Black Teacher Suing Black Principal For Racial Discrimination Speaks Out
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.
What would you say triggered these incidents?
Last year, the students were upset with the workload that I had given them and they didn’t like the extra projects that I’d assigned. Since I assigned those projects and things, it led to some of the students from last year having animosity towards me, amongst other things. And what’s so interesting is that the students claim that I was such a horrific, ineffective teacher, but now that I’m gone they’re still complaining about me and saying that now that I’ve decided to leave, they are stuck doing all of this work. What is also interesting is how students have informed me that previous English teachers failed to assign as much work, yet they were considered “good” teachers. Students have shared with me that when their class runs out of things to teach, their instructors host themed-parties.
I am called an ineffective instructor, yet my former colleagues were hosting macaroni and cheese parties!
Are all of the students involved in these incidents white?
The students are predominantly white. Some black students have commented, along with a biracial student, who posted the KKK photo. This is a very affluent, white area. And many people describe it as an area of entitlement. These children are grossly entitled due to the type of wealth that their parents have.
So would you stay this is an issue of the students being racist?
Well, I’m not going to put words in anyone’s mouth but, it’s possible that these children may need to get informed about race relations in America, since one did make these types of statements twice.
Are incidents still continuing to happen since the news of lawsuit broke?
Yes. One student Tweeted today: “Dr. Cobb is with that Fufu lame sh*t.” “Fufu” as described on the internet, is slang for “a n***a that simply aint sh*t.”
What’s so sad is that the student who posted the photo of me and the Ku Klux Klan with the caption “this is how Dr. Cobb describes her department meetings” was actually a biracial student.
Some of the same students who are acting like they’re so innocent are the ones who are on Twitter drawing me in blackface.
What reaction have you gotten from the other African-American teachers at the school?
I wasn’t at the school when news of the lawsuit broke so I can’t say for sure what the reaction was. I do know that there aren’t too many other African-American teachers at the school. I’m not the only one but, are there 20 of us? I don’t believe so. It’s a predominantly Caucasian staff. And I’m just literally floored that all of this has happened.
What other reactions or support have you gotten?
It’s bad but, people don’t understand how a black person could be suing another black person. They don’t understand the whole “black on black“phenomenon from that angle because they’re like ‘oh there can’t possibly be any racial discrimination if there are two black people involved.’ People will say, ‘I don’t understand this….both of these people are black…why is there an issue? I have to explain it like this: Say for example that John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton were associates. President Kennedy came from an affluent background whereas Clinton did not; however, Clinton was extremely smart, and was President Kennedy’s competition. Therefore, President Kennedy did everything in his power to ensure that Clinton did not advance.”
Have you gotten any support at all from the school’s administration or school board?
The superintendent really delegated everything to the assistant superintendent and the principal to handle this situation.
I really feel as if it wasn’t for my support system, I’d be on my own because the NAACP cannot help you if you have a lawsuit pending, per their bi-laws. At least, this is what was told to me. The NAACP did formally comment about me in the The Arizona Republic and The Ahwatukee Foothills News. This goes against their bi-laws since I am a NAACP member.
Would you say the administration is more to blame for not taking action to discipline these students or do you think the problem start in the home?
That is the million dollar question. Who is to blame? All I can do is go back and say that I have to focus on what’s going on in my classroom for 5 hours a day. I can’t really say what happens in other people’s homes, but I can say what happens in my classroom as I’m disciplining my students.
What’s your response to people who will say that you’re over reacting?
No, and I’ve heard that before. But this is more than just kids being kids. This is more than just saying ‘oh this teacher is so dumb, she’s so stupid, she’s a b***h.” These are children who had to sit down and brainstorm how to come up with this. This child drew a picture of me that had my exact lipstick color down pat…that takes time to do that. It takes time to take a picture of a teacher crossing the street and upload it and say ‘Dr. Cobb is working her corner.” It takes time to then be upset because you’re getting exposed and then you’re saying we need to retaliate we’re not going to allow Dr. Cobb to play the victim.
I know that children are going to be disruptive, don’t get me wrong. But when it gets taken to social media and they’re taking pictures of me and referring to me as a prostitute or drawing a minstrel photo of me…it’s out of control.
What do you hope to gain from speaking out?
With this case and my situation, I would like to be an advocate for other teachers across the United States. I know I’m not the only one that is being bullied in the classroom.
The media wants to just focus on how these children are being disrespected in the classroom. What is unique about my situation is that you have white teachers where unfortunate things have happened to them. One woman last fall was even murdered by a student.
But you haven’t had any instances really where it’s an African-American teacher that this is going through this.
Given the increasing number of race-related incidents occurring against African-Americans on a daily basis, we certainly think this is a unique story that deserves national attention.
What are your thoughts on Dr. Cobb’s story?