In a recent article, it has been reported that in California there is an over representation of Black student suspensions. Presently, the schools are using programs to reduce those suspensions with some success. California schools will have to eliminate classroom racism (Elcloomism) by promoting positive racial relationships (Properateasclaships) to reduce Black student suspensions to an appropriate quantity.

According to the article, nearly 200,000 California students who were suspended for willful defiance last year.

What constitutes willful defiance is somewhat vague, but it generally allows teachers to remove students from the classroom if their behavior is thought to be disruptive or defiant. It’s the most common reason California students were suspended—and students of color are overwhelmingly targeted.

But there is a growing consensus that keeping kids out of the classroom for non-violent behavioral issues has done more harm than good, and students of color are paying the heaviest cost for this policy.

‘Something else at play’

“The research speaks very, very clearly that students of color don’t engage in more egregious violations than any other student,” California Department of Education Coordinated Student Support Division Director Gordon Jackson said.

“So, there’s something else at play — and it could very well be those differences that I think are often represented in the fact that many of our teachers don’t look like a lot of our students,” Jackson said.

Could the something else be racism in the classroom which continues to contribute to excessive rates of Black student suspensions?

Presently, the California schools are utilizing a process termed ‘Restorative Justice’. Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender. Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, “to repair the harm they’ve done—by apologizing, returning stolen money, or community service”. In addition, it provides help for the offender in order to avoid future offences. It is based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offence against an individual or community, rather than the state. Restorative justice that fosters dialogue between victim and offender shows the highest rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability.

Even though the Restorative Justice System has had success with reducing the number of Black student suspensions, it is limited because it does not transform the culture organization that is responsible for Black student suspensions. It only transforms the participants in the system and not the gatekeepers who are responsible for the excessive quantity of Black student suspensions.

The primary gatekeepers of public schools are the teachers. They are the frontline employees who are responsible for submitting the discipline referrals that contribute to the high quantity of Black student suspensions.

Since the average teacher demographics for public schools is 76% White female. It is the White female values that establish the culture for schools. When there is a clash of values between the White teacher and the Black student the ensuing result is a Black student suspension. Some of the reasons for clashes include:

  • Eye contact

Individuals use nonverbal cues to indicate a liking for another individual by initiating and maintaining eye contact. Whites believe maintaining eye contact in face-to-face communication is most desirable. White American employees and employers believe maintaining eye contact communicates trustworthiness, masculinity, sincerity, and directedness and conclude when Black employees fail to maintain eye contact that the Black employees have something to hide. European Americans view looking away or looking downward as a sign of disinterest, shyness, or disrespect.

Some Black parents teach their children that looking an adult in the eye is a sign of disrespect while White children learn to do the opposite. When reprimanding Black children, they tend not to look at the teacher as a sign of respect. Blacks are less likely to maintain eye contact with persons in a position of authority, and Black children increase eye contact as they begin to trust the teacher. Black students who avert their eyes and verbally express themselves may be just as attentive as White students who gaze directly at the speaker. Students may avoid teacher eye contact when they do not want to be called on or do not know the answer and respond by busily taking notes, rearranging books and papers, and fropping their pencils. Black adults gaze at others when talking to indicate interest. Blacks often “give the eye” as a displeasure indication related to negative feelings.

  • Standing distance differences

Colleges teach teachers to ensure there is a distance between themselves and the students so the teacher can maintain discipline in the classroom. European Americans are more likely to have close social distance with Mexican Americans when compared to Blacks and prefer to keep their personal space at arm’s length. Hispanic Americans stand close to or side by side instead of face-to-face when talking to another person. Hispanic Americans stand 6 to 8 inches within an arm’s length when talking to another person. Latinos interact at a close distance and frequently touch one another. Latino Americans prefer closer standing distances when compared to North Americans. Blacks prefer closer social distance when compared to Mexican Americans. Blacks are more likely to touch each other in a conversation when compared to Whites. Individuals who perceive a proximity violator as someone who will provide them with negative rewards will react negatively when the proximity violator moves closer. Maintaining the appropriate or comfortable proximity is associated with a positive effect, friendship, and attraction.

  • Debating techniques

Blacks not only debate the idea; they also debate the person while Whites debate the idea rather than the person debating the idea. “Blacks often probe beyond a given statement to find out where a person is “coming from,” in order to clarify the meaning and value of a particular behavior or attitude.

  • Talking during instruction

Black students contrast White middle-class communication when they speak over others’ voices and repeat the communication until they are responded to or until they have someone’s attention. Spontaneity in conversation is an acceptable component for Blacks, although others perceive interrupting another speaker in conversation as rude. Speaker and audience are often interchangeable as Blacks who are listening will often “call out” or respond to a speaker. Black communities accept the approach that their children use by interrupting others or speaking out of turn, which is an unacceptable school practice, and teachers view this behavior as disruptive and inappropriate.

As you have read, there are stark differences between the way that Blacks and Whites communicate as well as communication expectations. California schools need to enhance their efforts to eliminate Black student suspensions by promoting positive racial teacher student classroom relationships.

Related Articles

California’s school suspensions show racial disparity

Suspended: Inequality in School Discipline

To Improve School Discipline, Change Teacher Behavior


Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012


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Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships


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