Black Girls in White Schools: School Settings and Racist Actors

School Daze

The relatively new journal, Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Perspectives, has a very interesting article by Tiffany A. Eggleston of the Columbus City Schools and Antoinette Halsell Miranda of Ohio State University on interviews with eleven black adolescent girls in a predominantly white suburban school (Creative Commons License photo credit: Burnt Pixel).

The researchers present interesting data-comments from the students on gendered racism in everyday environments, and conclude with suggestions for teachers/principals concerned with the gendered-racial impacts and isolation faced by such isolated black students in historically white institutions:

1. Teachers should partake in cultural diversity training to help understand the normative behavior of African Americans and other racial minority groups. By learning to understand the nuances of various cultures, teachers will be better able to relate to the students and offer support, thereby helping to lessen the feeling of isolation described by many of the participants. In understanding the different cultural behaviors, teachers may be more apt to discourage the continuation of stereotypes about African Americans and other racial minorities within and outside of the classroom. 2. According to the findings of this study, many of the participants did not feel close to any of their teachers, which was reported to be a disappointment to some of the participants. … Thus, teachers should work to improve student–teacher relationships to help increase the likelihood that the students will turn to school personnel for help or support.

1. Principals should offer and ensure that teachers participate in professional development courses on cultural, racial, and gender diversity to help increase their understanding of African American females. 2. According to the participants, one source of discomfort came from being the only one, or one of just a few African Americans in class. This occurrence was specifically mentioned in relation to advanced (Honors and Advanced Placement) courses and was cited as a possible reason why more African American students choose not to enroll in those courses. Principals should closely monitor African American enrollment in such courses to ensure that students participate. If it is noticed that African American students do not participate, steps should be taken to actively recruit them. 3. Many of the participants were discouraged by the apparent lack of interest in African Americans, even during Black History Month. Thus, principals should develop cultural activities and school presentations that address African American culture. … principals should make efforts to offer courses on African American culture (i.e., African American History, African American Literature, African American Studies). Due to the prominence of racial slurs, racist behaviors, and stereotypical views, students of all races would benefit from learning about African American culture. 4. Principals should make a sincere effort to hire a diverse staff.

There is much that is important and useful in this analysis of the pressures of white images of female-ness in society and in these predominantly white settings, and these young women are quite pointed and detailed in the gendered racism they describe in this school. These is much here to learn from them.

However, the researchers seem unwilling to examine directly and analytically the role of white teachers, white principals, and white students in such educational settings. These white actors certainly appear in the student accounts.

Yet, the words “white teachers” and “white principals” are terms that never appear even once in the article. And “white students” appears but once in a critical comment from a black female student. At no point do the authors examine, substantially and specifically, the white racial framing of the many white actors who are critical to the problems of such oppressive school environments–other than to note, as above, that “students of all races” would benefit from some of the proposed reforms.

The reality of the “racial slurs, racist behaviors, and stereotypical views” is noted, but not attended to analytically much beyond these typical diversity proposals. No terms like systemic racism, institutionalized racism, or structural racism appear in the article, nor is there such a systemic racism analysis. The white racism environment is discussed in terms of the gender ideas imposed on black girls in this environment, but the white imposers are only implicitly considered, as in most social science research of this type. And the solutions are mostly considered and useful but, once again, seem too much like putting band-aids on cancers? Where are the proposals for dealing with the racist white students, teachers, and principals who cause these girls problems, and their white racial framing (their racist mindsets) and their racist everyday actions?

[Note: The journal, Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Perspectives, is a joint publication of The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Office of Minority Affairs at Ohio State University, together with the Indiana University Press. A good journal to know about.]


  1. Black Girl

    I’m not quite sure if I get the point of this “study” or article. What exactly is this article trying to say? First off, if you want an article or study about Black girls living in a predominately White setting, then contact me. I was the only Black girl and MINORITY in elementary class. Sure, the other classmates made a hidden deal about it and and I was treated like an inferior but soon I found my place in realism. I would always be subconciously treated as an inferior and I would always be the “third” wheel rather than the leader…

    All in all, I was treated just like anyone else. I’m naturally an introvert so I didn’t join a lot of group activities. I agree that Black students might not feel like they belong just because they are a minority and do look physically different from the rest of the students.

