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  • Lasha Pierce MD

What a Student Looks Like- The role of Bias in the Media

Updated: Jul 22, 2018

As we gear up to start the premier school in the Bay Area (SILE school) and continue to

spread knowledge of restorative education thru AFRE, we find ourselves facing the

very bias we are attempting to de-weaponize. When looking for images to include on

our websites, social media posts, flyers, event postcards, newsletters, etc., advertising

sites that sell stock photos have a very specific, limited representation of what a

student looks like.



During our search for student images, most photos, not surprisingly are of white

children. When searching for African American or any African diasporic representation

of a student, we are faced with light brown students mostly with silky hair. It takes the

members of our Marketing group hours of painstakingly searching the web for images

that represent the vast shades of black and brown skin in our communities, along with

the equally diverse types of hair, dress and adornment. Many of the images of darker

students with kinky hair, show them less well groomed that than lighter counterparts, or

in less compelling poses.


There are rare photos of darker skinned children and almost none where the girls have

natural, kinky hair displayed (for examples we have not found afro’s, afro puffs, locks,

twist outs, etc.). Very few have braids. Boys as well, are difficult to find with afros,

locks, braids, or even fades!


This lack of variety exposes the common bias in the media around what is 1) attractive

to the (white) eye and 2) What type of “person of color” is most likely to be studious or

enjoy learning. Those biases creep into the classroom as well. Educators are not

immune to the constant subliminal messaging used to shape public opinion and

promote stereotypes.


At a recent AFRE Marketing meeting, this dilemma came up. How do we accurately

represent the communities which we serve in our advertising images with so few

options? We could create our own photo shoots of local children (which we have done

a few times and is both time consuming and unsustainable). Doing our own photos

runs the risk of them looking unprofessional, but hiring a photographer comes at a

financial cost. As a new non-profit still developing our fiscal strength, and with the

ambitious goal of transforming the educational landscape for African American

children, we must attempt to get our message out in a respectful, inclusive and

meaningful way, while at the same time being mindful of cost.


All students are capable of being studious. There is no typical profile of what a student

looks like. Students can be anywhere on the color spectrum; their hair can be more

coiled, wavy or straight. Hair styles don’t limit who can learn or who is more deserving

of knowledge. It is time we determine how we are represented and take off the cloak

of invisibility in academic spaces. We must always stay extra vigilant in the quest to

deconstruct negative narratives that reveal themselves about our children and their

place in the educational landscape

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