Broken System Pt. 2 - Being Black in America
In December, I posted a blog entitled "Broken System." As one of my final assignments as a doctoral student, I was asked to identify a broken system in my field (Part 1), and then provide potential solutions for this broken system (Part 2). I chose to identify systems of oppression for African Americans as my broken system. Below, I offer a few solutions that merely scratch the surface.
I believe that, despite the beauty, pride, and cultural wealth associated with blackness, there is a fundamental societal brokenness to being Black in America. What I am referring to does not relate to eugenics, but instead to the overall low quality of life that has affected generations of people. Obviously, the primary solution that would fix the issue of African Americans being a broken system in America would be to rid the world of White supremacy culture. Understanding the various constraints (political, economic, etc.) that have prevented this from already occurring despite the efforts of political movements all over the world, such as the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power Movement, and even the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, it is important to instead highlight solutions to alleviate the issues that have plagued African Americans for generations.
First, there is a major issue how we educate Black children. The disparity in the number of Black students in public schools versus the number of Black teachers educating them is heartbreaking. According to Rich (2015), “in some school districts, the disparities are striking. In Boston, for example, there is just one Hispanic teacher for every 52 Latino students, and one black teacher for every 22 African-American students. The ratio of white teachers to white students: one to fewer than three.” The lack of educators of color that reflect the identities of students is one of the many contributing factors to low student achievement, low morale, and high dropout rates. As stated by Evans and Leonard (2013), “in this era of accountability and teacher reform, it is imperative to recruit and retain Black teachers to prepare Black students (and all students) to be productive citizens and to lead productive lives. As reported by NBC News’ Jarrett (2015), “America's K-12 students have never been more diverse, with students of color now outnumbering white students. But that diversity ends at the front of the classroom.” As a group, U.S. teachers are still overwhelmingly white and female - 80% - and black men are among those most underrepresented in the teaching ranks, at 2%. To remedy that situation, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan set a 2015 goal to add thousands more black male teachers in U.S. schools. Webb (2015) reported that Duncan, along with film director Spike Lee, crafted a partnership with Morehouse College, an all-black male HBCU in Atlanta, Georgia, to recruit teachers to enter the workforce.
Teacher preparation programs are critical to the recruitment and development of diverse teacher candidates. Non-profit organizations like Teach for America and The New Teacher Project (TNTP) are examples of such programs that exist, and are attractive because of the fast track to the classroom, professional development opportunities, and Americorps service incentives. At the University of Michigan, I participated in several volunteer opportunities for performing arts in Detroit Public Schools. A recruiter from Teach for America happened to be in attendance at an open mic event I hosted, and through mutual friends approached me about what I wanted to do beyond graduation, and encouraged me to apply. I developed a friendship with that person because we shared a passion for education, so despite my desire to attend graduate school, I applied. As a result, I was showered with emails and phone calls from educators all over America that wanted me to consider moving to their region to teach their kids. It was then that I truly realized the disparity of Black educators in this country, the desperate need for them, and the importance of having them. I chose to be an educator believing that I had an obligation to children. My goal for the future is to use this research, in conjunction with my Ed.D., to continue to find and place motivated Black educators that are willing to join me in the fight to improve the educational landscape of our country. By increasing the number of Black educators, Black students have direct access to teachers that look like them, reflect their backgrounds, understand their struggles, speak their language and encourage their growth.
In addition to the need for more African American educators, African American students must know African American history, in all of its ugliness and glory, and all the beauty and struggles people have endured for generations. I have theorized there is a connection between the careers many young Black students glorify – musicians, athletes, and celebrities – and it is surprisingly not just financial. Kids have a strong desire to be rich and famous, but I believe the cultural representation of African American celebrities, from Lebron James to Beyonce, has just as much to do with idolization as the wealth they have accrued. Kids will sacrifice everything to dribble a basketball like Lebron or sing and dance like Beyonce, not just because they hope to become rich, but also because of the success they seek to emulate. In essence, it is of my personal belief that if Dr. Helen Nash and Dr. Daniel Hale Williams were more widely celebrated for their achievements, for example, there would be an increase in the number of Black doctors. Teaching the history of slavery and segregation is essential for students to be conscious of the origins and struggles their ancestors have overcome, but teaching African American history from the lens of success, invention, innovation, and creativity would create role models to emulate and evoke a sense of previously-untapped Black pride that could be cultivated into a revolutionary change in outcomes for a generation of students with no clue of the beauty from which they originate.
