I’m sure you know by now that two Black men were arrested after a Starbucks employee called them in for being Black a few weeks back.
Every Starbucks closed today in response to that incident, and every Starbucks employee in universes both known and otherwise attended a racial bias training this afternoon.Read More
During the Seattle School Board meeting on Jan. 18 of this year, Board VP Leslie Harris thanked a student guest and said she was "extremely articulate."
Let's take this opportunity to understand why this is a microaggression and not a compliment.
First, watch here:
The student in question was a young woman of color who attends West Seattle High School. She updated the board on the MLK Day assembly, then discussed her school's lack of diversity among staff and teachers, shortages in science funding, and ways to help students of color not only find success, but find pathways to the becoming teachers as well.
She was certainly articulate. So, what's the problem?
Let's start by turning to an excellent article from KUOW producer Jeannie Yandel, "'You're So Articulate': Why Microaggressions Wear People Down."
According to Yandel's article, a microaggression is "an everyday slight, putdown or insult toward marginalized groups. Often, these come from well-intentioned individuals who are unaware they are saying anything offensive. Such seemingly small comments are the morphing of overt racism in America into a much more subtle form of bias."
Microaggressions are a nuanced form of prejudice, which can make them easy to miss -- and to dismiss. But they take a huge toll over time, in no small part because they are so difficult to combat that they are often just absorbed silently.
More from Yandel:
If the recipient, like Sue, takes offense, he could be perceived as misreading the intent of the comment or being too sensitive. “It is very difficult for them to understand the hidden meaning of their microaggression," he said.
Microaggressions aren’t just in offhand comments – they can be nonverbal too.
An example: a white woman clutching her purse a little tighter near a black male. Sue said assumptions of dangerousness and criminality are characteristic of the microaggressions black people receive.
Each small gesture might seem trivial, but for the person who receives them, they can accumulate over years – especially if the recipient has been subjected to different microaggressions several times a day.
“All our research on microaggressions reveal that microaggressions take a tremendous psychological and physical toll on the marginalized group member,” which can take the form of loss of productivity at school and work or a decrease in subjective well-being, Sue said.
Combating microaggressions can be tricky. Sue said recipients of microaggressions find themselves in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.
“We found that the majority of people of color did not do anything, were told not to do anything, but by that decision what happened was that it took a psychological toll on them," Sue said. "They sat there and seethed away with anger and frustration. But they were also very hard on themselves by saying, ‘I’m a coward. Why didn’t I at least do something about it?"
Of course, as the article goes on to discuss, it's usually easier said than done to "do something" about a microaggression. Imagine this young woman interrupting a well-intentioned-but-ignorant school board member to try to explain why the intended compliment was actually an insult and a projection of implicit bias.
And the thing is, she shouldn't have to. She shouldn't have to hear it in the first place, and she definitely shouldn't be the one stuck defending herself and educating her oppressors.
So, Director Harris, take it from me instead: choosing to describe this student as "extremely articulate" -- and nothing else -- is problematic. It's a microaggression. A slight. And it's yet another reflection of our school board's sad lack of racial awareness.
(See also: Let's unpack SPS Board Director Rick Burke's understanding of integration, Please help our kids get the school board leadership they deserve, Seattle School Board VP Harris should resign after using term 'ghetto school', and A grassroots coalition just stopped the Seattle School Board from adding $11 million to the deficit.)
All of our students deserve better.
I am officially raising my hand and requesting that the Seattle School Board undergo some intensive DEI (short for diversity, equity and inclusion) work. This board does not constitute safe, productive leadership for our kids.
We should also, as a so-called sanctuary city, consider taking protective measures for the kids who already live here as well as those who don't. Let's make implicit bias testing mandatory for anyone working in our public school system. Now.
I was fortunate to be invited by ChoiceMedia.TV to host their Story of the Day video on Instagram yesterday. I chose to briefly discuss an NPR story about corporal punishment in a small-town school in North Carolina. The administrator literally keeps a paddle in his office.
David Matheson is the principal here. And he's the only high school principal in the state who still performs corporal punishment. At Robbinsville, corporal punishment takes the form of paddling - a few licks on the backside Matheson delivers with a long wooden paddle.
North Carolina state law describes corporal punishment, as "The intentional infliction of physical pain upon the body of a student as a disciplinary measure."
Robbinsville High School's policy allows students to request a paddling in place of in-school-suspension, or ISS. Last year, 22 students chose it.
That means this white man in North Carolina named David is hitting kids at a public institution with the blunt object sitting on his desk:
The NPR article avoids mentioning race and opening that can of worms, but the implications of corporal punishment doled out by racially biased teachers and administrators are chilling.
Did you know that 15 states still expressly permit corporal punishment in schools? That means in nearly one out of three states, students can legally be physically assaulted by an adult at school. Yet none of those states -- in fact, in no states at all -- mandate implicit bias testing for teachers and administrators.
Implicit bias is a primary cause of opportunity gaps and disproportionate discipline. In many ways, implicit bias is what keeps the ropes of the school-to-prison pipeline braided up. In fact, even the National Education Association has acknowledged the reality and the dangers of unaddressed biases in the classroom.
Of course, implicit biases can only begin to change when acknowledged and confronted -- as happened in this fascinating case with NBA referees unwittingly calling fewer fouls on players of their same race, only to see those statistics turn around with no intervention other than awareness.
Principal David Matheson, however, is openly uninterested in statistics or feedback. That means he's continuing to assault kids as punishment even though he's been told it's not effective. That is all too typical of public education -- a resistance to feedback, a resistance to honest self-reflection, a resistance or inability to change masked by an outward conviction that the old ways are best. To wit:
Tom Vitaglione, of the child-advocacy group NC Child, says for years he's been sending school leaders research papers showing corporal punishment leads to bad outcomes for students: higher drop-out rates, increased rates of depression and substance abuse and increased violent episodes down the road.
Principal Matheson says he's seen that research, but he still believes paddling is an effective form of discipline. "I think if more schools did it, we'd have a whole lot better society. I do, I believe that."
Vitaglione takes issue with that: "When it gets to schools, we now have an agent of the state hitting a child," he says. "And we don't believe that should happen."
To be clear, I also take issue with that. Matheson has seen the research, but he presses on with his beliefs rather than allow his sense of self to be challenged. When will we start seeing this as unacceptable behavior out of the people we are trusting to nurture and educate our kids?
Our students need to have their teachers and administrators tested for implicit bias. The adults in our schools need to confront their prejudices, both conscious and unconscious, before we trust them with the lives of our kids.