Systemic racism remains an underlying topic that continues to resurface in mainstream conversations. Dialogue persists that opportunity should be provided for all regardless of race, ethnicity, culture and background. However, when opportunity presents itself with doors wide open, it almost becomes a contradiction when those doors that are open, embody cultural insensitivities, attitudes and perceptions that hinder progress and growth. In 2019, ASHAWire released an article describing how racial microaggressions affect people of color everyday and how individuals who are blind to their actions may be causing harm. Racism is simply more than hating people for the color of their skin, it is the act of creating biases in scenarios with non-whites (Polovoy, 2019). This occurs in every aspect of the black community, and it is important to explore these factors to understand exactly why these gaps continue to persist and how leaders can become healthy models of inclusion and diversity.
Exploring how the African-American community has adapted within the American culture is key to understanding why gaps persist.
“During the transatlantic enslavement, the African-American community was forced communicate with other tribes who did not share the same dialects. As a result, Black English was established in order for the community to communicate.The result of this adapted dialect has left the public with the impression that this method of communication is “bad” and equates to unintelligence,” (Bowman, Comer, & Johns 2018).
These mainstream perceptions of African-American English is the start of creating bias about the intelligence of the community as a whole-especially when entering the school system. Teachers who measure intelligence based on Standard-American English can easily misinterpret the African-American dialect as unintelligent, or identify their language difference as a delay when realistically the dialect is unaccepted as a dialect in the American culture. This contributes to gaps in educational achievement because students of color are disproportionately placed in special education as opposed to non-black students. To combat this behavior, leaders in higher education must insist professors are educating students early about dialect differencesversus delay. It should also be widely promoted that dialect differences are not equivalent to a lack of intelligence and it should be unequivocally recognized that African-American dialectical differences are no different than immigrants who migrate into this country learning how to use Standard-American English in the educational setting.
Developing this understanding of dialectical differences is only a start. Gersheshon, (2015) found non-black teachers have significantly lower educational expectations for black students than black teachers when evaluating the same students. This may be tied to microaggressions, or perceptions developed due to mainstream views without actual experience when entering these learning environments. Bowman, Comer, & Johns (2018) found that most children master learning language, being sociable, using symbols and making categories at about the same time and in similar ways. When entering into the school system, these students rely on educators to provide healthy interpersonal relationships in order to develop higher cognitive skills, moral and ethical behavior (Bowman, Comer, & Johns, 2018). However, when these implicit biases come from the leaders of the classroom and expectations are lower for black versus non-black students, we once again place these students at a disadvantage as compared to same-age peers. If at the earliest level of foundational learning, expectations are not equitable, than opportunities for learning, scaffolding, and challenging students can be impacted. Taking the time to understand culturally, behaviorally, and socially how the African-American community interacts can start to change these biases and perceptions in order for educators to start the process of meeting and educating students in a way that is effective for their learning style, as well as, believing they can thrive. This also means that educators who are coming into these school systems should eliminate the “savior complex” which promotes that African-American students should acculturate in order to adapt to white mainstream American for acceptance. By validating their cultural identity, African-American students are empowered without facing the daunting task of code-switchingor abandoning their culture to thrive in this society.
Implicit racism within the classroom also limits student opportunities for exposure for AP courses, college readiness, and standardized test readiness. The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (2014) released a statement that nationwide, 25% of high schools do not offer more than one of the core courses in the typical sequence of high school math and science education — such as Algebra I and II, geometry, biology, and chemistry in schools representing minority populations. In 2016, the UNCF released statistics that average reading scores for white students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 4th and 8th grade exam was 26points higher than black students. These statistics are alarming when considering that Bowman, Comer & Johns (2018) indicate that language acquisition and other foundational skills are equal across races prior to entering the school system. Therefore, the question of equitable educational access, teacher expectation of students ability to learn, and teachers ability to meet students learning styles begin to surface. If students are not equipped with equitable educational opportunities at the K-12 level, then it becomes clear why minority students are underrepresented in college recruitment.
How can this specific topic impact future SLPs and their practice on the issue?
These barriers create systematic problems within the workforce. Lack of preparation for African-American students at the K-12 level from advancing to college and entering the workforce eliminates their voice and their ability to advocate for cultural, social and dialectical differences that are crucial for non-blacks to understand. It also creates pressure for the few blacks that are being represented within the companies framework to culturally assimilate or code-switch in order to feel like a valued, intelligent member of the team. Specifically within the field of speech and language pathology, severe impacts are placed on the community we serve. Our primary duty within educational institutions is to create pathways for our students to communicate clearly and effectively. However, it is impossible for clinicians to support students effectively if there is no cultural understanding or limited knowledge pertaining to difference versus disorder. This impacts our ability to serve the medical community when unable to understand how cultural differences can impact our ability to communicate treatment plans. If implicit racism, or microaggression continue to drive mainstream America’s approach to how we relate, the distrust within the African-American community will persist, bias from White-America will continue, which in return continues the cycle that promotes opportunity without cognitive change.
What can be done from from a leadership perspective to help with the change?
Our role as leaders is to check our perceptions, biases, attitudes and beliefs towards others. Dinwood, Pasmore, Quinn, & Rabin (n.d.) describe this as change leadership. When we address beliefs and mindsets and develop practices and principles that help people adapt to change, we move in the direction of seeing a cultural shift that is embracive of all no matter their race, ethnicity of background. This change leadership also penetrates all levels of microaggressive behavior that impacts the African-American community in academia, private practice, university settings, and schools. Leaders have a duty to ensure that the message is clear-there is no place for stereotypes, biases, or misplaced judgements on those who aren’t identical in look, behavior or dialect. Creating an inclusive environment, that takes the time to listen, understand, and challenge old beliefs is how we model leadership. Embracing African-Americans for who they are without the expectation of changing their dialect, speech, hair, or anything else that qualifies as a difference is how we can actively start portraying an accepting environment.
Bowman, B.T., Comer, J.P., & Johns, D.J. (2018, May) Addressing the African-Americanachievement gap: Three leading education issue call to action. National Association forthe Education of Young Children, 73:2,Retrieved fromhttps://naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/may2018/achievement-gap
C. Polovoy (2019, November 22). What are micro-aggressions? While celebrating multiculturalmilestones, convention highlights the work before us. Retrieved fromhttps://leader.pubs.asha.org/do/10.1044.what-are-micro-aggre...lural-milestones-convention-highlights-the-work-before-us/full/
Dinwood, D., Pasmore, W., Quinn, L. & Rabin, R. (N.D.) Navigating Change: A Leader’s Role
L. Sablich (2016, June 6). 7 findings that illustrate racial disparities in education. Retrieved fromhttps://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2016/06/06/7-findings-that-illustrate-racial-disparities-in-education/
S. Gershenson (2015, August 18). The alarming effect of racial mismatch on teacherexpectations. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2015/...the-alarming-effect-of-racial-mismatch-on-teacher-expectations/
United Negro College Fund. (2016). Report of UNCF K-12 Disparity Facts and Statistics.Retrieved from https://UNCF.org/pages/K-12-Disparity-Facts-and-Stats