In some shape of form I’ve been involved in childcare and education for at least 10 years now. There’s a trend that I’ve noticed in the usage of Special Education or Individualized Education Plans.
First I want to clarify. This is not about any reported over or underrepresentation of Black/Brown students in Special Education programs. This is not about how Black/Brown students with or that need IEPs receive inadequate support or graduate at lower rates. This is about MY experience with the tone and approach of it all. This is about labels and tracking versus accommodations.
For Brown/Black students, special education related labels are a ball and chain. Being identified as someone with a learning or behavioral issue has a negative connotation. There has been an air of pathologizing Black/Brown youth. It’s a status assigned to Black and Brown students. The teacher has a persistent problem with the child and suspects that something is "wrong" with them. Or the student for whatever reason struggles in a certain academic area and thus requires special services. I've seen it operate as limit or cap on the potential. I've seen families be subject to whatever the school decides for that student. I've seen accommodations that look more like prisons for the low income and/or families of color. For the middle class whites, I've seen it operated a lot differently. Diagnoses and special accomodations are sought out intentionally. Teachers and parents look for an explanation. It’s a team effort. White parents seem to know how to navigate this process better and have the funding to get their student some quality services. Lower SES (socio economic status) Black/Brown families must deal with the basic services the school provides, which tends to be subpar. I've seen it used as an excuse for white children's behavior but no grace given to Black/Brown students.
Black/Brown and white families even reject diagnoses in different ways. Whites don’t want their child labeled and nor for their spirits or personalities to be crushed. They want their child to run free, be who they are without limitations. Black and Brown people reject as a radical act. It is rebelling and fighting against a system that has a track record of pathologizing and discarding Blackness and Black/Brown children.
This is very reminiscent of how Black/Brown and white youth get separate media and judicial treatment as it relates to crime and juvenile delinquency. As we know, Black/Brown people tend to get much harsher treatments for the same or lesser infractions than the whites. Excuses are made and mental health issues are identified or suspected for whites. White people's backgrounds are told in a way that contrasts their behavior, why the event was unpredictable. Something sporadically went wrong. They need help. If their under 18 their youth is kept intact. Black/Brown youth however don’t get vindicating treatment. The full weight of the law is thrown at them. There’s much harsher treatment. Any possible flaw in their background is brought up to almost say that we should have expected this. . The person was moving along this trajectory. If a Black/Brown body is reported in a positive light, it’s because of seeming respectability. The media will age them and present them as older and not worth the same leniency given to young people. Black/Brown youth are demonized in descriptions while white people are given much more neutral labels.
Not only is this particular phenomenon my experience but it’s the experience of anyone paying attention. You can easily find reports and analyses of this with a only light researching. I don’t and won’t bother to find, read, & provide links to such articles for you because it will only piss me off and set a bad tone for my day.
The point is, the same engines that extend grace and assistance to white students are bad marks that other and dismiss the potential of Black/Brown students. White students get a boost and excuse. Black/Brown students get penalized and criminalized. At least, that's what I've seen.
**Let me just add that I really hate the term "label". It's such an overused buzzword. The whole People First Language conversation makes me roll my eyes. I totally get the logic and sentiment behind it and at the same time think it's a waste of energy to focus on it. Maybe that's just my own value system though. It's just not something I want taking up space in my carry-on luggage.**