Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

What Next?….

By Katrina Hasan Hamilton

West Coast Correspondent

6-year-old Student gets Sexual Harassment

Police Record in School

NATIONAL – Just the other day, my husband and I were watching ABC News Live with Linsey Davis (well actually, he was watching while I was preparing dinner). And within a few seconds, he began sighing in disbelief. 

“Can you believe it, a child?” he bemoaned. “Yes,” I responded. “This is nothing ne; it happens to Black children quite frequently. I tell you this all the time, and it’s never right.” 

My husband’s shock was in reference to an incident where a school in Massachusetts contacted police authorities before calling the parents of a 6-year-old child they accused of “sexual misconduct” against his classmate. 

The First Grader was a child of bi-racial/African descent. Although the incident occurred in November of 2019, the parents recently spoke out as they have every right to, requesting that their son’s record be expunged. 

According to the child’s father, Sean Roberson, “He [his son] had absolutely no idea that anything had happened, or that anything was wrong.” His mother, Dr. Flavia C. Peréa stated, “Unfortunately, when school personnel often look at a Black and Brown boy, they don’t see a little kid. They don’t see a child behaving like a child. 

“They immediately pathologized what had happened; they assumed the worst. They criminalized his behavior.” It should be noted that this young child did not have any prior incidents of behavior or discipline problems.  

In an interview with GMA recently, Mr. Roberson teared up as he described his feelings as a parent who sends his son to school to be safe, not knowing he’s “sending him out as a sheep amongst wolves.”

Clearly, Mr. Roberson’s psychological stress responses of shock and disbelief, known as Racial Battle Fatigue (Smith, 2008) appear to be a result of the trauma his family experienced at the hands of the school. 

But what about the student himself? How is this now a 7-year-old child, with a “sealed” record, expected to behave in class after being accused of behavior he may not have any idea was inappropriate? 

The accusations come at the hands of school teachers and administrators who are entrusted to educate and keep all students, including him, “safe” in the first place. 

How can this young Black/Brown child rationalize what happened in school, especially if or when in reality, other non-Black children who may have “touched” their peers in similar ways have “escaped” reprimand without any punitive actions or records in their school and police files? 

Could this young child’s possible rationalization and realization of what occurred be a form of School-Based Racial Battle Fatigue and Trauma? Building off of Dr. William A. Smith’s Racial Battle Fatigue (RBF), which is described as the cumulative result of a natural race-related stress response to distressing mental and emotional conditions; emerging from constantly facing racially dismissive, demeaning, insensitive and/or hostile racial environments and individuals, I introduce School-Based Racial Battle Fatigue as a concept.

School-Based Racial Battle Fatigue (S-RBF) 

School-Based Racial Battle Fatigue is a form of trauma that describes the psychological, physiological, and in the case of students, behavioral symptoms where children and youth of African descent encounter racially inequitable treatment. Whether it’s in the form of constant microaggressions, explicit or implicit bias, or blatant racism at the hands of adults, students oftentimes react in ways that can lead educators to label them as “angry”, “confrontational” or “defiant.” 

Understandably, this “behavior” is a result of frequent, repetitive encounters of educator bias and/or racial targeting that initially begins in the classroom. Moreover, what appears to be irritability or unwillingness on the part of the student to complete school assignments or tasks “when asked to do so” by those in authority, may very well be a defense mechanism against the experience of S-RBF. 

Unfortunately, this can lead to disproportionate suspensions (in-school or out-of-school), expulsions, and/or referrals of Black students to Special Education for behavior versus academic abilities (Codrington & Fairchild, 2017). In contrast are the perpetually low numbers of African-American students referred to Advance Placement (AP) and Gifted and Talented Education (Ford, 2015). Due to the nature and magnitude of these traumatizing occurrences, Black and Brown children along with their families can also experience School-Based Racial Battle Fatigue as a result of non-Black peers observing the inequitable treatment Black students and families face in schools.

This mistreatment, as we will explain in future articles, can appear in the form of non-Black students bullying Black children at recess and family interactions with non-Black school staff. 

(E.g., teacher accusing Black parent(s) of their child’s behavior in school or teacher and admin teams joining together to double-team against parents who advocate for their children to be referred to GATE or AP). 

Preschool through 12th Grade Black educators can experience S-RBF as well. According to an Ed Trust report, African American educators shared how they must constantly “prove their worth” among non-Black colleagues and parents. 

Black educators are also at greater risk of contending with disrespect from non-Black students who observe and internalize this inequitable treatment (i.e., students using the “N” word to describe their teachers). 

Like RBF, School-Based Racial Battle Fatigue (S-RBF), without restorative intervention, can drastically impact student’s health or lead to painfully tragic results, including misdiagnosis for “conduct disorder”, or quite possibly, suicide

Not Isolated Incidents:

As my heart goes out to Mr. Roberson and Dr. Peréa’s son, we all must understand this tragic incident is not an isolated case. For years, students of Color have been subjected to institutionalized conditions that contradict their interests [i.e., culture and history] and their humanity [inclusive of mental health and well-being] (Kohli et. al, 2017). 

This is particularly true for children of African descent. Back in September of 2020, a 12-year-old student in Colorado was traumatized after the school suspended him from Zoom for having a “toy gun” in class amidst the dual pandemic of Coronavirus and anti-Black racism. 

In spite of a global outcry for an anti-racist climate, the school’s reprehensible actions once again violated our community’s trust. No wonder some families are hesitant to send their children back to school when most finally reopen.

Other traumatizing school incidents include:

• An 11-year-old middle school student harassed for nearly an hour before being thrown to the ground by a New Mexico School Resource officer, 

• A 6-year-old who pleaded with Orlando police officers not to take her to jail from school, and 

• A 5-year-old pre-K student who was repeatedly thrown down to a bean bag by the “Behavior Specialist” in Burleson County Texas, while his older classmate watched in horror. 

Fortunately, this young student was brave enough to record and send the incident to his mother before the School Administrator erased it from his phone, without properly contacting the 5-year-old’s mom. These are just a few examples of how S-RBF impacts Black students and families.

In the coming months, as a West Coast Correspondent for Muslim Journal, I will launch both a podcast and blog series on The Hate You Teach, The Hate We Learn, showcasing School-Based Racial Battle Fatigue.

Also featured will be solutions that include: restorative healing, school reform, culturally responsive leadership, community intervention, outdoor learning, homeschooling in honor of Sis. Clara Muhammad, and examples of “What’s Working” in innovative, culturally congruent learning models – including Clara Muhammad, African Centered and Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools. 

(Katrina Hasan Hamilton is a West Coast Correspondent for Muslim Journal covering education and politics. She is also a doctoral student in the Education, Policy and Organization Leadership Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.)

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