Black children can feel misunderstood when teachers misperceive them as angry, leading to incorrect judgments, unfair treatment, and long-term ramifications.
Racism continues to be a societal affliction despite hard-won progress from courageous advocacy. Still, with laws in place to protect diverse racial groups, racial bias remains.
This bias extends to include a category of adults viewed as having the best interest of children at heart: teachers.
A 2020 study of 178 students in a teacher-training program found that prospective teachers’ recognition of children’s facial expressions between Black and white children wasn’t equally accurate.
The soon-to-be teachers incorrectly read anger more often on Black boys’ and girls’ faces than the children’s white peers.
Study researchers coined the term “racialized anger bias.” This term describes the racial bias that exists when interpreting the emotions of Black people.
Racialized anger bias means people interpret anger based on race rather than behavioral cues. This has implications beyond a simple misperception of mood. It can lead to unfair treatment from other people.
When teachers aren’t aware of racial bias when judging their students’ emotions, particularly their Black students, it’s a form of racism.
Racism isn’t always intentional or apparent. Sometimes it occurs as unconscious bias, as seen in the study of prospective teachers.
Teachers aren’t the only adults influenced by this bias. A 2017 study of 91 resident physicians working in a pediatric emergency department suggests that pediatric residents are as susceptible as other physicians to racial bias.
But further research is needed to determine how this bias impacts inequalities in pediatric healthcare.
Equitable access to quality education is already challenging enough for Black students without the added impact of racialized anger bias and other forms of racism.
Also, the roots of systemic racism in education date back well over a century. Systemic racism includes specific practices and policies that create and maintain racial inequality for People of Color in areas such as:
- food security
- other societal structures
Racial segregation in public schools has had a long and traumatic history. To this day, Black students still feel the effects of segregation.
- Jim Crow laws (1865). Following the 13th Amendment in 1865, which abolished slavery in the United States, the Jim Crow state and local codes and laws mandated racial segregation in public life, including schools. As a result, Black students attended separate schools, which were underfunded, and the schools were seen as inferior to schools white students attended. Black people experienced increasing race-based violence from white people, including destroying Black schools, homes, and other property.
- Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). This Supreme Court ruling upheld racial segregation with laws mandating “separate but equal” facilities for Black people, including separate schools for Black children. Despite these laws, Black people still experienced inequality.
- Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The Supreme Court overruled Plessy v. Ferguson with Brown v. Board of Education, a decision to end racial segregation in U.S. public schools.
- Little Rock Nine (1957). Nine Black students enrolled at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Before Brown v. Board of Education, Central High School was attended by only white students. On the first day of school in 1957, the Arkansas National Guard blocked the Black students’ entry to the school as directed by Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus.
- Secession (2000). Since 2000, communities across the country have separated themselves from their larger school districts to create smaller, new school districts in predominantly white areas. This occurred to obtain greater control and funding while segregating themselves from more diverse student populations.
Racism has a profound effect on a person’s quality of life and impacts their future in numerous ways, such as:
Racial trauma is the cumulative impact racism has on mental health. Although it can affect people of all ages, children may experience damaging effects more frequently because their brains are still developing.
Racial trauma can cause:
- generalized and social anxiety
- low self-esteem
- emotional distress
- health issues or physical symptoms, such as headaches, difficulty with sleep, chest pain
- reduced ability to concentrate
- social isolation or withdrawal
- recurring thoughts of what happened
Students moving from public school to the juvenile and criminal justice systems is known as the school-to-prison pipeline.
The process often begins with disciplinary action prompted by student behaviors interpreted as being worse than they really are.
For example, “zero-tolerance” policies require school leaders to discipline students based on predetermined consequences and criminalize minor infractions of school rules.
Because of racial bias, expulsions and suspensions occur more often to Students of Color than white students who engage in the same conduct.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Black students are expelled and suspended three times more than white students.
Even though Black students make up only 16% of public-school enrollment, they account for 42% of the multiple suspensions.
Despite the progress over the past century, there’s still significant work to be done to improve the experiences of Black students.
Racial bias education for teachers
Prospective teachers aware of influences like racialized anger bias can take this knowledge into their classrooms. They can also actively aim to acknowledge this bias and work against it.
Armed with this insight, teachers can work to build greater awareness of other biases they likely hold. They can also increase empathy in how they view and communicate with students.
The following resources might be helpful:
- Preventing Suspensions and Expulsions in Early Childhood Settings
- Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education: Teacher Leadership
Increasing the number of Black teachers and counselors may ease the impact of racial bias.
A large 2017 study, which researched student-teacher racial match and its association with Black student achievement, found that Black students assigned to same-race teachers achieved higher reading scores.
Also, Black students can feel more supported by:
- seeing images of Black people in nontraumatic and noncriminal situations
- sharing stories of Black strength and resilience
- having access to educational materials written by and about Black people
- seeing images of People of Color in their curriculum, such as health education
A large 2019 study on middle-school Black and Latino boys suggests identity-safety interventions can restore a sense of adequacy and personal security for students.
Findings also indicate that interventions to improve trust between racially marginalized students and school staff may reduce disciplinary events.
In the study, class sessions with social belonging, values affirmation, and growth mindset interventions reduced citations among racially marginalized students.
Structured decision making in class
Educators used established guidelines that honored equity and anti-racism principles rather than simply reacting to their perceptions of how a student is behaving.
Studies show that some teachers are biased when assessing their students’ emotions. More specifically, some studies have shown that teachers misperceive Black children as angry.
These incorrect judgments can cause false assumptions, leading to unfair treatment in school and other consequences.
Racialized anger bias in education is a form of racism. With educators’ heightened awareness, they can act to reduce racial disparities in the classroom.
Experiencing or witnessing racism can affect your mental health and well-being. Consider speaking with a primary care doctor or mental health professional for support and guidance.
There are also affordable therapy options to support your needs. Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource may also help.