Category Archives: Race

Firing South Carolina Deputy Ben Fields is Not Enough

The video of now ex-South Carolina Deputy Ben Fields’ violent arrest of a teenage girl in Richland County South CarolCrime Sceneina has made its way over the airwaves and across social media sites. If you haven’t seen it, you must. No explanation I could provide here would do justice to just how shamefully violent this law enforcement officer was toward a child.

I was outraged when I saw the video, and I continue to grow even more upset every time I see it. What is incomprehensible to me, is not that the deputy had zero regard for the safety or well-being of a person he is sworn to protect, but that he believed he could get away with the abuse of a child in the middle of a classroom. This was a child, sitting in a desk in a classroom, who while clearly defiant and disrespectful, posed no physical threat to herself, her classmates, her teacher, or the abusing deputy. Nevertheless, ex-Deputy Fields proceeded to put the child in her place by knocking her to the ground while still in her desk, then dragging and throwing her across the classroom before arresting her and charging her with the South Carolina offense of “disturbing school”.

I continue to ask the question I’ve asked since my initial viewing of the video: What if she had been my daughter? And my response remains the same: Thank God she wasn’t.

I was pleased to hear that Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott has terminated Ben Fields. But I’m not satisfied with Fields’ termination. Termination is a sufficient form of discipline for an employee who consistently fails to adequately perform his job, who consistently fails to meet performance standards, or who commits an act serious enough to warrant ending the employment relationship, but not quite rising to the level of being criminal. What ex-Deputy Fields committed, on the other hand, was a felony. He abused his position as a deputy and unmercifully treated a child with reckless abandon. He tossed a child across the classroom like she was a rag doll; as if she had no worth. If Fields had treated a dog like he treated this child, there would have been calls for his termination on the basis of animal cruelty. But he didn’t abuse a dog; he abused a child.

So I’m not satisfied with Fields’ termination. There is nothing this child could have said or done that warranted being treated in the manner she was treated. Fields abused and hurt a child; not someone’s dog, but someone’s child. And for that, he be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. A message must be sent to Fields and to would-be child abusers wearing police uniforms that such behavior is not only impermissible, but such action will land them in jail.

The Black Men Teaching Initiative in Pennsylvania

There is a collaborative initiative underway in Pennsylvania aimed at increasing the number of Black men going into the teaching profession. The Black Men Teaching Initiative was founded by Dr. Robert Millward, see coordinator of the Administration and Leadership Program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and is comprised of faculty and administrators from institutions including Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Point Park University, and Community College of Allegheny County. The initiative is funded by the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowment.

I am really excited about this initiative and its potential for raising awareness with African American male students about teaching as a career choice. If current students are anything like I was as a high school or college student, pursuing teaching as a career never crossed my mind. But I never considered teaching because it was never presented to me. No one ever suggested that I consider teaching. No one ever said to me they thought I would be a good teacher. My mother was the first person to suggest that I consider teaching as a career, and that suggestion came after I had completed a masters degree in another field. Perhaps if someone had suggested the teaching profession to me earlier or at the very least talked with me about what a teaching career would look like I would have found my way to the profession sooner.

We have to come to terms with a few realities. The vast number of students pursuing teaching as a career are middle class White females. Given the current demographic profile of American students and their learning needs, the cultural mismatch between the teaching force and our students is problematic. Am I saying that middle class White females can’t be great teachers for African American and Latino students? I am not saying that at all. I have known and worked with White female teachers who are amazing with students of color. In fact, two of my mentor teachers, who essentially taught me how to teach as an early career teacher, are White females. In addition to helping me to become an effective teacher, I credit their mentoring with keeping me in the teaching profession. What I am saying, however, is that it is critical that the demographic profile of the teaching profession begins to more closely mirror the demographic  profile of our students.

There has been considerable conversation about the importance of teachers of color serving as mentors and role models for students of color; and it is true that teachers of color serve in those important roles. Students of color and White students need to see teachers of color and leaders of color in their schools. It is a problem that in many of our schools and school districts the only people of color, especially men of color, students see are in custodial and food service positions. People of color should be found throughout the ranks of people working in schools and school districts, from schools’ bus and cafeteria monitors and all the way through the district superintendency. But also, it is important to increase the percentage of people of color as teachers and leaders because their voices are needed in conversations about students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, cultural differences that have implications for student learning, the development and adoption of curriculum, instructional strategies, and community engagement. We can no longer pretend that teaching and leadership teams that don’t include people of color can make the best decisions for children and communities of color. That thinking is backward, flawed, parternalistic, and incredibly insulting to people of color.

