I’m sure when I say that as a black man I have to face stereotypes, discriminatory practice and racism on a daily basis, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Despite these institutional set backs, over the years, I have been able to adapt my behaviour in order to ‘minimise’ or combat these stereotypes. This skilful act of adaptability (and yes it really is a skill or even somewhat of an art form) was largely formulate whilst I was in school. Racism in the school system made me conscious of my blackness and my need to subdue it in order to be successful and not be classified as an underachiever. I’ve identified three main areas in which I felt were under immense scrutiny as a black male in the UK education system.
According to the BBC, black Caribbean boys are three times more likely to be expelled than the average pupil. This figure is largely associated with many teacher’s prejudice against the behaviour of black boys. Of course in school bad behaviour shouldn’t be tolerated, however, I have myself been victim of being scapegoated for reckless acts in class, whilst I was merely a accomplice in my group of white friends. Or being more severely punished for the same behaviour as my white counterparts. These sorts of injustices create resentment and lack of trust between teacher and student that can prevent adequate learning for taking place, as you are less likely to want to go to your teacher for help with class work since you already feel they have labelled you as something you are not. It’s simple to see in this case how a lack of assistance from a teacher can cause you to fall behind on your work and consequently impact on your academics.
There is a lot I could say in regards to my own personal experience with this, however, I think The Move’s recent Moment on twitter perfectly illustrates the HUGE problem we have in regards to the prejudice against the black male appearance in schools.
The Moment title goes “People React to black student excluded his hair cut is too short” and details 15-year-old Emmanuel’s story. After receiving ‘a very standard clean cut’ from the barbers,’ that would be ‘easy for him to brush and maintain’. Emmanuel went into school on Monday only to be punished with exclusion and warned that he would not be able to return until his hair grew back. As you can see from the responses to the moment this is a very common and widespread experience that black males are faced with. Purely based on our hairstyle, whether it be a level 1, 2, 3, high-top, afro, cornrows we are type-casted as being messy and not up to ‘school standards’.
I would urge you to have a look at the photo of Emmanuel, does his haircut look worthy of exclusion….?
According to the same BBC article, almost half of all exclusions, whether permanent or temporary, are of pupils who have identified special educational needs. Ironically, some believe that there is an overrepresentation of black boys in special education, exacerbating the pigeonholing of black boys into low educational achievement expectations.
Just as detrimental is the lasting perception that black boys are lazy, unruly and non-academic and viewed as an educational difficulty for teachers. however, several studies have been done to counteract this claim. One being Cecile Wright 2003 research paper ‘Understanding black academic attainment’ , which states that:
“The case study highlights the desire of black students to transform their negative school experiences.”
“despite the unequal outcomes between white and black students in schooling, black students are disproportionately more likely to go on to higher education.”
This provides evidence that black students are willing and want to learn, however the conditions of the schooling system do not permit them the chance to reach their potential. Thus look to further education in order to make up for the ‘lost’ years in secondary school and College/Sixth Form. We enter university equipped with years of experience on how to suppress segments of ourselves, since, the school system tell us that these things are negative and not acceptable in certain spaces.
Unfortunately, the educational system in the UK is not built for us to be ourselves, in order to survive we have to be adaptable.