I was recently presenting a black history program, “Animalization of Black Bodies: A History Lesson,” for a student group at my university. At the same time, just across town at a high school basketball game, white male students were taunting a black player on the opposing team with chest pounding, arm scratching and monkey sounds. I was not surprised by the reality of this deliberate racial insensitivity by white students, though I am fascinated by their boldness.
In the same way, I wasn’t surprised that six white students at my local Arizona neighborhood high school spelled out the n-word as a human puzzle just over a year ago, creating a national controversy. Indeed, I know well that racism has not passed over this allegedly post-racial generation of youth. This particular way of expressing American racism, by dehumanizing black people, has a long and pronounced history, whether on high school, college or university campuses; among local or national government officials; or even among police.
This animalization of black people has its roots in American slavery. Robert Guillaume, in the documentary Story of a People (1993), explains:
To justify slavery, black Americans had to be dehumanized. A moral and legal framework to support slavery was constructed at the same time. The distortion of the black image begins here. If it is believed that a man is inferior, subhuman, it becomes easy to treat him as a pet, a toy, an object of comic relief, a crazed lower animal who must be controlled and ruled.
Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) underscores this naming and treatment of enslaved people as chattel:
We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses and men, cattle and women, pigs, and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being and were all subject to the same narrow examination.
The very presence of the Obama family in the White House these last eight years created a proliferation of derogatory images of and references to them—including older daughter Malia—and other black people as monkeys, chimpanzees and apes. Such perceptions of black people as less than human even show up in research: White nurses and nursing students do not believe black patients experience the same levels of pain as white patients; they are thereby more apt to give pain medicines to white patients than black ones.
The list goes on and on. Former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is referred to by the nickname “Beast Mode.” LeBron James’ 2008 Vogue cover with Gisele Bündchen connects him with King Kong. Ellen DeGeneres’ meme about running her errands while on speed runner Usain Bolt’s back ignores the history of enslaved black people being treated as beasts of burden. Serena Williams, according to one sports commentator, is more likely to appear in National Geographic than Sports Illustrated. Entertainers Leslie Jones and Normani Kordei have received racist taunts in the form of being imagined as or called “monkey” or “ape.” Even the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not escape being called a “filthy, abnormal animal” by the FBI in a 1964 letter begrudging his civil rights leadership.
Add incidents, headlines, illustrations and images of black people as primates to historical pseudo-scientific efforts to equate black people to animals, and you challenge the notion of a supposed 21st-century post-racial United States head on. Such is the case with former Charleston Daily Mail columnist Don Surber, who described Ferguson, Missouri, teen Michael Brown as an “animal” that had to be “put down.”
It could be President Obama imagined as a chimpanzee in a 2009 New York Post cartoon about his stimulus package, Serena Williams compared to the racing horse American Pharoah or Saartjie Barrtman being paraded around Europe as a “freak show.” It could be the depiction of Little Black Sambo, who whets the appetites of three tigers in the popular 1899 children’s book by Helen Bannerman, or the reality of black babies used as alligator bait. New or old, real or imagined, these examples and countless others show that U.S. race relations inextricably connect the past with the present.
Today’s racism is not this overt Jim Crow sign from the 1940s and 1950s: “No Niggers/No Jews/No Dogs.” Nor is racism just about calling someone the n-word. Racial bias, racial misrepresentation, racial assault and racial mockery all factor into American racism. Knowing American history, then, is better understanding Malcolm X’s pronouncement, “History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, [humans are] demoted to lower animals.”
Lester is Foundation Professor of English and the founding director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University.
The Atlantic: “How are teachers best able to help students make sense of the many historical comparisons and the controversial issues facing the nation?”
CNN: “School districts from Pennsylvania to California have stepped up efforts to allay fear and uncertainty in immigrant communities.”
Edmodo: “Remembering to practice empathy and patience isn’t easy, but putting in the effort will pay off by helping your students understand tolerance and making your classroom a safe space.”
The Hechinger Report: “‘Welcoming refugees is not a political issue. It’s about people.’”
The Hechinger Report: “Emerging evidence suggests that one of [virtual reality’s] biggest strengths is its ability to tap student emotions, notably empathy and the can-do confidence known as self-efficacy.”
