BLACK MIDDLE and high school students in Baltimore County get suspended at a rate twice that of their white counterparts, a recent report in The Evening Sun noted. Who's ** to blame?
There's enough guilt to go around for all parties to get a plate full and then go back for seconds. A number of factors and people contribute to the disproportionate suspension rate for black students.
While the charge of "white racism" has recently become, in some cases, the first refuge of the scoundrel, it may play a part in the suspension rate of black students. To this day, I believe it did when I was suspended from City College in my senior year of 1968-1969.
To put that particular incident in focus, I have to back up a few years prior to that to show how my potential suspension from then Harlem Park Junior High was handled when I was in the ninth grade.
I had a run-in with a classmate named Willie Breland in my neighborhood. He popped me. I didn't retaliate because he was with a homey and I didn't care for the two against one odds. I'd settle with Willie the next day in school, I decided.
We continued the fisticuffs in a school hallway, setting back the pugilistic sciences some 500 years in the process, no doubt. We ended up in the office of a counselor named Mrs. Galloway, as kind and fine a person I have come in contact with in the school system. She didn't suspend us. She simply expressed her bitter disappointment in both of us for engaging in such silly conduct. Our shame was enough to keep both of us out of trouble -- in school and out -- the remainder of the year.
That's how one particular situation was handled with a black counselor at a black school. Things changed when I got to City, which had a predominantly white, male faculty and administration, many of whom were not pleased with the presence of black students there.
My senior year a teacher's aide insisted I bus a tray in the cafeteria that was not mine. I refused. He insisted the tray was mine. I called him a liar and we ended up in a vice-principal's office.
"This young man refused to take back his tray and called me a liar," he reported to the vice-principal.
"Actually, I called him a 'blatant liar,'" I added. I wanted things to be accurate.
The vice-principal suspended me on the spot. I had to bring my mother back to talk to another vice-principal to get reinstated, but my mother said little during the conference. I was determined to handle this matter myself.
I told the vice-principal that, among other things, my mother had taught me to clean up after myself. I was not the official bus boy for City College and would bus no trays other than my own. I left the implication that he'd better get used to seeing me if such actions continued.
I left City in June of 1969, convinced that my departure was more in the nature of a parole than a graduation. I hoped that when I had children none of them would have to deal with characters like these.
But my daughter did. She had an English teacher when she was in the seventh grade at Roland Park Middle School who was convinced she had no aptitude for the language. She came off as bilious and arrogant in a conference I had with her. When my daughter won a citywide letter-writing contest as a ninth-grader at City, I was tempted to send her a copy of the missive and ask her if she harbored any further doubts about my daughter's competence in English. But I thought better of it. She would probably have just tossed the letter away and climbed back on her broom to ride roughshod over other students.
But could black students, themselves, be the cause of the suspension rate? I fear it might be so. Some of today's black students have bad attitudes and a contempt for learning that is ** almost distressing. Black students who make good grades are the object of their scorn and ridicule. Before I blame any school system for the suspension rate among black students I must first remind myself that today's generation of black students is simply not like my generation's.
But most obvious in the data cited in the report, and flagrantly ignored, is the gender disparity in suspension rates. Boys of both races get suspended at a rate twice that of girls. When some students had a fight at Meade High School in October, the media hounded police and school officials about whether it was racially motivated. All the participants were boys. No one asked whether it was motivated by testosterone.
Many problems we think of as "racial" in origin may be nothing more than the product of the macho culture we have quietly crafted and nurtured.
Gregory P. Kane is a reporter for The Evening Sun.