It should not need to take the death of yet another unarmed African American man at the hands of law enforcement to remind us that looking at the intersections of race and masculinity is crucially important. Here at Masculinities 101, we have talked about the challenges face by young men of color and the flaws with policies supposedly designed for them.
The great folks at Colorlines are currently running an extensive, brilliant and insightful series on Black Men: Life Cycles of Inequity. Today’s post addresses the issue of implicit biases in schools. By Julianne Hing, first published at Colorlines May 13 2014.
Enikia Ford-Morthel speaks of Amo (a pseudonym) with the fondness of an auntie talking about a beloved nephew. She recalls watching Amo at his fifth-grade graduation from Cox Academy in Oakland two years ago. The memory of him walking across the stage still fills her with emotion. “He looked so cute in his little white suit, with his jewelry on,” Ford-Morthel says of his graduation. “I just cried.”
Ford-Morthel and Amo are not actually each other’s family. Ford-Morthel was Amo’s principal at Cox Academy, a charter school in a particularly rough section of East Oakland. Nor did they always share such closeness. Amo, an African-American boy, arrived at Cox as a fourth-grade terror. “He was hell on wheels,” Ford-Morthel says of those early days. On his very first day Amo was in class for just 10 minutes before he got sent to Ford-Morthel’s office for starting some kind of trouble, and for the month after that he was never in class for longer than half an hour before he started swearing at his teacher or otherwise interrupting instruction.
He was headed for the discipline track, Ford-Morthel says, and even as a fourth grader, he would easily have been suspended for his behavior in many other schools. “But we sat with him and we had to figure out how to learn him,” she says. It turned out that Amo’s parents had split up and his dad had a new girlfriend with whom Amo’s mom didn’t get along. “Most of his experience with adults was them not working together, so he didn’t respect very many adults,” Ford-Morthel says. “He had huge trust issues, and his academics were horrible—which of course they were, because he was never in class.”