Why The Kiera Wilmot Story Should Be An Alarm Clock For Black Parents
From what I have read about Kiera Wilmot over the past few days, I think that she and I would have been good or maybe best friends if she were a member of my high school class. As I look at her smiling photo that is now circulating throughout the blogosphere and on television news packages, I can't help but think that she must be an Awkward Black Girl like me: someone who is interested in girlish things that typical 16-year-old young women on the cusp of womanhood are interested in, yet someone who is also quirky enough to wonder about what would happen if toilet bowl cleaner were mixed with aluminum foil.
While I never had a strong enough interest in science to take the initiative to experiment with mixtures of household chemical products, I hate to face the absurd possibility that had that curiosity been within me at a level intense enough to persuade me to design an experiment and test it, I might have spent my 18th birthday reflecting on two years of prison time as a felon rather than relishing the excitement that comes with college acceptances, proms, and everything that should come in the last teenage years of a girl who's an honor student with a clean behavior record. I hope that Kiera's lawyer in addition to the outrage that continues to spread as media coverage of this story gets heavier is enough to save her future, but let's not let her suffer this tragedy in vain without pulling some things from it that will help us navigate through the rough waters of this "post-race" society:
1. We are still society that is very obsessed with and hypocritical about race, and we can't afford to act like we aren't.
As this story develops to include the fact that three weeks prior to the Wilmot incident, Assistant Florida State Attorney Tammy Glotfelty declined to press charges against a white 13-year-old boy who allegedly accidentally shot and killed his 10-year-old brother with a BB gun, those of us who have naively embraced the idea of a post-racial America should start to reconsider this state of mind as dangerous and counterproductive.
We are inundated everyday by too many stories of black kids and adults being excessively punished for situations that seem to be almost identical to those that involved white people in which consequences were light or nonexistent. In fact, today's story involved black students at the University of Southern California whose graduation party was abruptly ended by a barrage of almost 80 LAPD officers in riot gear. The complaint from surrounding neighbors was for noise, yet an identical party across the street with predominantly white students in attendance went on uninterrupted.
Acting as if these things happen only out of a response to perceived disorderly behavior or "being in the wrong place at the wrong time" shields those with racial motives from proper scrutiny and, ironically, keeps us from achieving what I think we really want. That's not a world where race doesn't exist, but one in which differences in race and the cultures that come with them are truly respected and even cherished.
2. The Kiera Wilmot story shouldn't be used as a platform to dismiss warranted discipline in schools.
Even though I sympathize with Wilmot and her family about this course of events and I agree that the consequences are outrageous overreactions, I do think that some consequences are appropriate. Of course she shouldn't be sharing a cell with murders and child molesters, but a couple of days of detention wouldn't have been out of the question. Remember the curiosity that I talked about at the beginning of this post? Well, sometimes part of the lesson kids learn when they explore curiosity is what they shouldn't do, and the best way to teach them that is with some sort of reasonable consequence that drives that point home.
I don't think the answer to the extreme of excessive punishment is to slide over to the other extreme of giving kids bills of rights and other legislation that they can hide behind to escape consequences for things they should be punished for. Los Angeles (the same place where a swat team was called to a graduation party) seems to not understand the concept of balance since they are actually considering banning suspension for what is termed "willful defiance". In other words, a student can curse out his or her teacher and instead of that student being suspended, the teacher would have to employ "alternative" methods of dealing with the student, maybe like singing a lullaby and stroking Lil Johnny on the head. Not only is this insulting to teachers, but it teaches students the horrible lesson that they are not responsible for their actions.
In the course of making sure justice is served for Kiera, lets not create loopholes for our kids to fall through. In the workforce AKA the real world, a curse out session with your boss may feel good, but you'll leave his or her office and take your place in line at the unemployment office afterward. No "bill of rights" can save you from that fate, which is why any document that shields students from reasonable consequences that match their offenses is irresponsible.
3. It is up to US( black adults who love black kids) to TEACH our children the principles that will SAVE THEIR LIVES.
Ultimately, it is up to black community figures and especially, no foremost, PARENTS, to instill in their children the principles that will keep them from being a target of suspension abuse in the first place. From character education to classroom management, discipline has been an ever-changing coded word in schools for years, but the one thing that has stayed the same is that it continues to be an assumed duty that is the sole responsibility of faculty and other school staff.
I've taught on pretty much every level for a number of years, so I can tell you definitively that it is impossible to teach a classroom full of students the content that I am assigned to teach while policing the same students in the same 50 to 90 minutes. I tend to be a lot more patient with students than some other teachers, but we should know by now that many will not be as patient, especially when there's a young, black face doing something that could be seen as disrespectful or worse. Although any punishment that is influenced by racism is wrong, we must teach our kids not to do things that "give a reason" for someone to make them an example. This type of teaching may hark back to the days of the Civil Rights Era, but unfortunately it is a very necessary and ultimate expression of love that we must show our kids.
Do it for Kiera.