Why Are So Many Black Students Expelled?

The well-publicized suspension of Black students from a high school in Decatur, Illinois, in 1999 by the mostly white school board for fighting at a football game raised huge warning flags that school officials deal more harshly with Black students who misbehave than white students.

Now the U.S. Department of Education, in its latest report on school discipline, reveals that Blacks comprise nearly one out of three students kicked out of the nation's public schools, though Blacks make up less than 20 percent of public school students.

Educators chalk up the lopsided number of Black student expulsions to poverty, cultural differences and linguistic misunderstandings. Others claim that Black students are more prone to pick fights, deal drugs and pack guns and knives at schools than whites.

But this dodges the issue of racial bias.

At the score of high schools where white students have gone on murderous rampages in the past few years, teachers and school administrators ignored danger signs that the students were time bombs waiting to explode, or ladled out hand-slap punishments to them. Where were the disciplinarians when the Columbine duo preached violent rhetoric, made racial threats and called themselves the "trench-coat mafia"?

As for narcotics, numerous studies have repeatedly shown that young whites are far more likely to use and deal drugs on high school campuses than Blacks.

The truth is that many teachers and administrators expel more Black students than whites because of racial fear and ignorance, and because many Black students fuel that fear and ignorance by their own dress and actions. Urban riots and civil disturbances reinforced white fears that young Black males are eternal menaces to society. When some young Blacks turned to gangs, guns and drugs and terrorized their communities, much of the press titillated the public with endless features on what it presented as the crime-prone, crack-plagued, blood-stained streets of the ghetto. TV action news crews turned this image-making into a major growth industry: They routinely stalked Black neighborhoods filming busts for the nightly news.

The explosion of "gangsta rap" and a spate of Hollywood ghetto films convinced many Americans that the thug lifestyle was the Black lifestyle. They had ghastly visions of the boys-in-the-hoods heading for their neighborhoods next.

Teachers and school administrators in urban school districts see countless examples of young Blacks that don't fit the warped racial stereotypes. These students work hard, do well in school, attend college, and many achieve success in business and the professions. But negative racial images are hard to shake. Any Black youth, whether a Rhodes scholar, National Science medal winner or junior achievement candidate, could find himself tagged as a gangster.

Many Black youths reinforce racial stereotypes by aping and exulting the thuggish bluster and behavior of gangster rappers in a desperate search for self-identity and esteem. Their tough talk, swagger and mannerisms are defense mechanisms. An accidental bump, an insult, personal challenge, criticism or rejection that happens on the street or in a school corridor is often taken by insecure Black males as an ego challenge. That perceived challenge often spirals into violence.

Many teachers and school administrators regard this not as a kid's overreaction, but as ingrown social incorrigibility that must be swiftly and severely punished. Parents and civil rights groups have responded with pickets, protests and lawsuits over what they brand as racial profiling in school.

But this won't stop more Black students from getting the boot. That will only happen when teachers and administrators realize that all Black students aren't thugs -- and when many Black students stop acting as if they were.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson (EHutchi344@aol.com) is a columnist and the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" (Middle Passage Press).

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