Contrary to persistent racist opinions and traditions, Black people have always valued education.
Whether formal or informal, the role of “schooling” serves as an entry point for Black liberation. It did so during enslavement as it does today. However, challenges to Black education continue to persist.
Black education in Antebellum America was under constant threat; Black people were tortured and/or killed for attempting to learn and displaying acquired academic skills. Today, as Black children attempt to learn, many do so in schools that are fiscally challenged, persistently absent of culturally responsive faculty and staff, and devoid of content reflective of their history, culture, contributions, and communities, while being disproportionately disciplined.
Nevertheless, Black children, and their families, continue to make a way out of a hard way. Those developed ways of knowing however does not include Black children shooting up their schools due to anger about life.
White children have.
According to a Mother Jones database of mass shootings in the United States from 1982 to 2021, of the 18 school shootings on record in the United States since 1982 (both K-12 institutions and higher education institutions), none of the shooters were Black; the majority of school shooters were white (72%).
To be fair, Black students have brought guns to school. You can google that. But we’ve never heard of a Black student involved in a mass shooting. The profile of those who have are white and male. Why is that?
To answer that, we must start with understanding the DNA of the United States.
To know the United States is to know violence. Our society is one of violence. Violence was the mechanism to “acquire” land (genocide of first peoples). Violence was the mechanism for developing land (and industry) for both survival and profit (enslavement of African people). Violence is how the white settler project is maintained as we know it (racial capitalism).
The violence that is at the foundation of our social structure is the very thing sold throughout the world through consumerism, militarism and “cultural” exchange. It’s called American exceptionalism and whiteness is at the center of it.
Yet the political climate would have white people to believe that whiteness is under attack; from Black and Brown immigrants illegally crossing the border, from Black people pushing Critical Race Theory in schools, from organizations such as Black Lives Matter and from Black, Latinx and Indigenous people stealing elections from the likes of Donald Trump and his ilk.
Combine that climate with the culture and history of violence and you have racialized young white males, who believe that the white male patriarchy of their fathers and grandfathers will be unavailable to them. This is told to them by politicians, social media demagogues, and even by members of their own communities and households and therefore the war to preserve whiteness is real and they join the “battlefield” as their civic duty.
These individuals in many cases feel left behind and are inculcated in communities with little to no contact with Black people and/or other people of color. The racial animus that borders on paranoia manifest itself in the actions of Ethan Crumbley, Dylann Roof, Kyle Rittenhouse, Nikolas Cruz, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, etc.
The truth is that if anyone has reason to be upset at the way things are, it’s Black people when you consider the racism we continue to battle—the wealth gap between Blacks and whites, the school to prison pipeline, the denials of mortgages to Black folks, police brutality…
This social structure is anti-Black and yet Black folks continue to navigate it as best we can.
Many of our children are angry and for good reason because they suffer under racism in ways that they may be unable to articulate, nor are they able to remedy. But they don’t shoot up schools. How come?
Considering that the masses of schools, whether public (including charter) or private, are led by people who don’t look like them (majority white), are instructed largely by people who don’t look like them (majority white), taught from books that don’t reflect who they are or their history, taught content and concept that doesn’t teach them about who they are or how to empower their communities, while being exploited for either profit, prestige or both as a result of their academic and/or athletic prowess… how come Black children don’t shoot up the schools?
First, schools aren’t necessarily the center of the Black community. Black people are at the center of the Black community. Yes, schools, like houses of worship, continue to serve as important pillars in the Black community, but when led by conscious and committed Black people.
So again, Black people are at the center of the Black community and Black children (as well as adults) receive their affirmation, sense of worth, knowledge of history, understanding of governance, ways of knowing, cultural meaning making and the momentum of memory from Black people. What school does that, if not led, administered and instructed by Black people?
Yes, schools provide families with resources and essential services by way of government funds and that’s Black tax dollars at work in those, but what about those tax dollars are building and empowering Black children per se?
As white institutional spaces, schools aren’t obligated to teach Black children beyond a social structure framework, which is counter to who Black people are to each other. And when white miseducational spaces routinely suffocate Black children through inept schooling, our Black children must limp back to the center of their communities to be affirmed, empowered, and educated. While Black children are described as broken by their communities and families, by white supremacists, from outright bigoted politicians and policy makers to “savior” coming to our communities to save them, we know that many Black children actually come to school whole, and are broken by the systems claiming to save them.
Secondly, despite the reduced number of Black educators, Black students have them, where they can find them, as help to navigate the institution of school while preparing them for the ongoing fight and resistance against anti-Blackness.
Black educators make the difference with respect to Black children succeeding academically, graduating from high school and attending college due to the obligation they have to uplift and challenge the inextricably linkage between racial, educational, and social justice efforts on behalf of Black children in anti-Black spaces.
White students have an abundance of white teachers to “help” them, even as the percentages of white students is reduced, but the reality is that whiteness, although a social construct, carries meaning, is traditional enough; white maleness even more so. However, the deception as a means to defend white supremacy is proliferating the idea that whiteness is always under threat—although it is never under threat from anything other than itself.
Third, when schools let down Black children; when Black children know, with full evidence and certainty, that the teachers and/or administrators don’t care about them, when they know that they are not learning the truth or that they aren’t learning anything that can help them or their communities, they simply divest – often, unfortunately, as a wholly normal sign of self-reservation.
I’ve had friends that have chucked the deuces when it came to school—they literally gave up on the idea that the school was a place for them to succeed or chart a path for a brighter future for themselves. However, divesting from school isn’t necessarily the same thing a dropping out. It certainly doesn’t mean taking a gun to school and shooting colleagues and educators. Divesting means finding an alternative to school.
Alternatives are found within community. One alternative is an education in the underground economy whereby short-term gains make survival (and success of some sort) theoretically possible, while satisfying the concrete aim of engaging in the material and consumer world students are inundated with. Another alternative involves an education at the hands of community elders and activists whose vast experiences and wisdom serve as powerful oral textbooks that replaces whitewashed texts that have no power.
Such lessons lead to another alternative which is to self-teach, in the spirit of el-Hajj Malik El Shabazz.
Young people engaged in this alternative have decided to search after what their looking for—empowerment—through books found in Black bookstores, articles online from Black scholars or videos on YouTube, TikTok, and other social media platforms. Science and technology have made up possible for Black children to utilize devices and software to understand who they are in relation to history. Culture, tradition, and community make it possible for them to tap into the wisdom and experiences and teachings of their elders and others in communal fashion.
As Brother Malcolm reignited his learning from books within prison walls, Black children can (and do) learn from elders and texts alike from within the figurative prison of the social structure; once again, making a way out of a hard way.
The solution to hard times or oppression should never be to kill oneself or others. The solution must always be to coalesce and strategize on finding an alternative to what harms us.
For Black children, the death of other people was never an alternative to the institution of school because ancestrally, Black people have always made a way in a society that has granted us only small concessions as opposed to honoring our rights.
Perhaps, the real reason Black children don’t shoot up their schools is because they don’t have the privilege to do so, because the transgression of one Black child will mean the punitive treatment of all Black children, whereas white male victimhood will continue to thrive and “victims” made out of teenagers will make real victims within their schools… with all deliberate speed.