Kitchener-Waterloo

Anti-black bias a barrier for school children, parent says

Allen Magama, who is speaking at the Ubuntu Community Health Fair in Kitchener, says getting a black child through 12 grades of school is difficult, because of an anti-black bias.

Allen Magama says black kids can’t succeed when they’re treated differently

Teacher Tina Cheuk of "Knowledge is Power Program" (KIPP) Academy takes questions from her class October 4, 2000 in The Bronx, New York. (Chris Hondros/Newsmakers/Getty Images)

Allen Magama knows that getting a child – any child – successfully through 12 grades of school is a challenge for any parent.

But as the parent of two black children, he'll tell you that his job is harder.

"Systemic discrimination extends into the school system," he told The Morning Edition's host Craig Norris. "It's not very overt, but it's a bit covered, I'd say."

He is one of the speakers participating in a community health fair, hosted by AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and area and the African Canadian Association of Waterloo Region and area.

Magama said children who are African, Caribbean or black are more likely to face harsh discipline at school. Even minor acts of disobedience, like talking loudly in class, can result in suspension.

"I don't think a suspension warrants a child misbehaving in class," he said. "If you're going beyond that and you're involved in a fight – you're involved in something extreme – then we can probably say that warrants that kind of a decision."

Self-esteem destroyed

He said the anti-black bias shows up in other, less obvious ways, like how black children are treated when they are struggling to learn.

"When children are not doing well in class, I think we need to find out a little more as to why," he said. "We can not immediately say, 'Hey, you need to go into the applied stuff."

Magama said that many children who are put in the applied stream are just as intelligent as their peers, but come from immigrant families and are dealing with a language barrier.

He said that when these children are moved to an applied class, their confidence and self-esteem is destroyed.

"If they're already losing confidence while they're in this young stage, that only continues, because it's something that's told to them on a continuing basis," he said.

"At the end of the day, those children, you don't find them in our universities, but you find them in these spaces that we don't want them to be in."

'Move towards a solution'

Magama said this could be avoided if parents and the school board worked together to find ways to keep black children interested in school and following an academic stream of study.

"We want to discuss how far we can go together so that we can make everything work," he said.

"We know there are issues and we have discussed these issues. There are no statistics to back up these issues – it's anecdotal evidence – but it's enough for us to have a proper discussion and move towards a solution."

Magama will be speaking about how parents can navigate the anti-Black bias in the school system during the Ubuntu Community Health Fair, taking place Saturday at Kitchener City Hall.

Other speakers at the event will focus on barriers to health care, racism in the child welfare system and issues with policing black communities. 

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