The school year began in September 2014 weeks after the death of Eric Garner, who suffered cardiac arrest after being placed in a chokehold by a New York Police Department officer. Despite requests from the United Federation of Teachers that educators refrain from wearing potentially inflammatory apparel to school, a substantial number of NYC teachers modeled NYPD T-shirts while preparing for a fresh class of students. One widely circulated selfie reportedly shows nearly two dozen white women teachers exhibiting their support for “New York’s finest.”
This image best illustrates the center of the school-to-prison pipeline, designed to fast track large populations of Black boys and girls from elementary school to incarceration.
An assortment of parents, activists and politicians concur with former Attorney General Eric Holder’s assessment that an appalling number of schools fail to offer Black children “pathways to success rather than pipelines to the criminal justice system.” The Department of Education’s 2016 report reveals that more than 80 percent of public school teachers are white, the supermajority of them female. The overwhelming numerical presence of white women teachers strongly indicates that they play an out sized role in the criminalization of Black children.
The idea that white supremacy is exclusively the paradigm of white males is false. Author and historian Melissa N. Stein reminds us that, “White women were not simply passive victims whose image was invoked in lynching rhetoric.” They were consistent accomplices in the ritualistic lynchings of Black males, who were often tortured and killed for alleged transgressions against white women. The 1955 murder of Black teenager Emmett Till is a permanent reminder of the swift, and potentially lethal, retaliation when a white woman alleges “Negro” mischief. Lucy Michael, a white woman and sociologist at Ulster University, writes that when standing before Black pupils, white women are “not blind to their own cultural practices but deeply committed to them.”
From the days of shackles and auction blocks to today’s mobile phones and Wi-Fi, white fear of Black people continues to justify any act of violence to ensure Black obedience. “The white female teacher tends to be very afraid of the Black male student, whether they’re explicitly afraid or there’s more of an unconscious fear,” concludes Joseph Gibson. An author, teacher and founder of KITABU Publishing, Gibson submits that the phobia of his white female colleagues profoundly undermines the performance of Black children. School suspensions, “special-needs” designations and even police officials are regularly marshaled in response to white female teachers in distress. The safety and order of the learning environment reinstated by removing Black boys and girls.
Gibson collates his observations in the book, “The Monsters We Make: Unconscious Racism and Stereotype-based Teacher Expectations in the 21st Century Urban Classroom.” His thesis is that the system of white supremacy successfully convinces nearly everyone that Black people are intellectually defective. White and nonwhite teachers consciously or subconsciously apply this thinking while “miseducating” Black students. The more than two million white female teachers in U.S. classrooms are not immune to this belief and consequently represent “the very real threat of epidemic unconscious racism” in the school system. Gibson writes that perpetual representations of Black people as volatile hooligans combined with the conscious and unconscious racism of educators helps demystify why “teachers are most likely to discipline Black boys even when students of other races participate in identical behaviors.”
Jane Wood Allen reflects the type of explicit demonstrated bias. Forsyth County News reports that Allen, a white woman, was employed with the Georgia public school system for more than 25 years. She was fired after posting social media comments where she repeatedly called former First Lady Michelle Obama a gorilla. Collective white investment in anti-Black racism corrupts the perception of the most accomplished Black adults and still-developing Black children. If the titles of President of the United States and First Lady are reviled when held by Black people, it’s no wonder that Monique Morris writes, “Teachers often [perceive] Black girls as being ‘loud, defiant and precocious’ and that Black girls [are] more likely than their white or Latina peers to be reprimanded for being ‘unladylike.’”
Temple University professor and homeschool advocate Ama Mazama emphasizes the obviousness of white female complicity in the academic ambush of Black children. “They know very little about us, but they have all those ideas about what is wrong with us, ” Mazama said in a 2016 interview. “They don’t question their own racism.”
Gibson stated, “What makes so many of these teachers implicitly anticipate that most, rather than some, Black students are disruptive is simply the fact that these students are Black and stigmatically, being Black is associated with so many negative behavioral traits.”
Reflecting on his study of anti-Black racism and his experience as an educator, he added, “This perceptual overreaction also instigates a consistently devastating self-fulfilling prophecy, one in which Black students are generally focused on negatively in school by educators and offered low reinforcement, or expectation, for positive academic behaviors and attitudes, prompting persistent, counterproductive responses from many of these students that otherwise may not have occurred.”
Until the first week of May, Jenn Lohr worked with the Alta Head Start program in Ohio. She was photographed dragging a 4-year-old child, who appears to be Black, down the hall. After being terminated, she denied wrongdoing and described the school environment as “volatile,” governed by “unofficial lockdowns three to four times daily,” and frequently occupied by “police officers working in the school.” She characterized the child she was accused of lugging as having “anger issues,” and “aggression problems.”
Like many Black children, the 4-year-old described seems closer to being placed in a cellblock than kindergarten … by a white woman.
Gus T. Renegade hosts “The Context of White Supremacy” radio program, a platform designed to dissect and counter racism. For nearly a decade, he has interviewed and studied authors, filmmakers and scholars from around the globe.