Hedreich Nichols

I Am Woman

Small Bites Friday Five 10-16-20:

20-30m – Here’s a little more academic reading with this PNAS article on bias and racial disparities in school discipline. If you have some extra time, read some of the cited sources as well.

15-20m – Watch this TEDx Talk as Dr. Michelle Chatman explains the difference restorative justice practices can make in a child’s life, and how black children are perceived as older, angrier and less in need of nurturing than their white peers.

10-15m – Comb through these Oakland Unified resources to find some that fit your classroom or campus. If you have extra time, watch the webinars on community building and restorative justice practices for virtual learning.  

5-10m – Read this We Are Teachers article about the difference between zero tolerance and restorative practice schools.

As I watched Kamala Harris in the vice presidential debate, in addition to enjoying watching her —-I was struck by how polite she was. I have seen her on the congressional floor. It’s not that she is not polite, but the courtroom lawyer edge is more readily apparent. As I wondered why she didn’t bulldoze over the moderator as her opponent was wont to do, I remembered–

she didn’t have the luxury.

Anyone who is a woman knows that any forceful, type A personality maneuvering can all too often be met with less than stellar reviews. If you’re melanated, the chances that you will be cast in the role of The Angry Black Woman goes up exponentially.

Had Kamala Harris behaved as her opponent did, she would have been called unlikeable, a shrew, a nasty woman, or worse. As it stands, the one time she did draw a line in the sand–smiling all the while–it became the biggest takeaway from the debate. All of the issues she tackled, her hours of preparation reduced to one line in a meme (epic, though it was), “I’m speaking”.

I wonder if Kamala regretted that moment? I wonder if she lost sleep over the tarnishing of her debate image, if she braced for attacks from her detractors, “how dare she speak to a sitting vice president in that way”?

I wonder if Kamala felt the weight of all the times she had to smile to ensure that her message was heard, knowing that, had she been born male or White, her lack of restraint could have been the very thing that made her seem presidential, rather than a liability?

If you think that I am venturing too far off into politics, I promise you, I that’s not what this is about. I mulled over Kamala’s almost demure debate debut. I reckoned with my own angst at my dive into a more passionate presentation last week on SmallBites. Then I thought about how little Black girls are over 5 times more likely to be suspended than little White girls and how the disparity is larger than that between White and Black boys. That sobering statistic makes black girls the most at-risk student group in the country.

Whether the little girl in your class is “feisty”, “spiritied”, “high-strung” or has a “strong personality”, think before you label. First of all, you would never use those terms to describe a male student. But as stated, girls should be smiley, not too assertive. And if you’re Black, you have to be twice as “nice” to suit those who have power over you, lest you be thought of as (insert negatively tainted teacher workroom label here).

Women like Kamala and I have something in common with Black women all across the country. We know showing strength too overtly will be met with criticism so loud that our message could be immediately obscured. In classrooms, that criticism is seen in the number of disciplinary actions against little Black girls.

That criticism and those actions form them in ways that have lasting consequences.

This week, I have an ask. In some quiet moment, reflect on your thoughts about “Blackness”. Reflect on the friends you choose who are Black. (If you don’t have any, that is a subject for another day.) Are they more similar to you than dissimilar? Are they Carlton Banks Black but Not Will Smith Black? No judgment if they are. Black is Black, and there are no degrees of Blackness based on mannerisms, dress or music choices. Your own choices may be more Will Smith, not stereotyping here. We are individuals and that as it should be. But if you are more Carlton and you more easily relate to Carltons but not Wills, ask yourself why. It may be that you are simply spending with people with whom you share social or work circles. Or might it be that you shy away from the teacher who expresses her culture in a way that you may find foreign or even threatening, without even noticing?

This is not a test. I won’t be asking for your answers or your thoughts. I just want you to reflect on how you think about and react to Black cultural expressions and how it might affect your teaching.

If you find certain expressions of culture foreign or even a little threatening, that’s ok, it might even be a good thing: Now that you have realized it, you know you have some work to do. Once you are aware of your own biases, you can help others.

The next time someone talks about cultural expression in a way that puts children in a negative light, be the voice in the room to give perspective.

Be the advocate.

Be the ally.

Instructional time is too important and the souls and futures of little Black girls are depending on your commitment to making a difference.