Two separate stories in the news speak volumes about our expectations, assumptions, and knowledge about the lives of children of color. We know they develop under an expectation of failure rather than success. Rather than an equal opportunity to succeed, we know, implicitly, that they are funneled to failure. Thus, when we find children of color unexpectedly successful, we are startled by their transcendence.
We should examine our expectations, our acceptance of the structural discrimination that we passively support or ignore that perpetuates inequality. Once we do, we have to confront the harshly unequal developmental path for children of color.
The first story is about a photograph of a group of 16 African American women in their dress uniforms as graduating seniors at West Point. West Point still has only a minority of women (the 2014 entering class was 78% male), and remains mostly white (70%). The women in the photo represented all but one of the Black women graduating, a mere 1.7% of the graduating class. The women are posed outside the oldest barracks, a favorite setting for graduation pictures replicating similar groups of graduates for over a 100 years. Each of the women stands with her arm bent upward ending in a raised fist; some have their arms simply at their side, while a few extend theirs over their heads.
So what did the women in this photograph mean by their pose?
A statement of black female empowerment? A statement of personal fortitude and accomplishment, and group solidarity? A statement of protest? A statement of difference, separating them from other graduates? A statement of political content, perhaps with #Black Lives Matter or #Say Her Name, movements that have raised consciousness about the inequalities in black lives?
Read as protest, it would violate the norms of universality, of color and gender blindness, and of conduct becoming an officer. The picture generated enormous controversy for several days. Each person viewed it from their context, including their view of women, of women of color, and of these women’s place in this setting and institution historically male and white. Also part of the context was making meaning of their common gesture of a raised clenched fist. Triggering calls for disciplinary action against the seniors, the controversy finally ended when it was determined that the students had done nothing that required disciplinary action.
For me, in addition to the debate about meaning was the universal unspoken assumption that black women in this place were out of place; not because they did not deserve to be there or to pose like countless other graduates of West Point, but rather, they had transcended the expectation that their place was elsewhere. Read More