I’ve Experienced White Privilege As A Special Education Student

That’s not fair, and that’s not okay.

Black Special Education students and students of other minorities have been pulled away from their classrooms in handcuffs. They’ve been tackled to the ground by police officers. They’ve been treated as criminals for things like kicking trash cans, throwing Skittles, and sometimes even general meltdowns.

I’ve had less-than-stellar behavior, especially in elementary school, and I’ve never once had law enforcement called on me. Even when I held up a pair of scissors as a “sword” during a classroom reenactment of some literary work and then proceeded to bawl in a corner when (rightfully) scolded for it. I’ve damaged school property. I’ve been a disruption in class. I’ve screamed, snapped pencils, kicked pencil dispensers, pulled down my pants in the hallway (okay, I was four years old, and I was trying to speed up the “getting-to-and-using-the-bathroom” process), and even bit, scratched, and punched myself sometimes.

The worse repercussion that I’ve ever faced is getting paddled in the principle’s office–and even that was very rare. Most of the time, I just got sent to the counselor’s office or to the resource room for a little while so that I can calm down.

Granted, I know that my meltdowns are much more mild than are the meltdowns that many people have. They seldom last more than a few minutes, and I’ve never been violent towards anyone besides myself.

But I have just enough naive faith in our Special Education professionals to believe that even serious meltdowns and incidents can be neutralized without the use of police force. There’s verbal deescalation and moving the student away from the situation and to a safe area (ideally one with access to sensory regulation items). The most effective way to deal with meltdowns, of course, is to identity their triggers and work to avoid them in the first place (though meltdowns do happen even with this in place). In the vast majority of cases, the police is not needed.

Yes, White students with disabilities have been arrested at school, too, which is also highly problematic.

But statistics show that Blacks students are more likely to face negative discipline than are  White students. For one, racial profiling is still an issue with general law enforcement, and this can be expected to translate in the use of law enforcement in schools.

From Teaching Tolerance’s article “The School-to-Prison Pipeline“:

“About 1 in 4 black children with disabilities were suspended at least once, versus 1 in 11 white students, according to an analysis of the government report by Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.”

Of course (and quite sadly), general education Black students and students of other racial minorities are also more likely to face suspension, expulsion, and other disciplinary measures than are their White counterparts.

Perhaps more sadly, the expectations for academic success tend to be lower for many Black students than for their White peers, especially those in Special Education.  I’d like to believe that few educators are overtly racist (although I know that these educators exist), but studies suggest that the bias is still there: Black students aren’t expected to perform as well, according to the Center for American Progress, Child Trends, and even John Hopkins, which may influence how a teacher approaches their education, which may, in turn, influence how those students do perform. A report from Lindsey Cook from U.S. News suggests that Black students face educational inequalities throughout their entire academic career.

Which is highly unfair to my Black classmates, who work just as hard in their classes (or, more accurately, vary just as much in the amount of effort they put into their schoolwork) as do their peers of all other races. I’ve seen my Black classmates excel in their coursework, and I’d hate for those successes to be underappreciated because of latent racial biases.

I covered this back when I wrote for The Odyssey Online (great website, really, but the weekly commitment didn’t exactly work with my schedule). But with the recent death of Black individuals by the hands of the police, some of them completely injust, and the backlash against the #BlackLivesMatter matter, I think that the matter of racial injustice could use further addressing.

If we’re going to work on reducing systematic racism in the United States, and I do believe that we should be working very hard to reduce this racism, we need to start at the beginning, at the earliest cusps of childhood. We need to set a precedent early on that Black students with disabilities are just as worthy of respect, of tenderness, and of being assumed capable than are their White counterparts. We need to raise children in an environment where children of all races are treated with equal worth and dignity so that they grow to be adults who treat each other with equal worth and dignity.

#BlackLivesMatter, and Black Special Education students matter.


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