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America to Me

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I had the opportunity to catch a couple of episodes of “America to Me”. This documentary, unfortunately, is an authentic representation of the experience for black students in America at predominantly white institutions. As troubling as it may have been for me to watch, and actively digest, the stark contrast between the learning experience for black students compared to their white counterparts, is clear.

As I watched the documentary, I was reminded of a training experience that just didn’t quite sit well with me. It was an anti-racism training, but all of the examples were from decades earlier. I critiqued that because by not showing modern examples, we give the false impression that these are issues of the olden days, when the truth is, there are many systems that impact the trajectory of historically marginalized students in America.

Unraveling personal and professional bias, requires that as educators, we explore the impact of those biases on the vulnerable students in our care.

A few examples...
  1. "Decided not to do your hair?" - White teacher to black student intentionally wearing her natural hair.

  2. Black student forced to choose between Varsity and Once in a lifetime Disney Choir trip that only occurs once every four years or coach accuses him of taking a spot "that another player deserves".

As you watch the episode (s), try to identify examples of microaggressions on your own.

Here are a few examples that I noticed from a few of the episodes. Unfortunately, there were many to choose from.

Coach to Black Student: There is a scene in the documentary that shows a Black player trying to maintain his position on the football team. As the coach is trying to encourage him to haul the body weight of a fellow white player up the bleachers (to lose weight which is another conversation), you can hear him yelling, “that a boy,”.

Why is this a microaggression?

The White coach referring to the Black male as a boy, is perpetuating the relationship between a slave and a slave master. Football, in sport, has been criticized for its origination and similarities to slavery. Consciously or unconsciously, the coach is shrinking and minimizing the existence of the Black male to a slave. Referring to a Black male as a boy is degrading and demeaning.

Another One...

Teacher to Black student: It’s been four days and you still don’t have a uniform (gym class), I’m going to have to start removing points.

The K-12 experience in addition to being universally inclusive, should be all-inclusive. The idea, that the secondary experience, can or should be a-la-carte, speaks to the structural and systemic financial inequities that students face.

In this scenario, the student is put in a position to either self-disclose their personal living situation to someone who visibly is not interested, or face a reduction in their grade.

An equity lens says that tools required for the academic experience should either be included or have a no-cost option for those in need. A universal inclusion says that as an educator, you should take into consideration inequalities and inequities, known and unknown, visible and invisible, and try to remedy these barriers before they become obstacles and before they further marginalize, already marginalized populations.

Cause I Ain’t Got A Pencil

By: Joshua T. Dickerson

The poem reads:

I woke myself up

Because we ain’t got an alarm clock

Dug in the dirty clothes basket,

Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform

Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,

Cause the lights ain’t on

Even got my baby sister ready,

Cause my mama wasn’t home.

Got us both to school on time,

To eat us a good breakfast.

Then when I got to class the teacher fussed

Cause I ain’t got no pencil

I could go on and on with examples of microaggressions, micro-assaults and micro-insults from the documentary America to Me, but wanted to save some for you to identify for yourself. The series has 10 episodes available and can be a great way to learn about microaggressions and barriers that students are experiencing in K-12.

Try It!

Identify and name 3 microaggressions experienced by students. If you are unable to identify the microaggressions, considering the following introductory tools to learn more about microaggressions, and the messages they send.

Microaggressions in the Media Explained

Yes, this documentary has many different examples of microaggressions and the messages they send, but the truth is, there are also many examples on daily basis in the media.

This week I wanted to highlight one gaining national attention and share a case-study that you can use with your team to better understand what went wrong in this scenario.

Teacher asks student to anglicize her name.

I can't make this stuff up. You may have heard about the college math professor, under fire for requesting a Vietnamese first-year student to anglicize her name. In this situation, alleging offense to the pronunciation of her birth name Phuc Bui, a college professor has now been placed on administrative leave after going viral for refusing to call a student by her given name. The student, shared emails that showed the instructors, on more than one occasion requested that she “anglicize” her name.

Why is this a microaggression?

Not only is this racist and clearly a biased incident, it is also a classic microaggression. Below is a link to download a microaggression 101 activity, as well as a case study that can be used to better understand racial microaggressions and the messages they send.

For more case-studies and training resources on microaggressions like the microaggression dialogue deck, or microaggression matching, visit

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