What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
Failure, or fear of it, is very effective at making both the timid and bold hesitant. Even just the thought that success won’t be achieved is enough to keep one stagnant. So, having the barrier produced by a fear of failure is refreshing and makes the mind run rampant. Mine has, and I shall now have at it.
As I went through school as a kid and during my college years, I encountered one disturbing constant. My education was always tainted by implicit and explicit bias and racism from either my fellow students, faculty or administration.
I still cringe at the memory of being called n***er for the first time. I also continually faced teachers who did not appreciate that there was such an intelligent mind inside my Black body, which created a cognitive dissonance that chipped at their ingrained delusions of White supremacy. Consequently, many of them lashed out at and silenced me, something a lot of students experience during their academic careers.
Anti-Blackness saturates American educational systems, leaving no student with a certain amount of melanin safe. The darker the skin, the higher the tendency to experience some form of discrimination that ebbs at one’s patience, humanity and soul. Black students are criminalized more than white students, and studies have shown that the many teachers consider their Black students less competent and refer them less frequently to gifted programs.
Black college students face levels of discrimination as well, which adversely affects their performance and sense of belonging at institutions of higher learning. When I was a graduate student, I created and led a student group for minority students, and increasingly had to help members with instances of racial discrimination from faculty and staff. It was drained them and hindered their ability to learn and feel safe.
So, one thing I would feel compelled to do if I knew I wasn’t going to fail is to take American education and shake as much racism and bias out of it as I possibly can. I don’t deal in absolutes. The reality of our country’s racial underpinnings means that racism is as American as apple pie and isn’t going anywhere.
While I may not be able to eliminate racism in the nation’s primary, secondary and post-secondary school systems, I would consider it a great success to get it to the point where students can navigate through them unharassed and affected by the biases of those around them and those running them deal with instances of intolerance effectively.
Since I couldn’t fail—neither will students.
Sounds like a good plan!
Having grown up in the civil rights era, I remember how shocked I was by my first experiences with racism in action (as an observer) and helpless at not knowing what I could do to change things. What’s sad is that all these years later I still see it in action. At least I can take steps to call it out now, and not turn away.