Updated: May 31, 2020
Sad. Tired. Exhausted. These are words that barely begin to describe how Black people, across this nation feel. Sad because the life of George Floyd was taken too soon. Tired of gasping for air and struggling to find the strength to say “I can’t breathe”. Tired from carrying the emotional burden of simply being Black in America and fighting to prove that Black lives matter. Exhausted from seeing mothers cry for their sons. Exhausted from chasing the elusive ideals of justice that always seem to getaway. Exhausted for having to justify our verify existence. Black people have every right to be sad, tired, and exhausted. Rapper and activist Killer Mike joined the Mayor of Atlanta and spoke to life what many Black people are presently feeling.
The repeated killings of Black people, captured on film and replayed like a horror movie with too many sequels, is sad, tiring, and exhausting. It’s taking a massive toll on the psyche of Black people. Racism and violence experienced by Black people has serious emotional, mental, and physical consequences (such as cardiovascular disease and other physical diseases). This also includes psychological consequences such as anxiety, depression, even suicidal or homicidal behavior. We must be prepared to combat these consequences with solutions. In his speech, Killer Mike said that now is the time to “plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize”. This is especially true in the field of education.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) calls for action to end racism and violence against Black people. This call to action is important for several reasons. 1.) National associations have traditionally been silent in the midst of racism. Being passive and not speaking out against racism is the same as being complicit and causing harm. This is a pivotal first step for prominent associations, often led by White people, to show they can be allies in the fight to end racism. 2.) NASP has made social justice a strategic goal of its association. This includes addressing “systemic barriers, such as the long-term issues of poverty, inequity, prejudice, racism, and violence”. 3.) This means research and resources will be dedicated to helping educators combat racism. For example, NASP has already produced discussion guides and lesson plans to help educators understand racism and privilege. They have provided guidance to support vulnerable students in stressful times. NASP has even created resources, in particular, the NASP Exposure Project, to expose high school and undergraduate students to the field of School Psychology as a career in order to increase the amount of Black School Psychologists (shout out to Dr. Charles Barrett, who led the creation of this project).
So, what role can the education community play in bringing about change, healing, and racial equity? NASP has offered a number of ways to proactively begin.
Think critically about structures, systems, and policies that have historically marginalized some groups and caused long-term inequities. An example would be considering racist policies such as zero-tolerance policies. Children are often suspended or expelled from school as a result of zero tolerances policies. Under zero tolerance policies, students may be suspended or expelled for violating school rules such as possession of firearms, drugs (tobacco, alcohol, controlled substances, etc.), fighting, defiance, and disruptive behavior. Such policies are strict, uncompromising, result in automatic punishments, and tend to increase rates of disproportionality (Skiba, 2004). The removal of students, especially Black boys, from classrooms for disciplinary infractions often results in negative effects on student outcomes. Research has shown that students, especially Black boys, who are excluded from school are at higher risk for failure, grade retention, and dropping out of school (Stillwell, 2009; Skiba 2008). These students who have been excluded from school have lower scores on standardized and state assessments, and are more likely to have poorer academic performance due to missed instruction. This is why policies such as zero-tolerance, which disproportionately harm Black youth, must be critically examined.
Speak up when you see someone saying or acting harmful to others; name it as racism when it is.
Ensure that, if law enforcement is present in schools, officers are carefully selected and trained, are not involved in routine discipline, and are evaluated regularly for behaving in ways consistent with training provided by the National Association of School Resource Officers. As I put it, stop the over policing of Black students in schools. Believe it or not, Karens are rampant within the education system. Black students are referred for disciplinary infractions at disproportionate rates and more likely to receive office discipline referrals (ODRs) in comparison to Caucasian students. Even more disheartening, Black students are more likely to be disciplined for the same infractions when compared to their peers. This means that White teachers (and the rest of yall too… word to Chris Emdin) tend to view the behaviors of Black students as more egregious, dangerous, and disrespectful as the same exact behaviors as White students. Black students are more likely to be harshly disciplined, removed from school, and at increased risk of dropping out of school and entering into the juvenile justice system.
Advocate for and engage in frank discussions about racism and privilege, and provide students and staff tools to combat it.
Examine the mechanisms of power and punishment, and work to ensure positive, equitable discipline policies and practices in every school.
Establish and reinforce trusting relationships among students, staff, families, community providers, and law enforcement.
Advocate for public policies that address the destructive, systemic inequities of poverty and racism.
You can read the rest of the NASP press release to see how educators might proactively help students and staff combat racism.
In my last article, why every school must have a social emotional learning plan prior to reopening, I provided considerations for reopening schools in the midst of COVID19. In this present moment, it is imperative that as a nation, we give consideration to how we will help students, especially Black students, begin the process of healing. Schools must be ready to create spaces for Black youth to heal. This includes ensuring resources as well as personnel are in place to meet the needs, especially mental health needs of Black students. This includes having supportive systems and structures in place, which are culturally responsive to the needs of Black youth.
I will work tirelessly to plan and organize so that we no longer have Black people who are sad, tired, and exhausted, but are joyful, healthy, and proud!
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