"Reefer Madness" in the May 2018 edition of Chicago Street Journal.


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It Doesn’t Just Happen at

Starbucks. Teachers Need

Racial Bias Training Too.

Last week, two Black men were arrested for sitting in a Starbucks

here in Philadelphia. They were waiting for a friend who arrived

shortly after his friends had been handcuffed. The men were supposedly

“causing a disturbance” and “refused to buy anything.”

It is easy for supposedly non-racist White people like myself to read stories

like this and feel disgusted by such blatantly racist behavior. But before

we get too proud of our post-racial selves, I’d like to challenge us to

truly investigate our own implicit racial biases.

Would we have called the cops on the Black men in Starbucks? Probably


Does that mean we are free of bias and racism? Absolutely not.

I felt I was being told how, as a White man, I was automatically biased,

and probably even racist. A few years ago, I sat with my colleagues for

the first of many cultural context professional development sessions. I

was aggressively disengaged and reflexively defensive. I felt I was being

told how, as a White man, I was automatically biased, and probably even


I felt I was being told that my life had been so privileged, my life’s road

so smoothly paved, that any accomplishments I had made were not due

to my own hard work, but due to the head start I had supposedly enjoyed

due to my White skin.

I felt that despite much of my family arriving in America in the early

20th century, I was being implicated in centuries of American slavery. I

felt that after years of service to a school filled with students who did not

look like me, I was now being told that my very existence was an indictment

against the students I had just finished teaching.

February 2017

Chicago Street Journal May 2018


This teacher likely would never refer to him or herself as a racist, yet to

refer to a 12-year-old child as “hulking, aggressive, and threatening”

speaks to the internalization of equating Black bodies with violence,

much the same way our society uses “thug” and “criminal” to denote an

aggressive, terrifying Black male. I saw that in no way would a teacher

write this referral for my two White sons. And that’s when it clicked.

these emotions were emblematic of how much work I needed to do as a

White educator to understand my own racial identity, and how I interact

with my students of color. What I now know is that these emotions were

emblematic of how much work I needed to do as a White educator to

understand my own racial identity, and how I interact with my students

of color.

As a White man in America, I may not be a racist, but I am racist. I may

not be a bigot, but I am biased. I may love and honor and serve my students

of color, but I will never be able to fully comprehend their experiences,

nor they mine. I may fight for my students and work for the access

to high-quality education that is their birthright, but I am also complicit

in the perpetuation of systems of racial oppression by enjoying and

benefiting from the systems that give me and my two sons a head start in

the race for wealth and prosperity.

To me, being a teacher means being on the front lines of the fight for social

justice. But the work cannot simply be external. To be the best

teacher I can be, to be the best advocate and ally I can be, I need to first

do my own work and face the racism within.

In the wake of the news that Starbucks is closing thousands of stores to

participate in racial education training, it is perhaps worth noting that

such training, while useful and a step in the right direction, also falls

prey to another common misconception: The tearing down of implicit

racial bias is not a one-off exercise, but rather something to be worked

on day after day.

The question is not what is Starbucks doing to learn from this incident,

but what about the rest of us? Are we ready to do the work necessary to

dismantle our deeply entrenched biases?

By the next cultural context session, I had reached my limit. I was not a

racist person. I was a progressive liberal who always voted Democrat

and never said the “N word.” Why did I need to sit through these sessions,

especially when I had so much other work to do? If we wanted to

stop race being a factor in our society, why did we keep insisting on talking

about it? In short, I felt what most White people feel when they have

to talk about their place in America’s racial narrative.

As our session began, we sat in a circle while the facilitator passed

around a simple conduct referral, a statement written by a teacher describing

the actions of a student that had warranted disciplinary action.

The teacher claimed to have felt fearful due to the threatening approach

of the student who “talked back” and “challenged” their “authority.” The

student’s action were described as “aggressive behavior,” as he

“hulkingly stood up from his seat.” The student was 12 years old.

Zachary Wright is the 12th-grade world literature

and AP Literature teacher at Mastery

Charter School Shoemaker Campus where

he has been for the last eight years, having

taught nearly every senior the school has

ever had. Over his more than 10 years in

Philadelphia classrooms, he was named

Philadelphia’s Outstanding Teacher

of the Year in 2013 and has participated

in the fight for equal education funding by

testifying before Philadelphia’s School Reform

Commission as well as in the state

house rotunda in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Republish with permission from www.EducationPost.org

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