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Racism has no place in education

  • 21 July 2020
When it comes to experiencing racism, for many Black folks, some of our earliest and strongest memories are those we face in the classroom.

Johnathan, now 34, grew up in Jackson Mississippi where ‘racism is the air you breathe. It isn’t more pervasive than anywhere else, it’s just more obvious.’ To give you a sense of what that means, he attended Jefferson Davis Elementary School named after the president of the confederacy. Jonathan, at just 34, is only one generation removed from legal segregation as his father and aunts first integrated to the local school in their city.

He states that, ‘you can’t exist as a Black person or [an] Indigenous person in [the United States] without experiencing racism.’ 

For him, he first remembers it happening in third grade when the teacher divided the class in two, to complete a group project which they would then present. What he noticed, however, was the class was divided by race. All the Black kids on one side and the White kids on the other. He remembers, in particular, how the disciplinary system put in place was never applied to the White students; only the Black students were being reprimanded for behaviour that both sides were exhibiting.

Yamiesha, now 26, grew up in New York, NY and remembers being in kindergarten when, during the afterschool program, an 8th grade girl called her the N-word. Even at five, while she may not have understood the full gravity of the word, she knew it was bad and hurtful and oftentimes, when said by a White person, was ‘followed by physical violence’.

Now being a teacher herself, she believes, ‘silence is violence’. When instances occur in her own classroom, she takes the opportunity to address them publicly and then continue the conversation with individual(s) privately. Because she understands how ‘as a kid, experiencing something and watching the adults around you not take care of you is devastating. As an educator and as a human, my role is to support the victim.’

'Everything you read here only begins to touch the surface. All of us were confronted with racism, either overt or covert before even reaching our adolescent years. All of us, as children, had adults who failed us.'

Too often in academic settings Black and Brown children are dismissed when reporting their experiences, and the incidents are often downplayed. They are told that the student who had done or said