Separate is not equal, but sometimes neither is inclusion.


by Reginald Barbour

There was a celebration earlier this month that we didn’t hear a lot of talk about in the news; however, those of us in the education community should have remembered and could have done a better job of publicly acknowledging the 63rd anniversary of the Brown v. the Board of Education decision. On May 17, 1954, the US Supreme Court issued the momentous decision that has forever changed our education landscape.

Prior to the decision black and white students were taught in separate schools with separate teachers and separate experiences. Those schools (and other public areas) were marked “For Whites Only” or “For Blacks Only”. In those days, the schools where the white students were taught were often bright, cheerful, spacious, with new and/or usable textbooks, teachers who were treated well and given the necessary resources they needed to teach. There were school leaders who cared about the future of their students.

For Black students, their schools were often dark and dismal, run-down, small, and typically did not have any textbooks much less new ones. Their teachers didn’t have much; however, they deeply cared about the success of their students because they knew and understood that they were the catalysts for the sustainable future of their race and communities. 

Today, Black and white students can attend the same schools; however, just like separate is not equal, sometimes neither is inclusion.

There are students of many races sitting next to each other in classrooms everyday across this country, seemingly learning the same lessons on similar paces. However, as countless studies have shown, Black and brown students are disproportionately represented in just about every metric you can find in education. Expulsions, suspensions, and low student achievement, we’re at the top of the list. Advance Placement courses, high ACT scores, and graduation, we’re almost always at the bottom. 

Why is that?

There is a current debate going on how poverty affects educational outcomes and while I agree that is a critical factor in student achievement or lack thereof, I know there are other factors to consider. The “belief gap” immediately comes to mind. That’s where white teachers or non-Black teachers have an inherent reaction and belief that Black children in particular cannot learn. And therefore, they teach them with low expectations and engagement. 

Whereas, Black teachers, according to studies, have a tendency to hold Black students to higher personal accountability measures in order to ensure they do well. “Staying two steps ahead” is what we used to call it. I can’t believe we’re still talking about this in 2017.

I recently mentioned to a friend that I thought it was completely ludicrous that there are people are don’t like me simply because I’m Black. That’s just so dumb to me. You don’t like me because of something I can’t control. Not because I’ve been mean to you or I’ve done something to hurt you. Hell, I don’t even KNOW you. But because of the color of my skin you hate me? That is so asinine that it baffles me to even believe that it’s true.

In a country where being able to recognize and celebrate its diversity has become a struggle, believing that inclusion has worked in favor of marginalized communities has been a tough pill to swallow.

Reggie Barbour lives in Washington, DC and is a husband and father of two sons.