Opinion
School Climate & Safety Opinion

How Schools Are ‘Spirit Murdering’ Black and Brown Students

By Bettina L. Love — May 23, 2019 3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In February of 2019, a positive behavior support coach who was employed by the district in Madison, Wis., allegedly physically assaulted and ripped the hair out of the head of an 11-year-old Black girl. In the same school district, several teachers and substitutes have been fired or resigned earlier this academic year after reports they used racial slurs in the classroom. In the neighboring school district of Middleton, Wis., a school bus driver was fired after the district confirmed he had slapped a Black child. All these incidents in Wisconsin happened within months of each other.

In Binghamton, N.Y., four 12-year-old Black girls reported they were strip-searched at their school for acting too hyper and giddy in January. School officials likely assumed the girls were on drugs because their Black joy was unrecognizable. Of course, no drugs were found and the district denies strip searching the girls. However, the district does admit that asking students to remove some of their clothing is in compliance with a “sobriety check”. The girls’ parents dispute the district’s claims, and a civil lawsuit from the parents and a third-party investigation are still ongoing.

Last Halloween, 14 staff members at Middleton Heights Elementary, 30 miles west of Boise, Idaho, were involved in dressing up as Mexicans and the border wall for Halloween. The district’s superintendent issued a public apology and placed the teachers on paid administrative leave.

More From This Author:

“An Essay for Teachers Who Understand Racism Is Real”

“Teachers, We Cannot Go Back to the Way Things Were

“White Teachers Need Anti-Racist Therapy”

“Dear White Teachers: You Can’t Love Your Black Students If You Don’t Know Them”

“‘Grit Is in Our DNA': Why Teaching Grit Is Inherently Anti-Black”

Sadly, incidents like these fill my social-media timeline on a weekly basis. With regularity, school districts’ spokespersons portray these incidents as isolated events, the work of a few overzealous, culturally insensitive but “good” teachers. These responses never acknowledge how racism is systemic, institutionalized, and structural, or how racism breeds and is maintained by violence.

Physical and psychological attacks on Black and Brown children’s bodies and culture are more than just racist acts by misguided school educators; they are the spirit murdering of Black and Brown children. This type of violence toward children of color is less visceral and seemingly less tragic than physical acts of murder at the hands of White mobs and White self-appointed vigilantes, the shooting of unarmed people of color by police officers in their own homes and communities, or the senseless violence in some Black communities, which are all conditions of racism.

What I am talking about is a slow death, a death of the spirit, a death that is built on racism and intended to reduce, humiliate, and destroy people of color.

Legal scholar Patricia Williams coined the term “spirit murdering” to argue that racism is more than just physical pain; racism robs people of color of their humanity and dignity and leaves personal, psychological, and spiritual injuries. Racism is traumatic because it is a loss of protection, safety, nurturance, and acceptance—all things children need to enter school and learn.

The spirit murdering of Black and Brown children leaves a trail of unanswered questions: How do children learn after being physically assaulted or racially insulted by a person who is supposed to protect them, love them, and teach them? How does a Black or Brown child live, learn, and grow when her spirit is under attack at school, and her body is in danger inside the classroom? How does a parent grapple with this reality? How are children’s imagination and humanity stunted by the notion that they are never safe in their schools because of the color of their skin or the God they pray to? Where does the soul go to heal when school is a place of trauma?

School officials continue to misdiagnose the spirit murdering happening in their schools every day, even in a time when folks are screaming in the streets that Black Lives Matter, demanding immigration rights, calling to end police brutality, standing up to Islamophobia and transphobia, and demanding racial justice. When schools mirror our society’s hate, educational justice becomes out of our reach.

Related Video

In 2016, Bettina L. Love, the author of this Commentary, spoke to Education Week about African-American girls and discipline. Here’s what she had to say:

Follow the Education Week Commentary section on Twitter.

Sign up to get the latest Education Week Commentaries in your email inbox.
A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 2019 edition of Education Week as The ‘Spirit Murdering’ of Black and Brown Children

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
Science K-12 Essentials Forum How To Teach STEM Problem Solving Skills to All K-12 Students
Join experts for a look at how experts are integrating the teaching of problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking into STEM instruction.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety 'We Beg You. Do Something': Principals Who Lived Through Shootings Plead for Action
"We are members of a club that no one wants to join."
1 min read
A woman kneels as she pays her respects in front of crosses with the names of children killed outside of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 26, 2022. Law enforcement authorities faced questions and criticism Thursday over how much time elapsed before they stormed the Texas elementary school classroom and put a stop to the rampage by a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers.
A woman kneels in front of crosses with the names of children killed in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Despite the outrage and anguish over the killings of 19 children and 2 teachers by a gunman armed with an AR-15-style rifle, there's deep skepticism that state or federal lawmakers will enact new restrictions on guns.
Dario Lopez-Mills/AP
School Climate & Safety Onlookers Urged Police to Charge Into Texas School
“Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, according to a witness.
6 min read
People walk with flowers to honor the victims in Tuesday's shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
People walk with flowers to honor the victims in Tuesday's shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Jae C. Hong/AP
School Climate & Safety How Much Trauma Can Our Schools Withstand?
Despite a cascade of tragedy, educators report to work and care for our children. How do they get through it?
5 min read
Kladys Castellón prays during a vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.
Kladys Castellón prays during a vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Billy Calzada/The San Antonio Express-News via AP
School Climate & Safety 'This Could Be Our School': Educators Grapple With Anger and Loss After Uvalde Shooting
While some students seemed blissfully unaware of the Texas school shooting, some educators worried about their safety.
Three and 4-year-old students in Kim Manning's early childhood education class at Traylor Academy in Denver, Colo., listen to a discussion about school safety on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Three and 4-year-olds in in an early-childhood class at Traylor Academy in Denver listen to a discussion about school safety after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Courtesy of Kim Manning Ursetta