Should black students have black teachers?Jada Wiiliams of Rochester N.Y., never imagined when she wrote an essay comparing the racist oppression faced by Frederick Douglas to her current lived experiences as a Black student, that it would end with her teacher claiming offense or in Jada having to leave the school. “Most White teachers that I have come into contact with over the last several years of my life, have failed to instruct us – even today,” she wrote. Her parents were forced to pull her out of school when they noticed that her grades suddenly began to drop in several of her classes.  In tears, she told ABC News, “I did feel overwhelmed because I didn’t know that it would become this huge.”

The fact that her grades declined after handing in this essay adds validity to the charges of racism that Williams bravely made in her essay.  RCSD Interim Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, who is clearly on the defensive, stated that, “Teachers, regardless of their color, are able to teach us.”  Most of the teachers in the Rochester district are white.  Although teachers are forced to take sensitivity classes, regardless of their intent, the fact remains that they have been raised in a culture steeped in white supremacy.

This incident will serve as a very harsh teaching lesson to young Jada.  Though Whiteness has attempted to claim that we are post-racial, or that we have at least reached the point where the kind of virulent racism experienced by Blacks during slavery and Jim Crow has so severely declined as to make it negligible, ongoing attacks against racial minorities continue to be pervasive in almost every social institution – the exception, of course, being inside (some) Black families. This means that charges of racism are often reduced to the minority in question being too sensitive or playing the so-called “race card” to invoke sympathy.

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research reported in 2006 that the graduation rate for the year 2003 was seventy percent.  When the numbers are divided by race and gender however, the success rate drops drastically.

  • Nationally, the graduation rate for white students was 78 percent, compared with 72 percent for Asian students, 55 percent for African-American students, and 53 percent for Hispanic students.
  • The gender gap in graduation rates is particularly large for minority students. Nationally, about 5 percentage points fewer white male students and 3 percentage points fewer Asian male students graduate than their respective female students. While 59 percent of African-American females graduated, only 48 percent of African-American males earned a diploma (a difference of 11 percentage points). Further, the graduation rate was 58 percent for Hispanic females, compared with 49 percent for Hispanic males (a difference of 9 percentage points).

This suggests that though Jada’s paper was completely experiential, clearly some sort of race bias must be in place.  Black children arrive at school as eager to learn as their White counterparts, and yet by the third grade, many have either fallen behind, or else they are routinely labeled as “problem children.” The only true universal subjects are math and science because they are not open to interpretation; the answers are either right or the wrong.  All other subjects are graded based on the teachers’ evaluation of performance, which leaves much room for racism.

A teacher need not evaluate unfairly to added racial bias to the classroom.  All he or she has to do is to spend less time instructing minority students in their class or fail to encourage them to excel in the same manner as they do white students.  In The Biography of Malcolm X, one of the most memorable scenes for me was that of the white teacher telling Malcolm to seek a manual labor job, even though he was clearly intelligent and desired to go to law school.

The Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision brought an end to segregation in schools, and for the first time, Black students were exposed to White teachers.  This has not necessarily been positive for Black children.  The history that is taught in schools is framed through a lens of White supremacy, with additives like Black History Month being thrown to mask enormous inequalities in education. Today’s students are forced to learn the oppressor’s truth by a white supremacist educational system that presents heavy-handed biases into history, language, and even the arts.

Jada’s teacher was only able to personalize her essay because it has become the common belief that living with racism is less harmful then being accused of being a racist.  The teacher’s reaction, while not surprising, is disappointing.  Instead of leading to persecution, Jada’s essay should have been an impetus to create change that ensures all students are performing to their best abilities and receiving equal treatment.

Though Jada faced persecution for speaking her truth, The Frederick Douglas Foundation of New York presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award. It is my hope that this award will serve to encourage her to keep speaking her truth in the face of resistance and empower her to continue to seek excellence.

51 Comments

  1. D.E.M

    A very subjective debate. Depending on the demographics in your community/school system, this can be a complicated question to answer. However, being from an area that is 26% African American as of the 2000 Census, (which is more than the national population of 13% but still small, in comparison to metropolitans) I think I will take a stab at this with MY opinion, based on MY personal experience.