The Jose Vilson: “Every teacher has decisions to make about their identities when they become teachers for longer than a couple of years. For teachers of color, they must either assimilate so as to appear safe or they must become activated so they don’t feel like a lie.”
National Public Radio: “In sometimes spare language, the ads represent the deep family ties that endured through the Civil War and beyond slavery, despite the best effort of slave owners to sever those ties.”
National Public Radio: “Legal arguments about whether protections against sex discrimination in Title IX and other federal laws extend to gender identity, central to the lives of transgender people, are still very much active in the courts.”
The New York Times: “On the occasion of Black History Month, I’ve selected the most influential books on race and the black experience published in the United States for each decade of the nation’s existence — a history of race through ideas, arranged chronologically on the shelf.”
The Root: “Students at Westminster (Md.) High School are planning to take a stand after school administrators in Carroll County demanded that teachers take down posters promoting diversity from classrooms.”
If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to email@example.com, and put “What We’re Reading This Week” in the subject line.
Yesterday, the Trump administration rescinded two federal guidance letters—issued in January 2015 and May 2016, respectively, under the Obama administration—on transgender students’ rights and public schools’ legal obligations under Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972. This is a major step backward in the march toward equal rights and a troubling message to transgender students, but it does not change the law: Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex, which means that transgender students cannot be excluded from restrooms or otherwise denied equal educational opportunities because of who they are. This was the case before the administration issued the guidance, and this remains the case after.
Yesterday’s decision centers mostly on the guidance issued in the May 2016 letter. This guidance—jointly issued by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice in their “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students”—informed public schools that they have a legal obligation to treat transgender students according to their gender identity. Schools were instructed, for example, to let transgender students use school facilities (such as bathrooms and locker rooms) that match their gender identity; to ensure that school staff and contractors use transgender students’ preferred pronouns and names; and to take prompt and effective steps to address school-based harassment and bullying against transgender students.
Looking back at the issuing of the guidance in light of yesterday’s news, it’s important to remember three key details.
First, in 2016, the Departments of Education and Justice determined that not treating transgender students according to their gender identity would constitute a violation of Title IX—a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools receiving federal funding. The withdrawal of the 2016 guidance by the Trump administration does not change Title IX itself; transgender students still have the right to attend public schools that treat them consistent with their gender identity, as most lower courts have agreed.
Second, the guidance was well received by many education stakeholders. In fact, the National Association of Secondary School Principals—faced with concerns about the mental and physical health of transgender students—had requested comprehensive federal guidance on this student group. And other key stakeholders—the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of School Psychologists, the American School Counselors Association, the National Parent-Teacher Association, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers—gave the guidance their support.
However, the guidance did not go unchallenged: In May 2016, 11 states filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration, calling for rescindment; in August 2016, a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction, preventing the enforcement of the guidance. The debate and division over how Title IX applies to transgender students has continued into this year, as evidenced by yesterday’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue in June of this year in a case involving a 17-year-old transgender student who sued his school board over its bathroom policy.
Third, the guidance reflected existing best practices in some states and school districts for supporting transgender students. In tandem with the issuing of the “Dear Colleague” letter, the Department of Education released “Examples of Policies and Emerging Practices for Supporting Transgender Students,” highlighting practices from across the country.
Considering the impact of this new decision, the National Center for Transgender Equality highlights some pressing concerns in its just-released FAQ resource:
[T]aking the guidance away will likely make school harder for many students. The guidance gave students and their parents a powerful tool to advocate [for] themselves, and it gave schools much-needed practical information about implementing good policies. Taking away the guidance could lead schools to be confused about what their responsibilities are under federal law, and it might make changing policies at unsupportive school districts an uphill battle for many students. And unfortunately, the harmful message sent by the Trump administration’s rollback of the guidance could encourage some students, staff, and administrators to bully and discriminate against transgender students.
We know that transgender students are already the targets of misinformed understandings about transgender identity, bullying and discrimination; any uptick would be worrisome. For example, the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey shows that more than 77 percent of K–12 respondents who were out or perceived as transgender had one or more negative experiences at school, such as facing a discriminatory or non-inclusive dress-code policy, or being verbally, physically or sexually assaulted.