African Americans internalize their oppression so much that there is intra-racial feuding that has lasted for generations. Profoundly, there are two types of Black people: light-skinned and dark-skinned. The only real difference between them is the obvious notion that the light-skinned person has a White person somewhere in their lineage, which could be the result of an interracial relationship or slave master’s rape. The origin of the colorism debate is murky at best, but is believed to be the result of jealousy, shame, and superficial assumptions and stereotypes from both sides. A teacher once explained to me that when slaves were sold to their masters, they were usually divided into two main groups, house slaves or field slaves. The division was largely determined by physical strengths and, more importantly, the complexion of their skin tone. The darker a slave was, the higher the chances the slave was sent to the fields to spend the remainder of his/her life doing extreme manual labor. The lighter the slave was, the higher their chances of being sent to the house to do mainly domestic chores.
During the 1940s, psychologist Kenneth Bancroft Clark and his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark designed a test, called the "Doll Test," to study the psychological effects of segregation on black children. Clark's findings would later be effectively used in court in the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 to show that segregation damaged the personality development of black children. In the Doll test, they used four plastic dolls, identical except for color. They showed the dolls to black children and asked them questions to readily identify the race of the dolls. When asked which doll they preferred, the majority selected the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to it. When asked which doll was ugly, the majority selected the darkest doll. It was concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” caused black children to develop a sense of inferiority and self-hatred. This self-hatred even carried over to some colleges, in what is known as the “brown paper bag test.” Spike Lee’s 1988 film “School Daze” depicts an all-black female sorority that uses a brown paper bag to determine which girls would be admitted; if the skin color was noticeably darker than the brown paper bag, the girl was not accepted. This intra-racial feud is STILL a problem today! If African Americans are to unify as a people and fight back against oppression as a broken system, the ridiculously absurd colorism debate must end!
Finally, a major part of the solution to eradicating African Americans as a broken system involves finding religious congruence and resolving generational differences. Although not as severe, the young versus old generational debate is comparable to that of the colorism debate, or even the black on black crime debate (eliminating violence of young black males, especially via gangs and drug wars), because its divisiveness has created more division than resolved conflict. The older generation (mostly Baby Boomers and Generation X) was raised very traditionally religious, abiding by specific rules for attire, manners, interpersonal communication, and respect. The younger generation, or Millennials as we are so commonly referred, are much more liberal, and technology/social media has drastically changed how we communicate. Common ground is supposed to be in the safety of the church, a staple in the Black community during the Civil Rights Movement and where many prominent leaders got their start. Conversely, the church’s (older generation is still in leadership and therefore enforce this) staunch stance on being anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim (or against any religion that does not recognize or glorify Jesus Christ), and pro-life, very conservative beliefs despite the Black church's vehement support for Democratic political candidates, is viewed as judgmental and hypocritical by the Millennials, many of whom have either already left the church, are disengaged, or are planning their exits. The older generation does not appreciate the Millennials’ self-entitlement, self-absorption, or purported laziness, and really struggle with communicating with them. These generational differences, in conjunction with the differing political and religious views, have led to instability in the future of the Black church. If churches are to remain a cultural hub in Black communities, for education, financial guidance/support, and networking/fellowship, it is imperative that both sides reach across the aisle and settle their differences.
African Americans have always been part of a broken system; there are systems of oppression literally created specifically for the continued degradation of an entire race of people. African Americans generally cannot fairly obtain education, health care, housing, employment, etc. without some disadvantage to serve as a hindrance to their progress and success – and this notion has been true for generations. As society improves, though, so has the opportunities for African Americans to achieve prosperity, and despite some tumultuous hindrances, the present day is the most successful, most wealthy, and most educated Black people have ever been. In order to maintain that trend, and work toward solving the issues of a broken system, African Americans must do two things: get educated and unify. By recruiting educators that reflect the backgrounds of the communities and children they serve, and grounding education on a foundation of decades of cultural wealth, invention, innovation, creativity, and brilliance, students will be transformed into leaders of change for themselves, for each other, and for the future of Black greatness. In that, the eradication of intra-racial conflict (light-skinned vs. dark-skinned), generational differences, and religious incongruence will only empower students even more, propelling them to heights only dreamed of by our ancestors. Ultimately, the system will only remain broken if African Americans don't do something about it, together. The education and unification of an entire race of people over time could ignite a season of wealth and opportunity for all to enjoy!
I only want to help people and see them prosper. I swear that's all I want. Help me help others, and let's STUDI together! I can't do it without you!