    Do black students need black teachers? I think the appropriate answer to this question is that black students need MORE black teachers. Bottom line: being a minority group in small numbers compared to the national statistics, it is impossible for all black students to be taught in even by a predominately black staff. There just aren’t enough of us to accomplish that goal. Compound that with the “fear of black people” that exist either overtly or blatantly with some (not all) people of other races, that within itself stifles any attempt of black teachers in their teaching. Corporate America does it on the regular by only allow a certain number of blacks to move up the corporate ladder based on whatever preconceived notions they label their employees with. And this ugly tactic not only suppresses our people but also even white people who do not “fit the mold” in some cases as well.

    Where I grew up at, black history was limited to teachings about the same people who persevered for our race. Very limited indeed. By 12th grade it was actually boring to hear the same names being taught about every February. No Black History celebrations, assemblies or rallies. Until college, I actually thought that only a handful of African Americans contributed to America growth, progress and success. Oh but how college opened my eyes! Moving to a metropolitan that was 56% Black and 41% White in 1983 was an amazing experience! I had never seen so many people MY color in my life! Consequentially, I chose to pursue African American classes as electives as well as educate myself and I came back to the boondocks in 1987 more educated, more aware and more concerned about my children receiving a solid education.

    I concur that parental involvement is a key with ensuring that our children are afforded a fair and sound education, but I do believe that more black teachers are needed. Those with a heart to teach all students and to encourage their own race to reach for the stars. And yes I have stood up for my own children in my endeavor to make sure my children were educated soundly and fairly. I have one son, who, in first grade was TORTURED by a teacher who got away with labeling young black males for I don’t know how many years. She was documenting every wrong thing she found with my 6 year old son, sending home reviews that looked like essays they were so detailed, trying to conclude that my son was ADHD, but she made one fatal mistake: I have a nephew who is ADHD and my sister, out of concern encouraged me to have my son tested before school for the disorder. She did not know that he was already assessed by a psychologist and doctor to not be ADHD but just a typical little boy who was precocious for his age and actually gifted based on his IQ testing. (Thank God for good health insurance). In the end she was released by the school board for the improper actions she not only incurred with my child but also with 5 other young black males in the same class. And the school board reassigned the principal who allowed her to do this to students for years: labeling them as ADHD as if she was trained to do so when she wasn’t. It was an awesome moment to receive a personal apology from the school board for the improper actions my son’s biased Caucasian teacher imposed on him and the other young boys in his class in 1998, and her subsequent forced resignation. Sad to say I don’t know to this day if any other young children victimized by her unethical behavior were reassessed.

    Lesson: when we stand up for our children and for what is fair and right, they can reach for the stars. Despite the ones who see them as failures and not as future success stories. Good teachers are good teachers, both black and white. And bad teachers also come in the same color as well.

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  2. Shane, GPHR

    Generally I’d have to say no, they don’t need black teachers. In many urban areas, most black students attend overwhelming black schools, where a majority of the teachers are black females and most of these schools generally are failing.

    The probably is culture and class. Several studies have shown that black students are greatly behind white students by kindergarten. Black students are starting school ALREADY BEHIND. That’s a problem of culture, home life, and parenting.

    It is the student that makes the school, not the school that makes the student. If most of your students are from homes headed by single mothers, who don’t stress education, from high crime areas where poverty, ignorance and fail are the norm, then overall that school isn’t going to be very good.

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  3. darrellm750

    the image used for this artical is very good. may I please use it for a project I am working on for my school? I am more than happy to send it to you when I am finished. it really would work perfectly, please let me know. . .

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  4. Teraysah

    It also happened to an ADULT over 40 at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. This place is saturated with bias, racism and is reminiscent of a plantation.

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  5. Rosa Primavera

    I absolutely agree. Black students should be completely educated by black teachers. They also should live in neighborhoods bereft of whites. Segregation is the absolute way to go. Blacks should be with blacks, and whites and other POC should be separate from them. Only blacks are discriminated against by everyone. So they should teach everyone a lesson, separate once and for good, and fend for themselves.

    Additionally, as a person of color, I don’t relate at all to black people and don’t want to be lumped in their category.

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