Racism in Education–Why the Resurgence?

As a Black mother, I used to think my battle with the educational system was a covert one. I battle soft expectations, I battle that “who do you think you are?” look when I advocate for my son with Jay-Z-like unstoppableness, Obama-like diplomacy and an Ivy League vocabulary.

But a recent string of events across the country indicates a frightening trend of a resurgence of the kind of racism and insensitivity that is so insulting it harkens back to Jim Crow and poses a challenge that can’t be won in the principal’s office.

Witness a few recent news items:

In Alabama, a teacher uses a hypothetical assassination of President Barack Obama as an example in a geometry lesson. He later apologizes for his “very serious error,” gets a formal reprimand and is now on paid leave while the administration decides what to do with him.

A North Georgia teacher allowed four students to wear mock Ku Klux Klan outfits (they used SpongeBob Squarepants party hats under the sheets for that oh-so-necessary cone effect) for a final project in a high school social studies class.

The Texas State Board of Education, a Republican-dominated group, voted to rewrite history and adopted a social studies and history curriculum that amends or waters down the teaching of the civil rights movement, religious freedoms, America’s relationship with the U.N. and hundreds of other items. The suggested revisions include calling the Atlantic slave trade the “Atlantic triangular trade” instead and describing the civil rights movement as creating “unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes” among black and white Americans.

And the Arizona legislature continues its momentum of racist lawmaking by recently passing an outrageous bill trying to ban specific ethnic studies courses.

I know there is a more sophisticated sociological question to be asked, but WTF? just seems so apropos.

We send our students to school to learn. And although we, as Black parents, always knew that we couldn’t rely on the schools to teach our children our history, our true history and our complete history, they at least were sure to cover certain parts.

Now our shrinking and incomplete history is becoming even more invisible. And our children, our needs and our viewpoints are sure to follow. The message in Texas and Arizona is clear–our history is an unwelcome intrusion to the “real” American history, one that shows America as flawless. They don’t want us to have any reason to wallow in our oppression, because that would be un-American.

As for the geometry teacher and social studies teacher, I can’t even say that I was shocked. Sadly, I’m rarely floored by instances of racism anymore. Teachers, like all humans, have subtle biases and insensitivities that they may not be even aware of, and they bring those into the classroom every day. I am just glad that another teacher, student or parent spoke up about it and that both teachers were reprimanded. You may do something stupid, but you can’t just get away with it. We have to hold our educators accountable.

What’s really sad is that these disturbing trends, especially on the legislative and state level, come at a time when a Black man sits as president. I have often said that Black power is more feared than Black people, and we are now seeing the response to their fear of Blacks and other people of color gaining more power. Their fear of us gaining more knowledge. Their fear of our children having knowledge (= power)  and a true understanding for who we are.

The most insulting part, and I’m speaking directly to the Texas and Arizona messes here, is that do they really think that if they “rewrite” history or cut ethnic studies classes, we won’t teach our children our true history? Do they think we are so stupid that we will actually forget the Civil Rights Movement? The answer is yes. And that’s what really gets me.

Memo to the Texas School Board: You can call the transatlantic slave trade the NBA Draft for all I care, but I will never forget what happened nor ignore the lingering after-effects today. I will never let my children forget. I will never let my grandchildren forget. And I don’t even live in Texas. Oh and by the way, removing our history doesn’t change that we are here in the present. Our children are still here and present. So while you waste your time removing our history, we are busy crafting our glorious futures, one Black child at a time.

Let’s see how you will rewrite that.

Cross-posted by permission from Essence.com.

Above photo from Creative Commons, attribution–share alike 3.0 unported