I Was Taught To Hate Myself: The Long Struggle Of Being a Minority Student

Tahmia Dugger

October 04, 2020

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I was taught to hate myself
The experience that Black and Brown students experience in America is associated with White teachers not having any real understanding of their students' culture. That was definitely my experience growing up in Rockford, IL while attending a private Christian school from kindergarten to twelfth grade. I adapted to the predominantly white atmosphere and tried to fit in as much as I could because that was the only behavior being accepted and brought to attention. The school was filled with teachers who, at their core, were respectable people but they unknowingly hindered my growth with their lack of knowledge, awareness, and understanding of my people and our culture.

During the early 2000s, a large number of parents from ethnic minorities, including my own, would go the extra mile to send their children to an independent school because they believed that it would help their children escape the disadvantages that they might otherwise face in the state system. However, evidence shows that Black students, due to their being an extremely small minority in private schools, are more likely to be left behind by their teachers than white private school students. So, in reality, it doesn't matter what kind of school a minority attends because they'll receive different treatment no matter what based on the color of their skin. I'm not making the assumption that white teachers enter the profession wanting to neglect minority children, but they will hurt a child whose culture is viewed as an afterthought.

Teachers who ignore the influence of racism on minority students' schooling experiences, resources, and parent interactions prevent them from progressing into the world. A purpose of racism is to erase the history and contributions of people of color. This is a dangerous situation as teachers take jobs in schools filled with minority children. This concept alters schools into places that mirror society instead of improving it.

How, why, and when did this come about? Or A system built to recognize racial differences
Discrimination in school systems stems all the way back to the early 1970s. Students were typically put in educational tracks they were unable to escape from. This means that White students were enrolled in higher-level programs while Black and Latinx students were placed in lower-level classes regardless of their abilities or test scores. The system was set up where minorities would routinely receive worse facilities and equipment than whites. The district struggled to hire minority teachers or administrators and kept most of those who they did employ out of predominantly white schools.

The practice of tracking created a cycle of limited opportunities and reduced outcomes, and intensified differences between Black, Latinx and White students. At the time, it seemed like the most logical thing to do because it supported a century-old belief that it is the school's responsibility to prepare students for an economy that requires workforces with a variety of different knowledge and skills. The theory of tracking was to better facilitate learning and it was believed that children needed to be separated into groups so that they would learn together with peers of similar ability apart from those with higher or lower abilities. According to this logic, challenging academic classes would prepare bright, motivated students that are studying for jobs that require college degrees, while more basic academic classes and occupational programs would prepare inexperienced and less motivated students for entry-level jobs or for post-high school technical training.

Educators justified these placements by acknowledging that Black and Latinx students typically perform less well on commonly accepted assessments of ability and achievement. In reality, they had less access to resources and opportunities that range from quality of teacher to how beneficial the classroom environment is to learning. They also missed the opportunities to earn extra grade points to increase their grade point average; and for courses that would qualify them for college entrance and a wide variety of careers as adults. Therefore, school tracking practices create racially separate programs that provide minority children with restricted educational opportunities and outcomes.

The importance of representation in the classroom
It's difficult to work with each other if diversity is not represented everywhere. People who typically don't have the opportunity to work with others who don't resemble them in appearance, actions, speech, and belief tend to think that the whole world revolves around them. This belief is based on the fact that they don't know anything other than what they were taught. No pun intended, but life becomes extremely black and white when diversity is restricted instead of encouraged. All parties involved in education need to practice a commitment to diversity and a multicultural approach to learning if they want to increase the quality of education for all students. These issues have been researched for decades, so the answers to solve them are not difficult to come by; it's just a matter of actually putting in the effort to make the change.

In order for students to succeed they need role models and leaders that are relatable to gain inspiration and knowledge to make next-level decisions in their life. Unfortunately, Black students have poorer relations with faculty than white students. Weak faculty-student connection is represented through teaching styles, lack of diversity in staff, and experiences with teachers. Students are in need of support during school, and guidance from their teachers is something they look for but have a hard time receiving because they cannot relate to most. Receiving help and talking to teachers can have a positive impact on a student's career path. Teachers should make themselves more available to their students if they expect them to complete material outside of the classroom. It is important to keep in mind that the relationship between faculty and student is the predictor for the student's success.

However, sometimes it's hard for Black students to establish these relationships considering the fact that discomfort is expressed, verbally or nonverbally, by white students when approached by minorities for friendship. They are more likely to experience ethnoviolence or �"hate crimes” -- behaviors ranging from systematically ignoring or excluding others through insults, threats, attacks, and property damage. Minorities are aware of, and negatively influenced by, the stigma placed on their intellectual abilities. Racism is a stressor with negative biological and psychological effects on these students.

Evident solutions to these ongoing problems
The practice of integration in schools helps diminish the formation of prejudice and stereotyping in children and young adults. Diversity in the classroom enables cross-racial friendships, which enhance social and psychological development. Applying this view in the classroom guides a future generation of adults that will be better able to benefit their community and the economy. Graduates of diverse schools are more likely to live in more integrated neighborhoods as adults. They often report that they feel more comfortable working in more diverse workplaces, making these not only benefits for students but benefits for the whole district. Without a sustained focus on both residential and school integration, unequal opportunity for white and minority students will remain. The best first step to closing the educational achievement gap is to acknowledge that race still matters in our society and is often linked to economic prosperity.

There is no easy fix to this problem, but there are some possible solutions. Future teachers should be required to take classes such as African studies, African-American studies, Latinx studies, Caribbean studies, Chicana/o studies, Asian and Southeast Asian studies, and Native American studies. There also needs to be a push to recruit future teachers of color as early as high school, pay for their college education, and mentor them when they enter the classroom. Research consistently shows that teachers of color have higher expectations of students of color, which leads to more students of color referred to gifted programs. Moreover, having a teacher of color helps students confront issues of racism.

The educational system's future state of a healthy and unbiased community relies on their ability to mutually agree on the best solutions and implement them in an unbiased way that will benefit the community holistically. These agreements are led by nonprofit and private sectors that include many of the community's own citizens. The current education system created a cycle for restricted opportunities and diminished outcomes that have worsened differences between African American and Latinx and white students. A root cause can be permanently resolved through the process of development. In order for change to happen, we must stop the division that is recognizably based solely on physical attributes that we have no control over. Current residential and educational conditions are guided by the long history of inequality and inequity across the socio-economic and racial division. As a result, minority students are still being underrepresented.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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