To quote the Kirwan Institute, which studies trends in education: “Although discriminant analysis suggests that disproportionate rates of office referral and suspension for boys are due to increased rates of misbehavior, no support was found for the hypothesis that African American students act out more than other students. Rather, African American students appear to be referred to the office for less serious and more subjective reasons” by biased educators.
In other words, when a black/brown student behaves similarly to a white student, their behavior is more likely to be interpreted through the lens of racist stereotypes and assumptions of the decision maker, making normal behavior seem like dangerous rule-breaking. It’s like a carnival mirror– reality becomes distorted. In this case, the mirror is implicit bias, perverting the acts of students of color. When coupled with zero-tolerance policies for alleged rule-breaking, you create an educational system that regularly uses the harshest punishments available– suspensions, expulsions or incarceration– in a racialized manner. This may be intentional or unintentional, but that doesn’t matter because the consequences are still the same– disparate impact.