Ferguson, Race Relations, and My Grade 12 Ghanaian Students

Watching the news from Ferguson, Missouri from across the Atlantic, tucked away in my home in Accra, Ghana I feel saddened and removed.  Saddened by the ongoing need to combat racism in America and removed because I live across the ocean in West Africa.  But, as an educator and someone responsible for graduating 18 year olds and sending many of them off to college in North America, I feel a deep sense of urgency when it comes to the topic of race and my students.

I have no idea how a young Ghanaian student in my school interprets events in Ferguson.  We haven’t talked about it….yet.   I have no idea how one of my young black African male students will react if, and undoubtedly when, he is racially profiled and pulled over for a routine traffic stop in his future college town.  It will be a complete shock, I’m certain.  In recent days I have read articles written by African American parents who clearly teach their children, specifically boys, how to handle situations like a random traffic stop.  As a parent of two young men in their 20’s, I have never needed to have this conversation.  If I was black, I would have had the conversation on multiple occasions.   How scary is that?   Today I feel I have an obligation to help my students develop awareness of the challenges of race relations and racial issues in America.  Having said that, I feel inadequately qualified on the topic beyond facilitating conversations which is certainly achievable.    However, Michelle Alexander  author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”  wrote an interesting piece for the New York Times around this discussion.  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/26/opinion/ferguson-telling-my-son-michelle-alexander.html?_r=1&referrer

I’ve reviewed a series of web sites noting articles of relevance and  looking for statistics on issues of race, racial profiling, and the lives of young black men in America.  Below these links is a collection of statements drawn from these various sites.  There is much to explore within these sites.







“In the United States, racial and ethnic disparities exist across an array of domains. That such disparities exist should surprise no one. Nor should the fact that such disparities diminish the life chances of those affected. A vast body of literature documents such disparities and shows that they have developed and persisted over time in the context of historical and structural racism in ways that may influence policies, practices and programs.”
  • 54% of African Americans graduate from high school, compared to more than three quarters of white and Asian students.
  • Nationally, African American male students in grades K-12 were nearly 2½ times as likely to be suspended from school in 2000 as white students.
  • In 2007, nearly 6.2 million young people were high school dropouts. Every student who does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity.
  • On average, African American twelfth-grade students read at the same level as white eighth-grade students.
  • The twelfth-grade reading scores of African American males were significantly lower than those for men and women across every other racial and ethnic group.
  • Only 14% of African American eighth graders score at or above the proficient level. These results reveal that millions of young people cannot understand or evaluate text, provide relevant details, or support inferences about the written documents they read.
  • Nationally, African American men are 5½ times more likely than white men to go to prison in their lifetime. Based on current rates of first incarceration, almost 7 percent of African American men in the United States will enter state or federal prison by age 20, compared with less than 1 percent of white men
  • Nationally, African American male adults and adolescents have a nearly seven times higher risk of contracting HIV or AIDS than their white peers do. In California, HIV-related mortality is the eighth-leading cause of death for African American men, and they have a mortality rate from HIV infection nearly four times higher than that of white men.
  • A young black man is nearly five times more likely to be killed by a gun than a young white man and 13 times more than an Asian American man. These numbers, dramatic as they are, actually understate the problem. If a black person is killed by a gun, it is judged a homicide 82 percent of the time. For the broad population, most gun deaths are ruled accidental or the result of suicide; only 34 percent of gun deaths are attributed to murder.

What are you doing in your school to prepare graduating Seniors for the realities of race relations in the US?  I believe addressing this topic, these facts, in an intentional and open manner is the right thing to do.  I would hope that my students would be prepared to digest this information, raise questions, explore perceptions, and develop a level of understanding, awareness, and sensitivity to the topic.  There is so much to learn and explore around this topic.

Whether you are an educator or parent in an international school responsible for sending students from Africa, the Middle East, or Asia to a foreign country for university, it is important to explore the issues of race relations, discrimination, and stereotypes.  Finally, this topic cannot be left to schools alone to discuss.  Parents must be actively engaged with these topics.  As well, racism is not limited to North America.  All parents and students headed to life outside of the international  high school bubble, regardless of which continent one is headed to, must find ways of engaging with these topics.  I know we will seek to at LCS.  How will your school prepare your graduating students to understand and explore this topic?



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