So again, I am excited about what is happening in Pennsylvania. I don’t think many of us having taken this issue very seriously (see a previous post for some of my thoughts on what we have failed to do). My hope is that the Black Men Teaching Initiative will spur thinking and innovation around further diversifying our teaching force, and in particular, increasing the number of African American men in our classrooms.

african american college student

Might Mark Cuban’s Comments Move Forward the Conversation on Race in America?

In the aftermath of the Donald Sterling debacle that led to the Clippers’ owner being banned from NBA games for life, ailment Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made comments in an interview that have landed him at the center of racial controversy. If you didn’t happen to hear what Cuban had to say, click here to link to the video from the interview. But rather than indict Cuban for revealing his own prejudices, I want to thank him for his honesty and for helping to move the conversation on race in America forward.

The crux of Cuban’s comments was that he believes we all have prejudices. He then went on to talk about some of his own. Most notably, Cuban said that if it’s late at night and he comes up on a Black kid in a hoodie, he is going to the other side of the street. As you might imagine, that’s the comment that has caused the biggest stir. But Cuban was just being honest. He was brave enough to say publicly what lots of Whites and truthfully, some Blacks would say to their close friends and in the comfort of their homes. In fact, Cuban is more the norm than the exception in being fearful of a young Black man walking down the street wearing a hoodie. Cuban does go on in the interview to say that he would also move to the other side of the street if at night he walked up on a White guy with a shaved head and tatoos. But for the Black kid, all that was needed to strike fear in Cuban’s heart was the hoodie.

Cuban should not be publicly castigated for being honest. I applaud his honesty, for I believe it is Cuban’s brand of honesty that’s needed to move the conversation on race forward in America. And I make that statement as a Black man who wears a hoodie at night four to five days a week. And trust me, from the reactions I get from some people I come across when I am dressed this way, I knew a long time before Mark Cuban’s comments that I make people uncomfortable at night in my hoodie. A White man wearing a hoodie is usually assumed to be on his way to or leaving the gym. A Black man in a hoodie might be assumed to be working out, but it’s more likely that he is assumed to be prowling the streets looking for trouble.

Could I dress differently, maybe in a way that might make Mark Cuban feel more comfortable when he passes me on the street? Sure I could. But I don’t, and I likely won’t. Why? First, because I like my hoodie. Second, because I’m going to dress the way I want to dress when I go the gym. I have no desire to change my gym attire simply to make those whose path I cross feel more comfortable with me. I understand what comes with making the decision to dress that way. I understand that Mark is going to be fearful of me, and I’m okay with that. I understand that I’ll get extra attention when I stop at the grocery store or gas station on my way home; and while I don’t like that, it is what it is, at least for now. But most important for me, I understand that for my own protection, I shouldn’t go for a late night stroll in my hoodie, not even in my neighborhood. And no matter where I am, I need to make sure that I keep my drivers license and a business card showing my affiliation with the University of Kentucky in my pocket.

What I have described is my reality, nightly. Race relations in America isn’t just something I learned about in college and read about in my spare time. I have lived ‘race relations in America’ every day of my life, and regardless of your race and whether you want to admit it or not, you have lived it every day of your life too. But we can’t move forward as a nation with race relations as long as Americans pretend that we live in a post-racial society. The truth that all of us know but many of us are unwilling to acknowledge is that race still matters; in fact, race still matters a lot. Cuban simply acknowledged in the interview that race matters to him when he’s walking up on someone at night. White kid in a hoodie=I’m probably safe. Black kid in a hoodie=let me not take any chances. To his credit, Cuban acknowledged in the interview that such prejudices are not ideal, but that they are real nonetheless.

Until people feel comfortable with acknowledging their prejudices about race without fear of being labeled a racist for the rest of their life, we’ll never be able to get to the place we ought to be in America with race relations. I may be in the minority on this one, but I appreciate what Mark Cuban had to say. He was honest and respectful in his comments, and I hope others will be as brave as he has been and dare to have tough but meaningful conversations on race with their families, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Those kinds of conversations are necessarily uncomfortable, but there’s no other way to get to the other side of racial prejudice and bigotry.