By: Kearie Daniel
Ontario’s education system is bleeding from a wound many choose to ignore: a deep-seated vein of anti-Black racism. Its existence isn’t conditional on your beliefs, your experiences, or your encounters. It is a fact. This is a pervasive crisis that transcends borders, infiltrating school boards across nations. Rooted in a bitter legacy of colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy, and slavery, it thrives under the shadow of white supremacy.
This is a crisis.
In Ontario alone, Black students face a disproportionally high risk of suspension during their high school years. They are also twice as likely to drop out than their White peers, with a consequent lower graduation rate. They are often steered into academic pathways that veer away from the academic streams, and they’re scarcely identified as gifted. This systemic bias casts a grim shadow on these students’ futures.
To think that these results are purely meritocratic is to assume an inherent flaw in Black individuals. Such an assumption could not be farther from the truth. All children, irrespective of race, enter school as eager learners. However we know from data sited in Dr. Carl James’ 2017 report, Towards Race Equity in Education that by age 8, Black children, especially boys, disconnect from education due to, systemic mistreatment. These children oscillate between being painfully invisible and grossly over-scrutinized. They enter spaces where, from the very threshold, no one resembles them. Toronto’s minority populace, constituting 47%, only sees a meager 15% representation among educators.
The significance of representation cannot be understated. A study by John Hopkins University discovered that Black students who had Black teachers had a 39% lower chance of high school dropout and a 29% increased interest in post-secondary education. The lens of race also influences educators’ expectations. When assessing identical capabilities, White teachers were less likely to have high academic expectations for Black students.
But numbers only paint half the picture. The real toll is emotional and deeply scarring. Instances of trauma, isolation, racial slurs, neglect, and illegal searches mar the experiences of many Black students. The real toll is in the Black children, traumatized by incessant racism and experiencing physiological impacts of that trauma – waking up blind, or unable to walk. It is our Black children, some as young as four years old that are being confined to rooms labeled “calming” or “sensory.” Our children that are being physically restrained and isolated in schools. It is our little kindergarteners who are torn from the safe embrace of their schools, sitting alone and scared in the back of police vehicles, while their parents remain oblivious to their whereabouts.
The crisis of anti-Black racism in our schools is evident in the egregious neglect of Black children, left injured on playgrounds with fractures, or those who’ve lost fingers due to sheer carelessness in schools. Consider the targeting of our teenagers, the unwarranted and unsanctioned searches of their bags or personal belongings within school premises.
Think about the mental scars inflicted on these young minds, forced to sit in classrooms while their teacher callously displays or utters racial slurs, all in the name of “education.” It’s glaring in the inconsistent reactions—indifference when a Black child is wronged, but hyper-reaction when they stand accused. It manifests in the sad reality of educators and administrators becoming the primary channels leading Black children to Children’s Aid Societies, contributing to an alarming overrepresentation of Black families in the child welfare system and consequently, fragmenting countless Black families.
We cannot remain silent anymore.
The fight for justice and equity requires a collective effort. This is a war for the very humanity of our children.
Black parents should not have to plead with school board leaders for support, because the failure for their child’s identity to be recognized in schools has led to that child attempting to scratch the Black off their skin. We do not want to support parents, forced to supervise their child constantly, for fear that they may attempt to take their own life, due to the relentless anti-Black racism they experience in school.
Our plea extends beyond our community. We need every stakeholder in the education system to stand up against this systemic racism.
For allies: understand that a single institution can have diverse experiences. Just because your child has had a positive experience does not invalidate the negative or racist experiences of a Black child. Stand by Black parents and students when they voice their concerns. Challenge the narratives that dismiss or belittle their experiences.
Ask yourself: if the roles were reversed and it was White children facing these challenges, would your reaction be the same?
While we, as parent advocates and community leaders, focus on Black children, our ultimate goal is a better system for everyone. Any reforms that benefit the most marginalized will uplift all. As we champion the cause for your children, we urge you to join us in our battle for justice and equity for Black students.
What needs to happen to make this a reality?
- Establish comprehensive anti-racism training and cultural sensitivity programs for all educators, school board members, and administrative staff.
- Revise curriculum to include Black history, achievements, and the contributions of Black Canadians, ensuring an accurate representation and promoting understanding.
- Recruit and promote Black educators to foster diversity in the school environment.
- Mandate schools to maintain transparency in disciplinary actions, ensuring that racial biases don’t guide punitive measures.
- Introduce peer support groups and mentorship programs to nurture the psychological well-being of Black students.
- Engage in regular community consultations, where parents and students have a genuine platform to voice their concerns and suggest improvements.
- Establish strict guidelines and procedures to deal with instances of racism, ensuring that perpetrators, including staff, face appropriate consequences.
There is no doubt that the magnitude of this crisis is overwhelming, but it is insurmountable. We stand on the precipice of change; a change that demands immediate action, fierce resolve, and unwavering solidarity.
This is not just a fight for Black children, but for every child, every student, and every future leader who enters the school system. We must challenge the systemic prejudices that have long tainted the educational experiences of so many.
For the future of Ontario, for the future of our children, let this be the moment where we say “Enough.” No more silence, no more complicity. We envision a system where every child is seen, heard, and celebrated. A system where Black children can learn without fear, without prejudice, and with hope.
Let’s come together, united in our mission to eradicate anti-Black racism from our schools. Because in the end, when one child succeeds, Ontario succeeds. When Black children thrive, we all thrive. Embrace this manifesto, not just as a call to action, but as a commitment to the future generations.
Together, let’s reclaim education. For them. For us.