The afterschool battle : reproducing a racial binary in an urban school
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This dissertation project is a critical anthropological analysis of the impact of colorism on the educational attainment and academic trajectory of African-American school students in Washington, DC by examining teacher expectations. Through a historical and contemporary lens of public education in DC, I examine the ways in which a black-white racial binary has been used by those in decision-making positions -- namely teachers, counselors, school administrators, Parents and Teachers Association members and other adult decision-makers -- as an indicator of a student's academic ability and their future educational attainment. What prompts this question is the abundance of academic programs in DC that, through a variety of extensive selection criteria, chose high-achieving students for placement in the city's college-preparatory, academic programs, who have a larger tendency to fit a particular phenotype (unless they are exceptionalized through other socioeconomic indicators). Two questions that my research addresses are: how phenotype is weighed against their actual versus perceived academic ability; and how do we explain the relative over-investment (i.e., redundancy of enrichment programs and resources) at one school over a lack of resources and programs at many other schools. I selected Washington, DC as the site for my doctoral research for two primary reasons: (1) its historic association for being one of the most (skin) color-conscious cities in the United States (Russell et al. 1992; Golden 2006; Kerr 2006); and (2) its historic and unique position as a testing ground for reform efforts in the public school system. I volunteered at a DC-area public school for the 2011-2012 academic year and became active in the various parental/community associations (i.e. the Parent/Teacher Association (PTA) and the Local School Advisory Team (LSAT) as a means of gaining first-hand knowledge of -- and experience with -- the various ways in which adults (i.e. teachers, counselors, parents and other school-based staff) place value and justify the assignment of resources to particular students and upon what basis (such as phenotype or socioeconomic background). In gaining access to and awareness of the dynamics of parental engagement at my field site, I began to analyze the role of race in the ways that such involvement is contained or policed by school officials. This dissertation project also takes into account students' awareness of such intersectional processes and whether the students categorize themselves and/or their peers according to a hierarchical scale of valorization.