Think we’re beyond racism? Think again. This black mom from Oklahoma’s astonished essay in the Washington Post might convince you that America’s infamous school-to-prison pipeline starts as early as preschool.
Tunette Powell writes that her two sons both kept getting suspended from preschool for misbehavior, and she agreed that this was appropriate… Until she discovered that other children didn’t get suspended for similar infractions. Can you even call things that three- and four-year-olds do “infractions?”
Powell wrote in the Washington Post that her boisterous sons have both been suspended from their preschool at various times, for the sort of object flinging temper tantrums and antics that are typical for that age group.
“I received a call from my sons’ school in March telling me that my oldest needed to be picked up early. He had been given a one-day suspension because he had thrown a chair. He did not hit anyone, but he could have, the school officials told me.”
Instead of questioning the preschool’s actions, Powell blamed herself — she’d had a rough upbringing, and had also often been disciplined in preschool. But Powell later discovered that her boys kept getting suspended while white children who’d engaged in similar — or worse — behavior had not gotten suspended.
When she spoke with other parents who knew her and her boys, they expressed surprise that her boys would do anything awful enough to merit suspension. One even confessed:
“My son threw something at a kid on purpose and the kid had to be rushed to the hospital. All I got was a phone call.”
This prompted Powell to do some research, and she was startled by what she found:
“Black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but make up 48 percent of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension, according to the study released by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in March.”
American Progress reports that one third of people in the U.S. are of color, yet they make up 60 percent of prison inmates. If you’re a black male, you’ve got a one-in-three chance of winding up in jail:
“Today people of color continue to be disproportionately incarcerated, policed, and sentenced to death at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts. Further, racial disparities in the criminal-justice system threaten communities of color—disenfranchising thousands by limiting voting rights and denying equal access to employment, housing, public benefits, and education to millions more. “
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other sources report a “disturbing trend” of public schools putting into effect “zero-tolerance” disciplinary policies that propel children into the juvenile justice system before any meaningful attempts at intervention are made:
“Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished and pushed out.”
Anyone inclined to accuse Powell of crying racism should be aware that this mom is probably the last person who would ever draw this conclusion. Powell normally focuses on the positive: She makes her living as a highly-acclaimed motivational speaker who delivers a message of “inspiration, determination, hope and healing.”
Read Powell’s original essay here.