Racism in Class; Learning a Damaging Behavior–A Young Teacher’s Story

(A guest post from F’tahn Bey a young Black public school educator in Oakland, you can hear from him at our SoBEO event on 10/20 at Geoffrey’s)

In education, we imagine school to be a safe and equitable place, but  as a young Black male educator my experience has been very different.

I taught Ethnic studies and although I am no stranger to institutionalized racism,  I never thought that as an educator, I personally would be directly affected by racism inside the safe haven of the school. Racism is so prevalent within society the last place I would look is amongst staff members, especially those choosing to teach Black and Brown students. Educators and administrators alike are designed to create a healthy learning environment not only for the students, but also other educators. Sadly, this is not always the case.

Who Represents the Students?

Throughout my first year educating, countless times,  I experienced institutional racism both implicit and explicit. There are little to no immediate support systems for educators to reach out comfortably and feel safe and supported. I reached out to my union representative and instead of receiving their full support, what I got was; “document it and wait, the time is not right. There are things in place that I can’t tell you now and we don’t want it to be jeopardized”(wtf?). If these are the responses that I am receiving from my representative, the real question is who is representing the students whom are without a doubt experiencing the same, if not worse treatment. How do we expect human beings to function properly under such damaging circumstances? How many times are they being told to hold their tongues and wait for “the right time”. What makes a time “right” to speak up against an injustice?

Because I was able to relate to these students on many levels, I felt responsible for being a voice for the voiceless. Poetically, it was these often occurring injustices that strengthened the relationship from educator and student and transitioned into mentorship and leadership.I began within my immediate classroom. I tied into my ethnic studies lesson plan not only how to define and identify institutional racism but also effective ways to combat it. Effective ways such as showing up at city council and board meetings and speaking your truth or simple ways such as writing about to get your message out. Students spoke their truths, like this Arab student who told her story and pushed for something better.

Student Voices Matter

I helped many students look into different groups who were designed to give students a voice. Groups such as Energy Convertors and Great School Voices were there not only to support me but most importantly, support my students. Both groups gave my students a platform where their voice was not only heard, but it mattered. Given this platform we were able to speak on and hear issues students face on a daily basis that rarely get exposed and even more phenomenal; student led, solution oriented dialogue. People who were able to make real change, like the superintendent were able to listen to these young students and constructively address their recommendations and solutions.

As beautiful and phenomenal as it was, this was undoubtedly bitter sweet. The superintendent although effective and helpful to the students could not foresee the hardships awaiting the students and myself from other teachers and administration for speaking up against what we felt were injustices within our school community. Unfortunately, these injustices are undeniably present in other school communities. This is without a doubt a defective system based in institutionalized racism that will inevitably pushback to necessary change. However, it is this same system that needs to self reflect and fix itself or be fixed for the betterment of our future.   


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