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How Schools are 'Spirit Murdering' Our Black and Brown Boys

Updated: May 1, 2023


“Teachers want to give them another label. You're already a young black boy.” “I want him to really have experienced joy and I feel like so much... So many of the boys don't get to be joyful, they don't get to smile, they don't get to walk down the street and run with the sun beating down on their face.”
With regularity, school districts' spokespersons portray these incidents as isolated events, the work of a few overzealous, culturally insensitive but "good" teachers. These responses never acknowledge how racism is systemic, institutionalized, and structural, or how racism breeds and is maintained by violence.
Physical and psychological attacks on Black and Brown boys bodies and culture are more than just racist acts by misguided school educators; they are the spirit murdering of Black and Brown boys. This type of violence toward children of color is less visceral and seemingly less tragic than physical acts of murder at the hands of White mobs and White self-appointed vigilantes, the shooting of unarmed people of color by police officers in their own homes and communities, or the senseless violence in some Black communities, which are all conditions of racism.
Although black boys face higher rates of school discipline than anyone else, a report from Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies found that black girls are six times as likely to be suspended as white girls, while black boys are three times as likely to be suspended as white boys.
What I am talking about is a slow death, a death of the spirit, a death that is built on racism and intended to reduce, humiliate, and destroy people of color.
Legal scholar Patricia Williams coined the term "spirit murdering" to argue that racism is more than just physical pain; racism robs people of color of their humanity and dignity and leaves personal, psychological, and spiritual injuries. Racism is traumatic because it is a loss of protection, safety, nurturance, and acceptance—all things children need to enter school and learn.

The spirit murdering of Black and Brown boys leaves a trail of unanswered questions: How do children learn after being physically assaulted or racially insulted by a person who is supposed to protect them, love them, and teach them? 

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