Marcus Yarboro and other boys wait backstage for the 2006 Little Miss Crimson & Cream pageant to begin. (Michel du Cille – THE WASHINGTON POST) The statistics, the first time I read them, were startling: Black students in state-funded pre-kindergartens were twice as likely to be expelled than Latino and white children. Focus only on black boys and the expulsion rates were three times the rate of white children.
I came across this study by the Yale University Child Study Center as part of of a story I wrote for the Post’s Being A Black Man series about how one family — earning $200,000 a year — agonized over how to protect their then 9-year-old young son from being viewed as someone to be feared.
As the Post’s report about racial disparities shows, there remains a huge gap in how discipline is metted out. There is much handwringing from educators about socio-economics and other factors, all of which play some role. But the more disturbing reason is one that many well-meaning people are loathe to admit: We see them differently. Adults attach to children their views of black men, even when those children are too young to understand that they are anything other than children.
And as the Yale University student reminds us, it starts almost at birth. And it forces parents like the ones I profiled in 2006 to worry.
The Yarboros make a good living. Kim is a systems engineer for the Marine Corps, Mark a contracting specialist for the Army. Together, their salaries approach $200,000 a year.
They move freely between neighborhoods and jobs. When the public schools didn’t suit Marcus, his mother found a private one that did. They’ve read the research showing that black children — especially boys, no matter their family income — receive less attention, harsher punishment and lower marks in school than their white counterparts, from kindergarten through college. The Yale University Child Study Center, for instance, found in a national survey last year that black boys are expelled at three times the rate of white children — in pre-kindergarten.
The Yarboros’ strategy to overcome those odds is simple: Expose Marcus to everything. That means black history, apple picking, Spanish, professional hockey, horseback riding and, yes, laser tag.
Yet, they know that the cocoon of comfort they have wrapped Marcus in is not airtight.
In the fall, he will transfer schools to start fourth grade, a pivotal academic year when many boys, but especially black ones, start to spiral downward.
The most recent results unearthed by the Post, sadly, are not surprising and not likely to change soon.