We also know, in an atmosphere of widespread intolerance for transgender individuals, many mental health experts, child health experts and education leaders have been working for years to build safe, inclusive schools that can adequately serve trans students.
The work to build welcoming and affirming schools for transgender students is not undone by the Trump administration’s rescindment of the 2016 federal guidance. But the work needs to continue; schools can and must continue to support transgender students with or without the explicit support to do so from the Trump administration. Transgender students need to know that their schools still intend to protect them.
There are ample how-to resources, rooted in research and best practices, available to school practitioners. A good starting point is to read the FAQs resource on the withdrawal from the National Center for Transgender Equality. Learn what the withdrawal does and what it doesn’t do, specifically as it pertains to transgender students’ rights under Title IX.
Next, consider consulting these resources:
Being There for
This Teaching Tolerance magazine story looks at how educators can help transgender students thrive and succeed at school.
Schools in Transition: A Guide to Supporting
Transgender Students in K-12 Schools
The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Gender Spectrum led the effort to produce this comprehensive guide, joined by Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Education Association.
Model District Policy on Transgender and
Gender Nonconforming Students
This resource from GLSEN and National Center for Transgender Equality puts forth best practices and recommended policy language.
and Caring for Our Gender-Expansive Youth
This report from the Human Rights Campaign and Gender Spectrum highlights how gender-expansive youth self-identify and offers suggestions for how adults, including educators, can best support them.
for Gender-Expansive and Transgender Students
Centered on creating inclusive environments for transgender and gender-expansive youth, this set of resources comes from Welcoming Schools, a project of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
As you work to support transgender students, keep in mind—and work to implement or uphold—the following “big-picture” best practices:
The experiences of LGBT youth vary greatly. Lumping LGBT experiences together is a mistake. For example, transgender and gender-nonconforming youth often face more hostility and bullying at school than their lesbian, gay and bisexual peers.
Supportive school staff can make all the difference. One educator can make a difference—but the goal is building an inclusive and welcoming school.
All students have the right to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. A transgender student should never be forced to use alternative facilities to make other students comfortable.
Respect the names and pronouns transgender youth have chosen for themselves. If you don’t know—ask. Model that respect in front of all students and colleagues.
Mentorship is instrumental for trans students’ success. When possible, seek out or establish a trans-to-trans mentorship program for students. Adult mentors can serve as a crucial support system for trans students and provide models for what it looks like to live life as a transgender person.
Curriculum and instruction play a big part in supporting trans youth. Including transgender figures and narratives in the curriculum helps ensure that trans students do not feel alone. Paying attention to and affirming non-gender-binary identities in student work is also very important.
Always trust and defer to transgender youth. If you are a non-trans-identified adult, don’t question what your trans student is going through. Follow their lead and provide your continued support along the way.
Be aware of bias—your own and others’. Uncover any transphobia and personal bias you may hold. Learn to recognize and interrupt gender-identity-based bullying and harassment.
Lindberg is a writer and associate editor for Teaching Tolerance.
Have you ever said or done something and later regretted it? Or have you ever driven somewhere and, once you arrived, had no recollection of driving there? Have you ever planned out what you were going to say instead of listening while someone else was speaking? Of course you have; we all do these things. We spend much of our lives in our heads thinking about the past or future instead of living in the present moment. But guess what? The present moment is where much of the good stuff happens!
Surely, at times, there is good reason to live in the past or the future. While life is full of good stuff, it is also full of uncertainty. With uncertainty come anxiety, stress and imbalance.
Fortunately, there is a tool that can help you live in the moment and manage the negative emotions that can come along with it: Mindfulness—awareness of the present moment— supports practitioners by providing insight while going through those ups and downs.
About 25 years ago, I took a mindfulness course designed to teach people how to get out of their own way. It helped. A lot. But once the class ended, I let my practice lapse. My days were always so busy with to-do lists and responsibilities. Who had time to sit and do nothing? Yet, 15 years later, when a colleague mentioned the kids she worked with at a Title I school were living with incredible turmoil, my immediate reply was, “They need mindfulness.”
Why Bring Mindfulness Into the Classroom?
