Can Black Students Get the Same Emotional Freedom as Travis Kelce?

Feb 16, 2024 3:14:56 PM


Listen y’all, I’ve seen the Travis Kelce emotional outburst scenario play one too many times in the different schools I’ve worked in over the past 17 years. To pretend as if this doesn’t happen in our schools and not do anything about it would be educational malpractice.

As the late great tennis Hall of Famer Arthur Ashe stated in this interview, white athletes, for the longest time, have always had the emotional freedom to act out. The culture of whiteness has always afforded this grace to them. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles:

Black students have never had the luxury of expressing themselves emotionally because, for the longest time, showing that raw emotion has led to consequences that are traumatic and, sometimes, fatal.  

Just think about how we compare Angel Reese to Caitlin Clark, John McEnroe to Serena Williams, Tom Brady to just about every Black quarterback in NFL history — the list goes on and on.

In our schools, it’s no secret that implicit bias drives the way that teachers and school leaders view the (mis)behaviors of white students compared to Black students. The adultification of Black girls exists largely because of the way that white teachers implicitly interpret the “attitudes” of Black girls.

I’ve seen white kids throw temper tantrums like Kaia Rolle and never get arrested by police and escorted out of school in handcuffs.

I’ve seen white kids talk back to their teacher like Leila Hamoud — who, by the way, was responding to the emotional outburst that her professor directed towards her — and never get arrested by campus police and escorted out of the classroom in handcuffs.

I’ve seen white students like Sophia Rosing beat up and bully their Black classmates — and continue to do it — because they know they can. Furthermore, if the Black classmate responds to the abuse via physical retaliation, verbal complaint, or a social media post, now they’re characterized as the “Angry Black” person.

I’ve worked in schools where I witnessed white teacher colleagues yell and act insubordinately towards the principal on multiple occasions and, yet, they were still able to keep their jobs after it was all said and done.

We can’t overlook the fact that several white men, over the past few years, have been pulled over by police, resisted arrest, and hurled verbal threats at police officers only to survive to see another day. Now, have you ever witnessed a situation where a Black man was afforded that kind of grace from police officers after conducting themselves in the same way as those white men?

If a white boy shoots up a school, let’s just give them grace because they’ve had a rough home life. Let’s give them mental health counseling so they can unpack whatever emotional baggage they have.

Let a Black boy shoot up a school, I think many of us know the answer to that so I’ll let y’all fill in the blank.

In the end, if we’re going to be serious about social-emotional learning and implementing restorative practices in our schools, then we must call the Kelce situation for what it is, which is a white privilege power play. 

The more we name the implicit messaging of this behavior that perpetuates the disproportionality of discipline referrals, suspensions, and expulsions between Black students and white students, the better position we’ll be in, as educators, to eliminate the policies and teaching practices that continue to keep this disproportionality alive. 


Kwame Sarfo-Mensah

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah is the founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC., an independent educational consulting firm that provides professional development and consulting services globally to educators who desire to enhance their instructional practices and reach their utmost potential in the classroom. He is the author of two books, "Shaping the Teacher Identity: 8 Lessons That Will Help Define the Teacher in You" and his latest, "From Inaction to 'In Action': Creating a New Normal for Urban Educators". Throughout his 14-year career as a middle school math educator, author, and entrepreneur, Kwame has been on a personal mission to uplift and empower educators who are committed to reversing the ills of the public education system in America and around the world. As a staunch ambassador and advocate for teacher empowerment, Kwame has spoken at numerous national education conferences and worked diligently to support the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in the education system. In January 2019, he was one of 35 Massachusetts teachers of color chosen by Commissioner Jeff Riley to be in the inaugural cohort of the InSPIRED (In-Service Professionals Increasing Racial and Ethnic Diversity) Fellowship, an initiative organized by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for veteran teachers of color to recruit students of color at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels to teach in targeted districts within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As an InSPIRED Teaching Fellow, Kwame facilitated professional development workshops for aspiring teachers at universities such as Boston College, UMass Boston, and Worcester State University and has served as a guest speaker for non-profit teacher pipeline programs such as Generation Teach and Worcester Public Schools’ Future Teachers Academy. A proud graduate of Temple University, Kwame holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master's degree in education. He was honored as the 2019 National Member of the Year by Black Educators Rock, Inc. for his unwavering commitment to the advancement of the teacher profession.

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