Dissecting The Racialized Lens Of The American School System

4min read

When Forbes Magazine released its list of America's 100 Most Innovative leaders in September, it included only one female without even a photo. The resulting firestorm mostly centered around a lack of gender equality. A cursory look at the list also showed a lack of racial diversity.

Yes, Forbes "blew it" as its editor acknowledged on Twitter. It is important to understand such a flawed ranking in the context of who leads our American education systems. We as a society have evolved through legislation such as the 13th,14th, and 15th Amendments, as well as Title IX, to legally bind racist, biased and sexist practices in education. Yet, our school and system leaders do not reflect the majority of students. Leaders of color, and particularly women of color, are experiencing the repercussions of the corporate models even in the education space.

Women of color in the 21st century still find not only a concrete reinforced ceiling but a systematic mindset that their roles are typecasted to a classroom teacher, principal and an allotted few in district and CMO positions. In fact, in the 2019 AASA The School Superintendents Association Salary and Benefits Study based on 1,433 respondents, 90 percent of superintendents were white and overwhelmingly male. Thus making women of color in education endangered, not only in the classroom but at the tables where decisions made can impact the next generation. Our young people, the majority of whom are also of color, are essential to the reorganization of our education system that was built with racist policies and foundations. It's time for change.

To better understand where we are now and the lengths to which we as women of color must go to ensure our voices are heard in this complex system, we must understand the historical role played by women of color in education centuries before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case came about. Shortly after the inception of public schools in the United States, white women outnumbered males in the teaching workforce. But even then, it was only because the women were seen as "cheaper." After slavery was outlawed, women of color, primarily Black women teaching in the segregated schools of the South, were meant to groom their students for a life of domestic servitude and limited opportunities post-graduation where Black codes that grew into Jim Crow laws confined Blacks to jobs with low wages. The decision of Brown v. Board of Education, while eradicating segregation of public schools on paper if not in total practice, also triggered the decline of educators of color. Decades following the Supreme Court case, 38,000 Black teachers and 2,000 Black principals lost their jobs. The more schools integrated, the less white-lead school boards and faculty hired educators of color as part of their staff. This is just one of many examples of institutional racism which is the systematic distribution of resources, power, and opportunity in our society and its legacy continues to regenerate at this moment.

Today, our system still lacks inclusive representation. Only 20% of the teaching workforce is non-white compared to the 51% of non-white students we serve and we are collectively doing those students an injustice. Research shows that when a student of color has a teacher who shares their same race and ethnic background, their learning grows exponentially and they look beyond to their career aspirations. Yet when I became a new teacher, I was a part of only 6.7% of Black women, and when I became a principal in 2009, I counted as part of the 20% non-white principals in this country. The likelihood of us having colleagues with shared experiences is low and comes with its own implications such as unconsciously enacting internalized racism on students and peers who look just like us if we are not aware.

This lack of inclusive representation continues to permeate when nearly three-quarters of executives in a survey released by the Center for Talent Innovation in 2019 stated their protégés were the same race or gender as them. Leadership takes sponsorship, no matter the industry, private or public. Sponsorship needs to be more inclusive in order to bring more talents, skills and thinking into our systems.

It is essential that we equip women of color in education, like my colleagues at UnboundEd, our partner organizations and those in our cohorts serving schools across the country with leadership tools to navigate the system. This system must also be modernized and re-built equitably. The original system was built to educate the most privileged of white male students. Almost 20 years into the 21st century, we strive to construct a system that educates ALL students with the rigor and equity to lead our country forward as our next professionals, voters, and civic leaders.

So, what's our responsibility as women of color educators and where do we begin to dismantle a system that was designed to not include us at all? We start by acknowledging the need to do the intentional work of undoing years of internalized racism. We must be honest about our own journey as educators, one filled with assimilationist ideas and incentives that so often dilute the beauty of our true intellectual selves. Whether we realize it or not, we see our students and colleagues through racialized lenses, and if we aren't mindful about our actions, we can actually perpetuate these segregationist structures. We must reflect on how our daily behaviors create cycles of inequity in our schools and organizations.

We also become students again. We learn about our collective histories. We learn about ourselves. We learn about people who are different from us and how much we are alike inside. We learn to understand that race is a power construct that must be countered with anti-racist teaching, ideas and policies, as argued by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi in How to be an Antiracist. We must be bold in the face of complacency and the "that's not how we do things here" mindset. We grow in our learning and in our boldness to hold courageous conversations with our white and non-white peers. We must all see our students as creative, resourceful and whole no matter their race, ethnicity, zip code, language or other power constructs.

We model this learning for our students and advocate for changes in our systems. When American history's default is the white experience, we must demand inclusion. Why should the rich histories and American legacies of our students of color be remanded to elective selections? We should all experience the beauty of seeing ourselves as leaders, presidents, trailblazers, scientists, inventors, writers, and any other aspect encompassed in leadership.

All of this work takes work. It takes time. And, it will be worth it. What more of us will understand is that equity benefits us all. It is the true—if not originally intended—meaning of the words found in our Declaration of Independence that "All men are created equal." This has never been the case but it can be the future we--all genders and identities--co-design. We declare our independence of the old race construct that dis-serves and under-serves students and adults of color in our education system. We declare that we are the system now and the system is for everyone, every leader, every student, every family. That's what equity brings. It includes the participation and leadership of the marginalized so everyone contributes to the success of the whole. That's what America's schools can be about. Let's get to work. Let's move forward together.

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5min read

Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."