How much is anti-Black racism responsible for the different approaches/discussion in regard to Black boys and LGBTQ+ students?

Speak to the back of the room

It’s a common piece of advice for public speakers: when addressing an audience, speak to the back of the room (Alexander 2016). This practice, experts argue, serves to combat the natural tendency to connect with those physically closer to us and make a deliberate effort to focus our attention on those who are harder to see. This advice is meaningful to me in both the literal and figurative sense.

I recently took a job at a new school district and was given a Freshman Honors English class. In a school that is at least 80% Black, I was surprised by how few Black young men were in the class. I’d seen the school’s statistics for AP classes, and was determined to ensure that the young men in my class would succeed in my class and be prepared for AP coursework as upperclassmen. The class environment was fairly vibrant. Most of the students really loved talking about books and ideas and I could see the joy and curiosity I always wanted to inspire in my students. Sadly, this didn’t apply to my Black young men (2nd and 3rd row center). They’d lean against walls or put up their hoods to work independently. More importantly, my ineffective instruction hindered their academic performance, engagement and attitude toward learning.

 

Priority matters

Of course I want all my students to succeed. If one plays the numbers game, or follows the “majority rule” perhaps most students do better, but the students who need to matter most are left to struggle. It’s also important to note that the need exists, not because of any intrinsic difference, but because of generations of deliberate neglect (if not all out sabotage). For this reason, it might be more accurate to refer to these students as “under attack” rather than “at risk.”

Consider the following facts from a recent blog post:

Today, black men are 21 times more likely to killed by cops than their white counterparts.

 

Black people in the U.S. are incarcerated at six times the rates of White Americans.

When Michelle Alexander wrote The New Jim Crowshe sparked a nation-wide debate about the school to prison pipeline.

 

Some disturbing facts:

There is not one state in the U.S. where White students are suspended at anywhere the same rate as Black students.

That may not be stating it strongly enough, so let’s look at some examples. In Los Angeles, only 3% of students who were given out of school suspensions were White. The remainder were Black and Latino students. That’s not the worst case, though. In a St. Louis school district, 100% of all students who were given more than one out-of-school suspension, expelled, or referred to law enforcement were black.

One would have a hard time arguing that someone under attack is in most dire need of concerted help/attention, yet many argue against prioritizing Black young men in the classroom.

 

I’ve struggled with finding a reason, other than racism, that people might resist prioritization of Black students. I recently attended a workshop that made a much stronger argument. Professor Glendaliz Martinez Almonte argued unequivocally that “the root of bias in our schools in the United States are centered in anti blackness” (Martinez Almonte 2021). The readings this week, when read as a text set, highlighted this bias.

The articles focused on students of different ability, students of the LGBTQ+ community, and Black boys. Each of the articles examined obstacles students face in receiving a quality education. Each of the articles highlighted systemic and institutional failures. The article “The trouble with Black boys: The role and influence of environmental and cultural factors on the academic performance of African American males” placed at least a portion of the blame on the students themselves.

I struggled to imagine any of the other articles taking a similar stance. For instance, it would be absolutely unacceptable to acknowledge the hostile school environment endured by LGBTQ+ students and then add the caveat– but their behavior and attitudes contribute as well. I wonder if some of the grace offered students of different abilities and from the LGBTQ+ communities has to do with White students being among their number. “Nice White Parents,” a podcast by The New York Times examines White parents’ influence on public education, and posits a “bliss point” of 26% White students. I’m sure there are a wide variety of factors at play in this phenomenon, but at least part might be what Michelle Alexander called the “racial bribe”. Black students cannot be prioritized because it would threaten the ability of “whites to retain a sense of superiority over blacks” (Alexander 2012, p 41). As a result, all students are actually worse off. If one accepts Professor Martinez Almonte’s premise that the root of all bias is anti-Black bias, it seems that by prioritizing our Black students, conditions would improve across the board.

What confounds me is why we haven’t recognized the need to prioritize Black students for the improvement of education overall.

 Source:  Alexander, M., & Chilton, K. (2012). The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness . Recorded Books.Alexander, S. (2016, August 9). Speak To The Back Of The Room To Move Your Audience. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/speak-back-room-move-your-audience-steve-alexander-jr-arm Asplund, N. R. (2018). School counseling toward an LGBTQ-inclusive school climate:Implementing the SCEARE model. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 12(1), 17-31. doi:10.1080/15538605.2018.1421115. Gross, T. (2020, October 12). Podcast Examines How “Nice White Parents” Become Obstacles In Integrated Schools. NPR.Org. https://www.npr.org/2020/10/12/922092481/podcast-examines-how-nice-white-parents-become-obstacles-in-integrated-schools Martinez Almonte, G. (n.d.). Culturally Responsive Classrooms – Zoom. Teach Forward. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://cainc.zoom.us/rec/play/5w0YCVmOZ2HLT8HIlwEt-zpN19ZPKopLb5OMEmu4WnYgrGkpeATJ6ah8NuAittt–W_pdY4witXIzSx8.pVlzXW0SpCL-RiH0?startTime=1614886922000&_x_zm_rtaid=uWQzr_JDROG_aHO3TS0FcA.1615847834032.b5f51ff04667b67db9ddf1311eef8446&_x_zm_rhtaid=597 Noguera, P. A. (2003). The trouble with Black boys: The role and influence of environmental and cultural factors on the academic performance of African American males. Urban Education, 38,431-459. doi: 10.1177/0042085903038004005

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