  2. Lorna Zukas

    For an excellent read that students enjoy and one which sparks lots of converstation on race see Mixed: My Life in Black and White by Angela Nissel. I’ve been using this autobiography for a couple of years now and students of all ethnic groups really engage in the discussion of how racism does or does not play out in society.

  3. I think it is about minority girls living in a predominantly white setting. But, I also don’t see much good the study could have. Without naming and addressing the source of the problem, what’s the point? Of the several AP teachers I had, there’re only 2 a minority girl should be left alone with. My junior year, even though the school is 50/50 are there abouts, I was the only black girl in 3 of my 6 classes. For different reasons, not the least of which being that my mother had taught at the school, I was protected from the worst of what I could’ve experienced from teachers. As for classmates, by then, I had established myself as not just the smartest black student, but the one of the top 2 smartest in my class. And even then, I made quick work of some of their racially-biased comments. But as far as the teachers . . . The standard I’m using for them is that they visibly make an effort to be sensitive to racial sensitivities and demonstrably let their students know the same is expected of them. For example, my English teacher, Ms. E, substituted nigger with slave when we read Huckaberry Finn (and pointed out Tom’s wrong for not telling Jim he was free any sooner than he did). We could debate whether or not the substitution was a good idea. My mom didn’t like it. But I really appreciated the effort and really didn’t care to have to hear “nigger” coming from my teacher’s mouth 3 times a day. The other part of my standard is that they expect the best effort and results from all their students. I remember overhearing Ms. E tell a “regular” class, which was overwhelmingly black of course, that they may not be her honors students but that didn’t mean she would be cutting them any slack. Being one of her honor students, I knew their pain. And that was before she checked me for being uncouth this one day I decided talking with a toothpick in my mouth was cool. My math teacher, Ms. M, fussed at me one day for not doing an extra credit assignment, even though I didn’t need the extra credit, on the basis of me learning to always give myself an edge in life. The assignment had actually been required, but Ms. M felt that even if it hadn’t been, I shouldn’t settle for a 94, for example, if I could make 98. She was NOT happy with me!

    Now, Ms. M also did once unapologetically chide black students as a whole and their parents in a conversation with me without knowing all the reasoning behind the particular issue. But, the issue which she decried was that there weren’t more black students taking AP classes even after she suggested they do so, knowing they had the ability. Also, from her perspective, there were a good number of white students taking higher level courses who didn’t have the ability. And I can tell you there were. As I explained, she checked me over an extra credit assignment. Not taking higher level classes just so you could be in class with your friends was not acceptable.
    So hopefully you understand the standard I’m using even if you don’t necessarily agree. I can be kinda easy on white people who exhibit a willingness to learn and change themselves; white teachers whose standards and expectations are more universal than culturally specific. Yes, mastering “proper” English was an asset. But Ms. E corrected a classmate’s overuse of “like,” so I’m okay with her correcting subject-verb agreement.
    Most of my other teachers were less acceptable by my standard. Like I said, I excelled. Of course, I did play the occassional “black” pet cause I saw it was to my advantage. But, I can only thing of a couple of other teachers I wouldn’t mind teaching my child.

    Mr. H, my history teacher, is not one of those approved teachers. He did explain to us how Southern clerks made blacks registering to vote count beans in a jar. But he also said slavery wasn’t as bad as all that. It sounded strange to me then; it made me ashamed; but, I didn’t have the resources to challenge his assessment. And there were other teachers I witnessed push white students harder than the black students.
    Which is to say white supremacy and privilege is ubiquitous. White teachers have to be conscious of their own racism and consciously battle racism, including correcting a white students’, or even a black students’, race-based idiocy. Mss. E and M hated the stereotype, which was present in my school, that doing well was “white.” But, to the contrary of Tucker Carlson, they hated it because it excused black students from doing their best. And, they’re open to learning all the ways in which academic achievement is white and reducing the impact as much as possible. Ms. M, for all the generalized condemnation, and living in the next county over, was willing to go into Black churches if necessary to help get black students in the classes they belonged. That kinda touches on the impact of personal relationships between teachers and students, but if you’ve read this far, I’m sure you don’t care to read much farther!

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