4 the World blog

Empowering collaborative communities

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Our African American Boys

One issue of serious concern for some African American male youth is the so-called “acting white” phenomenon where students erroneously associate academic success with acting like the white race and thereby abandoning a black reference group identity (Noguera, 2003).  The deplorable phrase comes from white people who would threaten successful black people by telling them not to “act white.”  This phrase was intended as a way for whites to keep their place of privilege (Marshall, 2002).  Problematically, some of today’s African American male youth in a misguided attempt to show resistance to the mainstream culture may actually resist doing well in schools where they perceive mainstream culture norms prevail. Clearly, this form of resistance can work in their disfavor (Marshall, 2002; Noguera, 2003).

In order to reach African American students, teachers should not reject or punish students for acting in their own culture.  Ladson Billings (2011) describes for us how schools criminalize African American boys for acting in their culture; “Black boys find themselves excluded from academic opportunities because of arbitrary and capricious school rules (e.g. hat wearing inside a building, wearing baggy pants, giving an adult a disapproving or surly look)” (p. 13).  Noguera (2003) asserts that teachers must also directly address African American boys’ participation in transforming their identity and how it relates to schooling.  Teachers must help African American students develop healthy racial identities and show students that academically successful people are part of all referent groups.


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High School Reading List is 75% white, 75% male

Students often consider the books they read in school as the authority on a subject.  Because of this, the books presented to our students can influence 1) how they think, 2) what they feel is normal, and 3) what roles and characteristics are appropriate for people like them.  The creators of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) say that multicultural education is valuable for all students, but not in action.  While the CCSS do not mandate reading lists for grade levels, a suggested reading list has been published as Appendix B. The CCSS suggested readings do not represent the diverse demographics and worldviews represented in American public schools. The following table describes the 9th-10th grade readings.




Female author 9 20%
Male author 37 80%
Female main character* 8 36%
Male main character* 14 63%
European author 15 33%
Asian author 1 2%
African author 2 4%
Middle Eastern author 0 0
Australian author 0 0
African American author 5 11%
Asian American author 1 2%
Hispanic American author 1.5 3%
White American author 18 40%
Native American author .5 1%
Author or characters with disabilities 0 0

* Not all of the selections had characters.

In short, the authors on the list are 75% male (of all ethnicities) or 75% white (both male and female).










There is a tremendous overrepresentation of white male authors.  There are more male authors than female authors, as is the case in the K-1 band and in other textbooks I have analyzed. The number of male authors of color is also too low.  The male authors of color included one black African, four African-American (counting Martin Luther King, Jr. twice for two works), and one author who identifies as half Chicano and half Native American.  For women of color, Amy Tan is Chinese American, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou are African-American, and Julia Alvarez is Dominican American.  Where are Sojourner Truth, Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Phyllis Wheatley, or bell hooks, just to name a few?  The authors of the CCSS should include more perspectives and voices across race, gender, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, and age to present diverse perspectives and issues. As Rudine Sims Bishop says, all of our students need window and mirror books. It is important for children to see a reflection of themselves in the books they read, so they can connect to reading and value literacy in a very personal way.


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Unconscious bias causes unintentional racism

Admitting that I am a racist is not a bad thing, necessarily, but it is a hard thing.  If I am honest with myself, I can admit that I have biases about my race and about people from different races than my own.  This does not mean I am a bigot.  I do not have hate in my heart, but I do have fear.  It is hard to admit this because I am biased against people that are biased. In other words, I have accepted the discourse that good people are not biased.  But the truth is we all have biases.

Unconscious bias causes unintentional racism and sexism.  When we bring our biases to the surface, we can check ourselves and make a change.  Here is an example.  A white woman is in an elevator.  A black man steps on the elevator and the doors close.  She tightens her grip on her purse and pulls it closer to her body.  She doesn’t even think about this at the time or later.  He does.  He noticed.  He exits the elevator on the next floor.

Same example after she reads this blog.  A white woman is in an elevator.  A black man steps on the elevator and the doors close.  She notices that she feels a little uncomfortable and realizes it is her bias. She makes the choice not to clutch her purse but to relax her grip.  He exits the elevator on the next floor.

Checking our biases is just a first step, but it is an important step.  Please, whether you agree with me or not, watch this documentary about bias, racism, and fear.  There are two white men in the video.  One claims that he is racist.  One claims that he is not racist.  Which of the two men do you think had not reflected on his own biases?  You’ll have to watch to see if you are correct.

The Color of Fear by Lee Mun Wah

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Moved to Tears by the March Anniversary

Christine King Farris speaks at 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

Christine King Farris speaks at 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

The celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I was moved to tears during Christine King Farris’s address.  She spoke of the bravery of the people who fought for their rights and I cried for the beauty of their bravery to stand up to violence without resorting to violence.  I cried for shame of the ignorance of my ancestors.  She spoke of the progress we have made for women’s rights as she and other women were included in the program, not true of the March in 1963.  I cried out of pride for the independence, perseverance, and faith of my gender.  I cried out of hope that we are moving in the right direction, be it slowly, every so slowly at times.  She made me believe that although we have a long way to go to, we are making progress towards the dream.

We must remain vigilant to continue in the right direction, to continue to stand up for our rights and the rights of others.  We must fight the invisible racism and sexism that still holds our brothers and sisters down.  We must keep voting a right and not a privilege by removing barriers to the polls not creating barriers through legislation.  We must not tell our daughters that they cannot have everything at once, that they must choose between a fulfilling career or a happy family, but our sons can have it all.

While we fight injustice at home, let us not forget those in other countries who are fighting that same enemy.  As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I have dream that one day soon the bell of freedom will be heard all the way around the world.  That black men and women, white people, brown people, Christians, Muslims, Jews, people of every faith, and children of every nation would be able to hold hands and sing “Free at Last.”