In a recent article, a teacher is referred to for eliminating racism in education by correcting a student for a racial remark. It appears that this type of behavior exhibited by the teacher is acceptable across the school district. Racism in education is not a product of student to student interactions but a product of teacher to student interactions.

The student racial remark that the teacher heard was “It smells like chicken and watermelon in here”. The teacher used it as a moment to educate her class on the origin of the racial slur.

According to The Atlantic, Fried chicken isn’t racist. Eating fried chicken isn’t racist. A lot of people like fried chicken, and some happen to be black. The problem stems from the way fried chicken is associated with black people, and the historical baggage that comes with it. The same way blackface recalls minstrel shows, the “black people love fried chicken” image recalls negative portrayals of black people. According to Claire Schmidt at the University of Missouri, it started with Birth of a Nation, the 1915 film on the founding of Ku Klux Klan. In one scene:

[A] group of actors portraying shiftless black elected officials acting rowdy and crudely in a legislative hall. (The message to the audience: These are the dangers of letting blacks vote.) Some of the legislators are shown drinking. Others had their feet kicked up on their desks. And one of them was very ostentatiously eating fried chicken. “That image really solidified the way white people thought of black people and fried chicken,” Schmidt said

According to Wekipedia, the watermelon stereotype is a racist stereotype of African Americans that states that African Americans have an unusual appetite for watermelons. This stereotype has remained prevalent into the 21st century. Watermelons have been viewed as a major symbol in the iconography of racism in the United States since as early as the nineteenth century. The truthfulness of this stereotype has been questioned; one survey conducted from 1994 to 1996 showed that African Americans, at the time 12.5 percent of the country’s population, only accounted for 11.1 percent of the United States’ watermelon consumption.

While the exact origins of this stereotype remain unclear, an association of African Americans and watermelon goes back to the time of slavery in the United States. Defenders of slavery used the fruit to paint African Americans as a simple-minded people who were happy when provided watermelon and a little rest. The stereotype was perpetuated in minstrel shows often depicting African Americans as ignorant and workshy, given to song and dance and inordinately fond of watermelon.

For several decades in the late 19th century through to the mid-20th century, it was promoted through caricatures in print, film, sculpture and music, and was a common decorative theme on household goods. Even as recently as Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and his subsequent administrations, watermelon imagery has been used by his detractors.

The teacher contributes to racism in education because she has effectively given the White student a pass. If it were a Black student making a racial remark towards a White teacher, the student would have received a disciplinary consequence for the racial remark.

Some of the racial remarks towards White European teachers that would have resulted in a disciplinary consequence for Black students include:

We know that Black students are not given a pass as the White students due to the statistics from a recent United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights report.

Instead of giving students a pass for racial remarks, submit a disciplinary infraction for all students. Otherwise as a teacher, you are contributing to racism in education.

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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.

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