Educators discuss racism, labels in schools

Educators discuss racism, labels in schools

Leah Rae
The Journal News
March 28, 2009
WHITE PLAINS - A roomful of educators came up with a list of words that some schoolchildren are marked with at an early age: At-risk. Low performing. Thug. Troublemaker. Oppositional. Lazy.

Those words can become self-fulfilling prophecies, said Monica Walker, diversity officer for the school system in Greensboro, N.C. She led the group in a discussion yesterday about how racism is intertwined with such labels, and how schools and community members can turn those messages around. She helped develop another list, of the people who need to work together on the solution: Social workers, teachers, parents, students, law enforcement, housing authorities, clergy, legislators, employers, judges.

"This is a very necessary collaboration, and I will stand here today to tell you, it's not happening at 97 percent of schools in our country," she said. "These people are not talking."

Walker and other speakers explored the theme of racism in education during a forum at the YWCA of White Plains and Central Westchester. It was part of a two-day Lower Hudson Valley Social Forum, which continues at White Plains High School today.

The meeting was the work of the Anti-Racist Alliance, a movement of professionals from various fields in the New York region. The alliance is holding its "Undoing Racism" workshop April 16-18 at the Fordham University Grauduate School of Social Service in West Harrison. Information is available at

When it comes to racism, being "well-intentioned" doesn't do any good, said Margery Freeman, a trainer at the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond. She and Walker challenged their listeners to examine the power structure to see who has the advantage and the disadvantage. They warned that profit motives or a comfort with the status quo can interfere with an organization's mission.

Tia Torch, an employment specialist who helps find work for those with disabilities, said the talk reminded her of the profit motive in the prison system, and the malaise among social service providers.

"Everybody's got their own little agenda, and it isn't really about helping society as a whole," she said. Sandra Bernabei, a social worker with the Anti-Racist Alliance, said such discussions help people to "clean the lens" and see how race plays into their work.

"When we do the workshop, we learn that all of us need to be 'critical lovers' of our profession," she said.

Monica Walker
Monica Walker , Core Trainer The People's Insitute for Survival and Beyond
and diversity officer for the school system in Greensboro, N.C