LWB: Learning While Black

“They’re not just children, they’re black children.”

The above quote was taken from an episode of Blackish where they brilliantly dissect the current state of Black people and the Black experience in America. They tackle the topics of police brutality,  mass incarceration, and a tear-jerking monologue surrounding having our first Black President.

Through the course of the episode, Dre and Bow (the parents), are trying their best to explain to their children the hardships that Black people face daily while trying to survive in this country. Hardships that they are probably too young to fully understand, but hardships that they will soon have to face themselves.

But as quiet as it’s kept, there’s a good chance these children have been exposed to a micro-level of oppression already.

Research shows that our black students are suspended or expelled at a disturbingly higher rate than their white counterparts, less likely to placed in gifted classes when they’re taught by a non-black teacher (80 percent of black elementary school students are taught by teachers of other races), and black students face overall harsher punishments than any other race. So harsh that they are subjected to physical violence from teachers and school security. Ironically this oppression and violence is usually doled out by those that are tasked with keeping them safe.

On Tuesday, April 19, 2016, at Ohio University, artist Raymond Perez examines the American educational system through the lens of his blackness. He does this by “interjecting symbols commonly associated with African American culture onto objects such as backpacks, crayons, and coloring book pages.” Read his full artist statement and view pictures of the show below.

“As a young black man, growing up in a predominantly white suburb, I was immersed in an environment that exposed racial bias and discrimination on a personal and communal level. Fruition is a  body of work made up of  sculpture, installation, and time-based media that documents the “post-racial” world around me, as a way to get a better understanding of a culture that I am a part of, but was not raised in.  At the same time, the work speaks to something larger, calling for societal reflection as a whole.  

Using the reference of a school setting, this work is a reflection of the way education shaped my perceptions of race. The American educational system serves as an institution where our children are taught of their history and core values that shapes their path to adulthood; they also function as ground zero for the stereotyping of African American men as troublemakers, criminals, and thugs. I am interjecting symbols commonly associated with African American culture onto objects such as backpacks, crayons, and coloring book pages, that have strong association with a child’s classroom. Through the creation of these objects, I am making connections between the realities of our culture and the way those are perceived through our educational system. By exploring the complexities of our still extant race issue, my goal is to spark the necessary conversations to cultivate reform.”

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While the artist is examining the educational system, he is also displaying that the events of police brutality, racial profiling, and stereotyping don’t happen in a vacuum. In his piece, clear plastic backpacks display tablets that constantly stream videos of such atrocities. It’s meant to wake us up and help us to realize that discrimination is a part of a very acrimonious and deliberate cycle and it starts at a very micro, classroom level size, where the educational system already labels our Black children thugs, troublemakers, rebellious, ghetto, and essentially unworthy of fair and equal treatment as their other non-melaninated cohorts. Racism and discrimination then snowball into the epidemics like young black men being nine times more likely to be killed police than any other American. It snowballs into systematic racial profiling where white people automatically think that a group of black people staying in a nice home must mean they’re robbing the place. It snowballs into 7.9% of Black youth being diagnosed with major depression (Lincoln et al., 2012). Although academic mistreatment and depression aren’t directly linked (to my knowledge), I would argue the mistreatment of Black youth in the classroom plays a significant role to their psyche and self-esteem. A lot of them internalize these negative feelings and stereotypes imposed on them by their teachers and peers, and the results are damning.

So when you see Black protesters and activists talk about dismantling systemic and institutional racism and fighting and destroying white supremacy, then is what they mean.

Additionally, this is why we need movements like #BlackLivesMatter, #MelaninPoppin, #CarefreeBlackBoy and #BlackGirlsRock, and songs like Beyonce’s Formation and Kendrick Lamar’s Alright because the demoralization of our youth starts at such a young age. They’re not to bash any other group of people, but there’s a system that fervently works against us so it’s imperative to reaffirm ourselves, and our children, how beautiful, talented, valuable, and all around bad-ass we are.

You can find and purchase more art work from Raymond at his website:  http://rayperezart.com/home.html

All photographs were taken by Macy DiRienzo. More of Macy’s work can be found on her website: http://macydirienzo.com/

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