The stereotype threat that first comes to mind is this notion that “good black girls are supposed to be quiet.” Throughout my elementary and secondary school years (5-12th grade, primarily), I have been complimented for being quiet and keeping to myself. Most adults seem to equate this behavior with maturity. Some students simple-mindedly would insinuate this calm and quiet demeanor meant this black girl was not like “the other ones.” This unconscious bias where students and instructors would conflate “quiet” with “good” is concerning as explained in Kelly Hurst’s “Quiet Black Girls – and How We Fail Them.” From this perception manifests this idea that being invisible is advantageous, being “good” is expected all of the time, and this behavior is somehow rare for black students. There is evidence that this stereotype threat and assumption can hinder one’s perception of oneself and others, and can affect one’s behavior into adulthood. It does not provide the license for one to make mistakes, become expressive and creative, and ultimately feel comfortable to articulate one’s feelings and ideas confidently. During these adolescent years are when students need the most support and guidance to grow, not anxiety to continuously be “good” and discomfort that stems from ostracization. This not only impacts the student but those around them as well.
As an offspring to Ghanaian parents, in elementary school, I experienced scarring teases and bullying most in regards to my name, culture, and appearance; all too common for adolescent kids. As a result, I became uptight and highly-sensitive. I hardly ever spoke in class, rarely brought attention to myself, and felt the need to listen instead of voice out my opinions. I would feel this surge of anxiety when attention was brought to me by too many people. And so, I remained quiet and viewed this invisibility as a quilt for my protection. One does not outgrow this invisibility need but instead develops it moreover into adulthood, where it is almost expected of black women to move throughout society. One is then classified as having an introverted personality; learning later in life that this behavior is taught. And it is often this feeling of being ignored or shut down when one decides to express oneself. Growing up, I thought this was normal, but I was wrong. As mentioned before, this quiet behavior leads one to be classified as introverted, where society generalizes one who has this personality to be anti-social, arrogant, mean, nervous, weak, and dull. So this stereotype threat, first thought to be a compliment, can lead to one’s identity crisis where one is wrestling with: (1) how one is supposed to be, and (2) continually questioning “is there something wrong with me?” It has been said that the consequences of this invisibility and lack of self-identity can affect a student’s learning.
A research study co-authored by researchers from the American University, Seth Gershenson and Stephan B. Holt, had concluded some of the following: (1) white male teachers are 10 to 20 percent more likely to have low expectations for black female students and (2) math teachers were significantly more likely to have low expectations for female students. These biased expectations by educators can have long-term effects on student outcomes. And it is this unconscious bias that encourages and perpetuates this quiet behavior seen in some black women. In the end, I believe that this overtly quiet behavior, and this need to be invisible is problematic. It does not foster one’s self-esteem, develop one’s speaking skills, or promote inclusion in the classroom. It does not take a scientist or clinician to see how schools can fail students of color through their unconscious bias.