Black Girl’s Complaints About Racist Bullies Are Always Dismissed by Her School – Finally, She Realizes She’s Had Enough
Black teen’s hopes and dreams slip through her fingers as she experiences relentless racism at school.
Autumn Roberson-Manahan loved school. She got along well with her classmates and teachers.
The straight-A student hoped to be her class’s valedictorian. Just before her senior year, though, Autumn’s family moved from Ohio to Slaton, Texas. Little did they know how much that move to a rural Texas town would change their lives.
Driving into Slaton, residents and visitors are greeted by a mural showing Black workers in a cotton field, a white farmer keeping watch over them from his tractor.
The slogan says,“Slaton: Your Kind Of Town.” Both of Autumn’s parents had grown up in the town of under 6,000 people. When they made the decision to move back, they had vague memories of experiencing some racism there. What they didn’t realize is that not only had things not gotten better — they had gotten worse. And the three children they had raised in Ohio weren’t about to take it sitting down.
The Relentless Racism One Girl Faced at School
The first time someone called Autumn a derogatory name was in class at her new school. The boy had asked her where she lived. When she told him, he said, “I run your block, n—er.” Autumn was shocked. She looked back at the boy and said calmly, “That’s offensive.”
It wouldn’t be the last time she heard the racial slur. In fact, it became a daily occurrence for Autumn, as it was for the two dozen Black students at the school. Autumn continued to ask students to stop calling her that. Two weeks into the school year, she started making formal complaints to the principal.
But Autumn was dismissed. While school officials claimed to come down hard on racism, Autumn didn’t see anyone being punished, and the taunts continued.
When Autumn’s parents found out what was going on, they were furious. Autumn’s mother JaQuatta ordered a special pen for her daughter, one that could make audio recordings. She told her daughter to record any racial aggressions she experienced at school.
“I wanted to have proof,” JaQuatta said. “When it comes to Black children, I’m sorry to say it, you have to have that.” JaQuatta also asked to speak to the principal and sent a letter to the superintendent.
How One Girl Decided to Get Proof
In the first incident Autumn recorded, two boys are chanting the n-word at her. One goes so far as to say, “I’m gonna hurt you.” When Autumn’s mother heard that, she immediately took the recording to the principal: “You mean to tell me my child can’t feel safe? When all she wants to do is be excellent?”
Indeed, as the harassment dragged on, Autumn’s grades started to slip. The girl became less and less her joyful, bubbly self and more and more withdrawn.
For months, Autumn calmly but firmly documented every instance of racism, showing school administrators the pervasive problem and pleading with them to do something about it. Autumn remembers two boys confronting her, laughing at the fact that they couldn’t say the word n—er. Instead, the first boy chanted the first syllable of the word and the second boy finished it.
She also remembers a school administrator telling her she shouldn’t let something as small as a word hurt her.
Autumn continued to make complaints to teachers and administrators, but as it became increasingly clear that nothing was to be done about it, the 17-year-old bottled up her feelings.
JaQuatta lamented, “They took my beautiful baby girl — who my husband and I worked so hard to mold and love and support — and they broke her. They didn’t protect her. They cast her aside like she was trash.”
How a 17-Year-Old Stood Up for Herself Against Bullies
And then one day, Autumn couldn’t take it anymore. When a boy called her a name on the basketball court, she grabbed him by the hood of his sweatshirt and started slapping him, screaming, “It’s not OK! It’s racist!”
The smart, joyful girl with a bright future ahead of her had been chipped away at until it came to this. And the school came down hard…not on the boy who, other students confirmed, had been making repeated racist comments toward her for weeks, but on Autumn.
For the girl who had no record of disciplinary action on her file, they decided she would have to serve 45 days at the district’s Disciplinary Alternative Education Program, a juvenile detention like setting where students wear orange uniforms, sit facing forward at all times and can only speak with permission.
Autumn’s future had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Desperate, the 17-year-old ran away and attempted to take her own life. Autumn’s parents were besides themselves with grief. The physician overseeing Autumn’s care recommended that she switch schools.
How One Family Demanded Action From Authorities
Autumn’s parents went back to the school. They sat with administrators and reminded them of all the times they had asked for help with the pervasive racism at school, all the times they had asked them to intervene before it was too late. Now, it was too late for requests. They demanded action. When the school hemmed and hawed again, Autumn’s parents decided they had no other choice but to file a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.
They would be in good company. The NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Intercultural Development Research Association, a nonprofit education equity group, had filed federal complaints with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights concerning school districts in Lubbock County.
Documented incidents include white students playing whipping sounds on their cell phones as Black students walk by, taunting Black students with the n-word on the basketball court, and the creation by a group of middle schoolers of an Instagram page called “LBMS Monkeys”, where photos of Black students are posted.
How a Family Proves Racism Should Be Combatted With Education
Research shows that children targeted by racism, sexism, or other types of bullying are more likely to develop mental health problems and struggle in school. That was certainly the case for Autumn. She went from being slated to be the class valedictorian to not being sure she’d finish her senior year. She went from loving school to hating it, struggling to sleep and struggling to get up in the morning.
“I reported situation after situation, to where, personally, I felt like we were almost begging for some type of reparation for everything going on, for some type of justice,” said Autumn. “In the process of all of that, I feel like I was losing myself.”
In response, the school district reiterated that they are increasing disciplinary measures for students who use racial slurs. But, for Autumn, it’s too little too late. It’s also not enough. Autumn would like increased punitive measures to be accompanied by education.
Because racism is a lack of education, perhaps the best way to combat it is to teach children the country’s history, its fight for civil rights, how far it has come and how far it still needs to go to provide all of its citizens with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
All children — and many adults — need to be taught not only to not be the instigators of racism, but also to not stand for it and, like Autumn, to speak up, again and again.
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