states, the share of arrested students who are black is at least 10 percentage points higher than their share of enrollment in schools with at least one arrest. In 10 of those states, that gap is at least 20 percentage points. No other student racial or ethnic groups face such disparities in as many states. Nationwide, black boys are at the highest risk, three times as likely to be arrested at school as their white male peers. And African-American girls fare little better: They are more than 1.5 times as likely as white boys to be arrested. In her book Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, Monique W. Morris talks about educational institutions as “structures of dominance” that can either reinforce negative outcomes and ghettoize opportunity or actively disrupt conditions that render black girls vulnerable to criminalization. With specific regard to the way in which black students look, dress, speak, and act, white educators have deeply entrenched biased expectations of their black students—influenced by racism and patriarchy, which has led to their mislabelling and mischaracterization. In school, incidents/acts of racism coupled with the incessant experience of microaggressions from white educators, is so much more than racist acts by misguided or implicitly biased educators. They are what legal scholar Patricia Williams calls “spirit murdering.” It is rather, “…a slow death, a death of the spirit, a death that is built on racism and intended to reduce, humiliate, and destroy people of color.”
White educators, part of what you are tasked with here, and as you read through this non-exhaustive list of twenty recommended titles, is to consider and ask yourself the following questions which Dr. Bettina Love poses in her research on Anti-Black State Violence: The Classroom Edition: How do children learn after being physically assaulted or racially insulted by a person who is supposed to protect them, love them, and teach them? How does a Black or Brown child live, learn, and grow when their spirit is under attack at school, and their body is in danger inside the classroom? How does a parent grapple with this reality? How are children’s imagination and humanity stunted by the notion that they are never safe in their schools because of the color of their skin or the God they pray to? Where does the soul go to heal when school is a place of trauma?
The death of George Floyd, and the subsequent social uprising has opened the eyes of many white people, to the violence inflicted upon black bodies. Yet, there are countless killings and mangling of black bodies that preceded that of brother Goerge Floyd, and there still seems to be a veil of convenience with regard to the role that everyday white people, and in this case, white educators play in perpetuating various forms of violence via stereotyping, micro and macro aggressions, implicit bias, unfair grading, name calling, ‘pushing out’, ‘otherization’, and all around mistreatment and ‘spirit murdering’ of black children during school and in school buildings; and oftentimes at the hands and/or will of educators. You need only to bear witness to school officer Zach Christensen brutally attacking an 11yr old New Mexico student, slamming her small body to the ground for “taking more milks than allotted; or to the strip search of four 12-year-old Black girls at their school in Binghamton, NY for acting “too hyper and giddy”; or the Hazelton, PA incident where a 15-year-old black female student’s hair is pulled, thighs are punched, and face is slammed into a cafeteria table by a school security guard because of an alleged altercation with another student, and think about the countless educators and school faculty who through direct action, or lack of intervention were one way or the other complicit. Given this, here are Twenty Recommended books that every (White) Educator should read right now.
- We Want to do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom by Dr. Bettina L. Love
- Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School by Monique W. Harris
- Black Minds Matter: Realizing the Brilliance, Dignity, and Morality of Black Males in Education– by Dr. J. Luke Wood
- The Growth Mindset Playbook: A Teacher’s Guide to Promoting Student Success by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley
- I Wish For Change: Unleashing The Power of Kids to Make a Difference by Kyle Swartz
- I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything For Our Kids by Kyle Swartz
- The Guide For White Women Teaching Black Boys by Eddie Moore, Ali Michael et al.
- Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry
- How to Be Anti-Racist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
- Hello Autism: How to Love, Like, and Learn From Your Special Needs Child by Theresa Noye
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Promises Kept by Dr. Joe Brewster, Michele Stephenson, et al.
- Between The World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates
- The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and The Origins of the LA Riots by Brenda Stevenson
- Boys and Girls Learn Differently by Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in A World Made For Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
- The 400 Year Headstart Yet Still Destined For Glory by Nikki Ace
- Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and It’s Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddies S. Glaude Jr.
- Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
- Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammed
*Image – Shutterstock
*Stacey Joseph is a Certified Diversity Professional, Certified Somatic Practitioner, and Founder of ImpactEDI™. She facilitates trainings, workshops, and somatic healing sessions around diversity, inclusion, radicalized trauma, and creating safe spaces of belonging. She is also a regular contributor to the ImpactEDI™ blog.
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