Dr. Cicely Cobb is an African-American Arizona high school educator who found herself in a compromising situation when several white students began harassing her inside and outside of her classroom.
Though there have been multiple racially charged incidents that led Dr. Cobb to take legal action, one in particular involved a white student telling an African-American student that he was “so black, the only thing to be seen on his driver’s license were his teeth,” before later joking about getting black slaves to “pull his wagon.”
Dr. Cobb has since filed a lawsuit against the principal (who happens to be black) of the predominantly white, prestigious school and with little support from her community, it seems as though she’s got an uphill battle to fight.
We caught up with Dr. Cobb to get more insight as to how all of this began, why her story has gotten so little media coverage and why racial discrimination can also happen between two people of the same race.
How did all of this begin?
There have been problems since day one. But for this school year, the problems arose because I defended a black student. A white male student came to class late because he had just gotten his driver’s license. After taking his seat, he asked the black male student to show his driver’s license and I told the black student ‘no, keep it in your pocket.’ So, he said, “Well, that’s because you’re so black we could only see your teeth anyway.”
I was [later] told that I had imagined the whole incident, but, even if I had it’s quite interesting that this same white male student, 6 weeks later as we were showing the move “Roots,” made a comment that he was going to have black slaves “pull his wagon for him.”
Is this area known for racist behavior against African-Americans?
Ahwatukee [in Phoenix] used to have the nickname “All White Tuke,” amongst blacks, whites, and Hispanics. That’s how the area had been known for years. But, the demographic recently shifted when the economy changed and more African-Americans moved here. I taught in the [predominantly Black and Hispanic) Phoenix Union High School District for four years prior to moving here.
What’s unique about the African-American population in Phoenix is that, where I’m from in Northwest Indiana, you’re not going to see a black teacher dealing with this kind of stuff and not speak up. Here, I’ve noticed it’s like…..I can’t even begin to characterize “blackness” in Arizona.
I mean, you see with everything on the news, it’s just a unique place (for black people) to live.
Knowing what you knew about the area and the school being predominantly white, why take the job?
Well I live down the street from this school and I had no idea that the children were like this until I started working there. I’ve lived in the same area for almost 9 years and it’s a very well-known school. And what’s interesting also is that President Obama just visited this high school in August of 2013. He did not come to speak about our students, per se, but our school was used as a venue where his speech was held during school hours. All of the graduating seniors and some other students were allowed to hear him speak and many dignitaries across the state of Arizona were present.
So, that just let’s you know the type of prestige that this school has.
You have students who score perfectly on their SATs, they’re going to Ivy League institutions…it’s a very prominent school. So, with me having a doctorate, I thought that would be a nice fit.
Talk about some of the things that happened that led you to take legal action.
Students were allowed to use their cell phones in class to record me. Students posted videos and pictures mocking me on social networks. I didn’t know for the longest time that I was being videotaped. In my classroom, students have to take their cell phones and put them away, but that’s not enforced in all classrooms, which was why some of this was allowed to happen in class. I cannot go into Ahwatukee’s Barnes and Noble without having store employees tweet about my arrival at the store. I am taunted as I attempt to engage in a leisure walk in my neighborhood.
I’ve had to resort to contacting the police department. I’ve been treated harshly because of my race and my complaints of discrimination. I’m being forced from my profession because I stood up for my right not be discriminated against.
Why do you think more media hasn’t reported on this story?
I would like to know that if this had been a white teacher possibly, would CNN or Fox or Good Morning American, The Today Show or any other major outlet have picked this up? I mean, we have issues of violence against teachers in the classroom all the time. This is a case of a teacher being assaulted in her classroom.
We have many prominent African-Americans in pop culture who are about education. I’d be interested in knowing if they are even aware that this story is out there.
Dr. Cobb then went on to describe some of the disturbingly racist incidents that have continued to occur since her story broke, talk about whether or not any black students were involved, and open up about the reaction she’s gotten from other teachers, students and the African-American community thus far.
Turn the page to read the rest of our eye-opening interview.