Where Do Biases Start? A Challenge To Educators
Recently there was a situation covered in USA Today that included the New York City ban on bias against black hair. All too frequently, policies have been put into place that penalizes black people based on the style and texture of their hair. These have been determined to violate their human rights and are therefore against the law. The policies have affected news anchors, professors, and even students.
Why does this matter? Because when bias affects learning and living, it becomes a prevalent problem that needs to be addressed. Hair, signs, symbols, images, and overall aesthetics associated with hip-hop or popular culture unreasonably conveys criminality in the general public.
Students sense and witness the bias against them when they are dressed in a certain way, or wear a particular style. They feel that their aesthetics cause a harsher reaction to offenses, creating a harder punishment for offenses where they usually would have a lesser punishment. This is a perspective that needs to be heard when someone is experiencing something, and there is often a good reason why.
Understand the tragedies they have faced within their culture based upon their aesthetics. Remember the distorted representations of their race in popular culture and how that is affecting the population surrounding them. How do we compare popular culture to young people’s identity? How do we allow stereotypes, prejudices, and biases alter our judgment? When do we decide it is necessary to unlearn them? What can we do to prevent and protect those suffering from racial bias?
What Can We Do As Educators?
Awareness is the top priority when combating racial bias. Becoming aware of the stereotypes and prejudices that you may have adopted by following the general population can help you unlearn them. If you don’t realize what you’re doing, how do you expect to fix it? Even by becoming aware, there is still more to do. Educators need to be able to recognize the stereotypes when initially experiencing them and find ways to prevent and educate others from making the same mistakes.
Diverge into media literacy. Many educators originate from isolated white communities and plan to teach in urban school settings without previously having experience with students of color. Most of what they know, or think they know, about students, comes solely from the media. Their representation alters the perspectives of these educators as their portrayal is constrained within crime, music, sports, and entertainment.
Teacher education programs would benefit from the inclusion of opportunities to engage with media literacy. Future educators should be exposed to the media’s portrayal early on and develop the skills to criticize their representations. When teachers develop these skills before graduating or teaching in such areas, they can understand how the media distorts their images in the future and allows them to separate stereotypes from reality. They gain the skills to determine the actual identity of their students instead of judging them by a presumptuous and uninformed racial identity.