Dealing with Racism in the Classroom


Depressed Businessman Sitting At Outdoors” by stockimagesIs it wrong for me to punch my teacher in the face?

I’m in an all-white high school (I’m black) and when teacher says to get into groups for work, I stay seated because most of the kids in this class are racist (they refer to me as the black guy) but teacher tells me to talk to someone and next time I’m going to clock the dude. What will to happen to me?


Of course it is wrong for you to punch your teacher in the face. Although I totally understand your frustration.

Instead, ask for a conference with the teacher (perhaps bring a parent) and explain the problem and why you stay seated. Ask him to help identify people who won’t be racist towards you so that you have a couple of people you can be in a group with regularly so you are not subjected to the animosity of the others. You may be surprised. Teachers don’t always understand what is obvious to the kids and once they are made aware, they can take action to fix it. Not always – but more often then you might think. Bonus is taking this approach helps you to be professional and will help the teacher see you in a more respectful light. Punching them – could get you expelled. Aim to earn respect.

Unfortunately you are in a situation where your fear is justified, but the only way to change the situation is to reach out past your fear to find the one or 2 people in the class who will support you without being horrid.

My suggestion is to look for the other marginalized people in the class. You probably aren’t the only one being bullied – even if you are the only black one. There are almost definitely other kids who are being bullied and are as in need of support as you are. Keep your eyes open and look for them and be brave and reach out to them to support them and you may just fine they support you back. And if they don’t, keep trying.

I realize this is exhausting and you shouldn’t have to go through this at all. But, you are and that’s the reality of being black in America. You don’t have a choice. And yes, that sucks. But … lashing out is a luxury you unfortunately don’t have. The punishments given to black kids who lash out are way worse than what happens to their white counterparts and that’s insanely unfair, but it’s reality.

What you do need to know is that there are white people who will treat you with respect even if they are clumsy about racial issues and really can’t comprehend your personal experience. You need to look for them. You may be surprised to find out that they are fearful of reaching out to you. It’s stupid given the level of privilege white people enjoy, but it’s incredibly common.

Good luck and I wish I could say there was an easy way to deal with this – there isn’t and I’m sure you’ve ready plenty of black writers who have been writing on exactly this for decades and centuries. There is no good solution to the problem of white fear manifesting as racism.