As an educator now working in the UK, one of my concerns is the obvious underachievement and lack of confidence amongst Black male students, especially in nations where Black is not the dominant race.
I work with students from disadvantaged communities and I do worry. In many cases, these boys are likely to be excluded for poor behaviour and underperformance, and they possess a very guarded attitude when it comes to relaying what their home situation is like, which in many cases is quite fragile. In one scenario, one bold boy told me outright that his father is a “wasteman”, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to call home.
To be clear, there are some Black boys who are exceptionally focused and have high ambitions. These boys usually have so much power and a strong sense of justice. Some can effectively lead and mentor younger boys, and be the strong student voice in the school community, as well as amazingly effective assistants to the administration of a school. Sadly, in my experience, these cases are not in the majority.
With such a tainted relationship between Black males and the police force, it must come as a shock that I would be presumptuous enough to suggest we should encourage boys to join the organisation. Just recently, in South London, Inspector Charles Ehikioya, a Black Met Police Officer, reported being racially profiled; he was stopped by White officers, as he drove home from work. The case is currently under investigation.
When I enquire about the career plans of some of my male students, like many teenagers they may say they are unsure or may mumble that they might do “something in sport”. (In fact, I was doing an Internet search on Black boys, and images of brand name trainers came up!)
Conversations about available career choices usually lead to some remarkably interesting revelations. In one such discussion, I suggested joining the police force. The responses were outright incredulous rejections to the suggestion: “Aww, hell no! Definitely not, Miss!” The boys explained that, since it is touted around that the police force is institutionally racist, joining it would be a slap in the face to the Black community. At no point was it suggested they would even consider the profession, even if they felt it is something they would be passionate about.
This is extremely unfortunate for two reasons. Firstly, whether police officers are racist or not, they do not trust these officers, who have sworn to protect and serve them and their communities, and secondly, even if they were interested, it is apparent they would feel guilty about joining the force, since the Black community might not like the move.
But I believe that young Black students have a right to feel they have the same opportunities and freedom to choose any career they wish, without feeling a sense of dread. I believe that, rather than protest and shout “Injustice!” from the sidelines (which doesn’t necessarily result in structural changes if needed, but only in flimsy solutions to assuage the masses), a more powerful move would be to stimulate the younger generation to feel they have the power to do something about what the older ones may not have done effectively. It may sound as though I am suggesting these boys become a sacrifice, but I feel this is a societal move rather than one of martyrdom. Not only would we get a clearer picture of what exactly goes on inside this institution (and so would be likely to trust the institution more), but there would also be adequate representation.
And this representation should be vivid. It rightfully tells the world: you are accepted here too. When people feel accepted, they will put in the necessary work to ensure others joining will feel the same. They will also work to fix their environment to make it even better to exist in.
It must take a certain level of boldness to decide to join a system that enforces the law of a country, and our Black boys could use that extra encouragement. It is an important task.
I got the opportunity to speak to Richard Cross, an influencer on Black Male Impact in Education, who explained “Black boys need a bit more reassurance”. He asserted that in many cases they come from broken homes with absent positive role models and, while there are some success stories, they still need encouragement to stretch themselves in academia (especially as the girls are outperforming them). The boys, he said, tended to have confidence in many activities outside the classroom, but that confidence needs to be channelled inside the classroom.
I think that Black boys joining the police force could be a confident step in the right direction. The fear and mistrust of the police should gradually dissipate (hopefully), and there would undoubtedly be necessary representation that would show upcoming Black students that it is OK to desire working towards enforcing the law correctly and honourably.
Kimshaw Aiken is a writer and a teacher. She has recently written the book, ‘How to Build Your Teaching Muscles: 10 Strategies to Boost the Engagement of Challenging Learners’, to help new teachers navigate the classroom and to give parents additional insight. The book is available on Amazon. Visit her website at https://howtobuildyourteachingmuscles.com/ for further information.
You can also email her at: email@example.com