America’s education system is screwed up. For black people, it can be an absolute sh*t show. I am originally from Gulfport, Mississippi, and spent my whole life there until moving to Atlanta for college. As I got older, I began to notice things as I progressed through school. Being a high-achieving student, I was placed in honors and advanced classes, but I noticed that fewer and fewer of my fellow African-American students were in those classes. There were several instances in which I was the only African-American student in the class.
At times I felt isolated and alienated, particularly during that one wonderful semester when I was constantly called names by a White student every time I entered the classroom. I always wondered “why is no one else like me in these classes?” I felt like I didn’t belong and that I was not necessarily welcome, even though I always proved my intellectual ability. It is really difficult feeling like you are an outsider, particularly during an already difficult time of high school. It certainly left me with some anger and resentment during that time, resentment that I still feel a little bit today almost ten years later. Being black and intelligent in that context meant that I did not belong.
Those experiences are not unique to me. Various inequities are part of the educational experiences of African-`Americans. Discrimination and unfair treatment occur at all stages of the education system. We get notified very quickly about our standing in schools. Messages are communicated to us about our value, intellect and worthiness. Too often we get messages about how we are troublemakers. Messages can be sent through relationships with teachers as they tend to have less favorable views of African-Americans and have more conflict with their African American students. Disciplinary actions send messages through the disproportionate punishment of African-American students. Tracking disproportionately places black students in lower tracks, while the few black students in the higher tracks often feel a sense of isolation, not unlike that terrible feeling I remember having frequently.
Studies have helped reveal how African-American students are not given adequate opportunities to display their intellect and are discouraged from taking more rigorous courses. School curricula is largely characterized by an absence of black history or culture. I don’t remember learning any significant Black history in the classroom until I went to college at Morehouse. I felt like so much of my background and prehistory was unknown and mysterious to me before college, It becomes more disheartening to realize that these issues continue on to higher education.
I don’t need to remind you of all the recent stories regarding the protests at several universities. Black college students too often report negative racial climates outside of the classroom. Classroom interactions too often negate their experiences, leaving them to feel self-doubt and change their educational plans. Even for graduate students, experiences with racism are related to more symptoms of depression and stress. Trust me, I know. No wonder people are protesting everywhere, look at what they have to deal with and how it affects them!
I know much of the discussion has been about what has been going on at colleges around the country, but I would like people to think about what these students have been going through both during college and before college. It’s understandable why students are frustrated and fed up; they probably have been dealing with these same things for their whole lives: elementary school, middle school, high school, college and graduate school. I certainly have.
So many years of being told that you are not good enough. Being ostracized. Feeling different. Having no models of success that look like or understand you. It is tiring to spend so much time, that should be devoted to learning, on continuously validating any one or combination of aspects of your existence. It’s been a part of their educational experiences for too long and they are tired of it. And so am I.
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