Mindfulness is not just for stressed-out adults. Mindfulness creates readiness to learn, a proven, major predictor of academic success. In 2007, as part of Park Day School’s Community Outreach Programs, in Oakland, California, a few community members and I decided to try out the idea that kids living with serious stress might benefit from mindfulness.
The first lesson was taught by a man with decades of mindfulness experience in a third-grade classroom at a Title I school. The session lasted 15 minutes and consisted of ringing a bell three times. The first time, the students just listened to the bell. They loved the long, enduring sound of a gorgeous chime. The second time, he instructed the students to listen to the bell with their eyes closed, and he asked them if they heard a difference between the first and second time. The third time, he prompted them to raise their hands when they could no longer hear the bell. The fourth time, he asked them to listen to “no bell,” just the ambient sounds in the room. At that point, an 8-year-old raised his hand and said, “I think if we do this every day, we aren’t going to fight anymore.” That lesson and comment helped contribute to a growing movement to bring mindfulness into schools.
After more than 40 years of experience, I believe mindfulness should be taught daily in every classroom, from preschool to grad school. When kids learn mindfulness, they learn to pay attention. Also, practicing mindfulness promotes impulse control because we create space between how we feel and what we do about it. When we realize we are angry, instead of acting on that anger, we recognize it and create space to make wise choices. This is the basis for good classroom management. The benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction have been researched and proven for decades; teachers and students benefit equally from less stress in the classroom and in their lives. Finally, because mindfulness makes us aware of our own emotions and those of others, students and teachers become more empathetic. This creates more kindness and compassion, resulting in stronger communities. Our hearts send many more messages to our brains than vice versa, and taking time to pause, makes it much easier to pay attention to our hearts.
Fortunately, opportunities to practice mindfulness in the classroom abound. Three models exist:
- Teachers take courses to learn mindfulness themselves before teaching their students;
- Mindfulness teachers can teach your students;
- Digital audio programs enable teachers to learn mindfulness with their students.
The movement is well on its way. I’m hopeful that, sooner than later, mindfulness will be taught every day in every classroom in the country.
Click here for a list of research articles that outlines some of the benefits of mindfulness in the classroom.
Grossman, the director of program development and outreach for Inner Explorer, is the co-author of Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress and the co-founder of Mindful Schools.
The Atlantic: “The school is a place of welcome for teenagers who are refugees, asylum-seekers, and other recent immigrants. The aim is to give students who speak little English—and often had little formal education in their home countries—the skills to graduate from high school and thrive in the U.S.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer: “Ohio schools dole out up to 36,000 suspensions to elementary students each year —a number that stunned a Republican lawmaker into seeking a ban on many suspensions and expulsions.”
CNN: “‘The DOJ should be a champion for all students’ civil rights and by signaling a willingness to be bound by the injunction nationwide they ae [sic] certainly signaling they aren’t intending to pursue civil rights for transgender people.’”
The Huffington Post: “[Artist Erica] Deeman then wondered, if she created images depicting black men in a more dignified light, would they have the power to shatter expectations with no firm footing in reality?”
Mark Maynard: “I was being silenced, it seemed, because it was not okay to make a female of color feel safe if it also meant that a white male would be made to feel uncomfortable.”
National Public Radio: “‘In looking at this issue, people seem to want a quick solution to fake news, but I’m not sure there is a solution (at least an easy one). … Students need to recognize that these skills and ideas need to stay with them through adulthood.’”
The New York Times: “To talk about how we got where we are today, we have to start with slavery and see how the justice system took over as a system of social control.”
The New York Times: “What makes someone American? How do you define American identity? When do you feel most American? Or least?”
Teen Vogue: “Jackie was born in the United States, which automatically makes her a citizen. But her mom was born in Mexico. That difference, and its consequences, might appear obvious for young adults, but Jackie got a crash course in immigration law while she was still in grade school.”
Vox: “‘Kids were sobbing, especially immigrant children, saying they were going to get sent back to Guinea, Senegal, Yemen. They were totally distraught.’”
The Washington Post: “Now, ICE knows exactly where to find [Jeanette] Vizguerra. The question is whether they will enter a church to retrieve her.”
If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put “What We’re Reading This Week” in the subject line.