Black children are not allowed to be children. They are perceived by mainstream America, from out of the womb, as being armed, dangerous, and suspicious. They are constantly scrutinized, chastised, and over-managed.
How many Black parents have had to sit their young Black child down and explain to them how to conduct themselves in public, aka around White people, so as not to be misconstrued as a threat to their safety? Too many, myself included. It pains me to think of the many times over the course of my career teaching Black and Brown urban students that I’ve had to point out how the playful banter they were displaying in my presence, in the presence of others, or in a different environment, might cause them to experience an unpleasant and perhaps even deadly interaction with the police or other municipal authority figure.
Yet as difficult as those conversations are, they are far from enough for they are only addressing one side of the equation. The other part of the “how to navigate life as a Black child in America” formula depends heavily on the stripping away of their God-given right, at the allocated time in their life, to be a kid, to make kid mistakes and do the things that our society agrees are in accordance with the accepted norms and mores for children without facing harsh, adult consequences.
I’ve witnessed classes comprised of both Black and White boys and girls where the Black boys’ names are called out every five seconds for doing the exact same thing that everyone else in the class was doing! Why are our Black boys being singled out? Perhaps the prerequisite question to that should be are all teachers seeing Black children as theirs, or is that a feeling reserved for only the Black and Brown teachers? Sadly, the latter seems to be closer to the truth from where I’m standing, and it’s not just me. Fellow educators and public intellectuals from varying walks of life across this nation also see this stripping away of Black children’s inalienable right to a childhood as one of the most vile by-products of the systematic racism upon which America is built.
“For black children, innocence is snatched away too soon, a brutal initiation into a frigid world. Innocence, like freedom, is a privilege.” says Nicole Dennis-Benn.
And according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, black children are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from preschool than white children. Put another way, black children account for roughly 19 percent of all preschoolers, but nearly half of preschoolers who get suspended.
One reason that number is so high, suggests Walter Gilliam, lead researcher for a new study conducted by the Yale Child Study Center, is that teachers spend more time focused on their Black students, expecting bad behavior. “If you look for something in one place, that’s the only place you can typically find it.”
In short, Black children are neither protected nor loved. How much of a role does implicit bias play in your classroom? It’s a serious question (we all have implicit biases) that requires a real answer from educators everywhere — beginning with you.