Black Boys in Crisis: Counteracting Racial Stereotypes

In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.

We need to teach young black men to identify themselves in opposition to negative media presentations. One way is to utilize education to naturalize the narrative of compassion into masculinity that is currently lacking in the lives of many African-American boys. Ignorance is the enemy. The result is that black kids get locked up. In this article, we will discuss three ways that we can counteract the racial stereotypes that are destroying the lives of black boys.

Safe Spaces

Creating spaces that allow black youths to engage in critical discourse about those feelings and experiences that define their identities is key. These may be afterschool programs that include a discussion section with a trained social worker. They may be sessions with school counselors or a trusted teacher. They may be meetings with a pastor or other religious leader. What is of paramount importance is that the counseling party recognizes the difficulties of a black boy growing up in today’s America. For this reason, it may be profitable to seek successful black men, who emerge from a similar background and can offer appropriate, focused advice.

Restorative Justice

Several states have begun initiatives to decrease suspensions within their school systems. Many of the solutions involve what is termed “restorative justice.” This technique is focused on creating a peaceful, non-punitive solutions to interpersonal problems such as bullying, and in dealing with infractions. The emphasis is not on the punishment of the offender, but rather on repairing harm and creating whole, positive relationships. Often, the solution is achieved through mediated interactions between victim and offender. The outcome may vary according to the situation but has been shown to be overwhelmingly positive.

When used appropriately in a school setting, restorative justice not only greatly reduces the number of infractions; it also leads to changed behavior among offenders, because they are more aware of the damage their actions have caused. Schools across the nation have embraced restorative justice principles, with great success. For example, West Philadelphia High School saw a 52 percent reduction in violent incidents following their adoption of restorative justice. Furthermore, youth who were involved in restorative justice mediation were much less inclined to repeat the offending action.

Many disciplinary incidents in schools have a racial component. Restorative justice can help air those issues, bringing them to the fore and ensuring they are talked about; this often does not occur when punitive measures are used or when police are called in. Schools across the nation should consider introducing these methods.

Enhancing the Police

Following the Trayvon Martin case and other widely publicized incidents of racially motivated violence, many communities and organizations such as schools have implemented “diversity training” modules for police and security officers. For example, the West Lafayette police force is requiring an extra two hours of training for its officers per year, focused on recognizing and dealing with culturally diverse populations. However, at state and national levels, diversity training is either not required or is only minimally required. These trainings should be mandatory for all police and security personnel.

Nationally, the use of body cameras by police has been shown to drastically reduce the number of violent incidents and complaints of racial profiling. In a study by the University of South Florida, researchers looked at a pilot program during which Orlando police wore body cameras. About half of the officers wore body cameras over a year; the other half did not. Though the officers initially insisted that wearing body cameras would have no effect on their behavior, the outcome was clear: use-of-force incidents dropped by 53 percent among officers who wore body cameras. Even more strikingly, civilian complaints against those officers were 65 percent lower.

Because violence tends to beget violence, wearing body cameras also reduced the number of injuries police officers sustained: they were less inclined to engage physically with those they confronted. The chief of the Orlando Police department is now pushing for all officers to wear body cameras. His efforts are assisted by half a million dollars in federal funding. Though it won’t solve the underlying causes of racial profiling, a push at the federal level to ensure all officers wear body cameras will almost certainly reduce the incidences of racially motivated police brutality.

Offering the knowledge and skills necessary to aid black children in defining themselves in the eyes of the public is not a one-sided endeavor. Although we may instill these values in black boys in crisis at houses of worship, at community recreation centers, and at the dinner table, we also need our institutions to do their fair share. We can start by implementing restorative justice in schools as an alternative to disciplinary methods. At a community level, we should insist that police departments undergo diversity training and wear body cameras. These measures should assist in reducing the damage done to black bodies, and will hopefully heighten awareness of the inherent racial bias in our communities.


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