Our Education System is Racist and You Are Complicit

If you are reading this, chances are you are complicit in the racist education system that exists in our country.

White people, do I have your attention now?

Now let’s define our terms. I use “racist” here to reference institutional racism, that is, any system where, REGARDLESS OF INTENT, there is a significant difference in outcomes between different racial groups. We white people don’t like to think of racism this way. As Peggy Mcintosh wrote, we whites are taught to only believe racism is the act of mean individuals. People who know better realize that racism is the true invisible hand of our society.

White people, dozens of you loved to comment in affirmation of my post disparaging Education Nation; not one of you chimed in on my post talking about the racism of tracking in the suburbs. Are we scared of something?

Here are the indisputable facts: 26% more white boys are proficient in reading than black boys in fourth grade; 32% more white boys are proficient in math in eighth. Black boys do worse than whites independent of class differences. Economic factors do play a role in educational inequality and need to be addressed, but race is a separate and independent factor that cannot be ignored.

White people, just look at the images of the teachers on your Twitter feed and in your blogroll – do you notice a pattern? Those who think getting teachers online is the solution need to wake up and realize we have a skewed perspective, not because we’ve embraced technology already, but because we are almost entirely white.

When the Council of Great City Schools released their recent report, which echoes the reports that have been released quite frequently since the famous 1965 Moynihan report, there should not have been any reaction other than, “Well, of course we knew this, and we’re already talking about solutions.” This should not be news yet again. It is the plain truth for anyone with their eyes open.

White people, ask yourself if you have heard these phrases in your conversations or know what they refer to: “the school-to-prison-pipeline,” “the prison-industrial complex,” “institutional racism,” “the hyper-sexualization of the black male,” “red-lining,” “the Jena 6″… if not, you’re missing part of the understanding of our current and recent history that brought us to this moment.

Eliminating the racist inequality in education – let’s please stop using neutral and safe terms like the “achievement gap” – is not the “civil rights battle of our generation,” it’s not about creating “economic opportunity for all in the 21st century world,” rather, it is a moral imperative. To fail to address it is immoral, unjust, and irresponsible. This is bigger than being about “rights,” this is about human decency.

White people, there are known solutions to these problems out there, we just need to take the responsibility to find them. But first, we need to open our eyes and be honest with ourselves: we support the continuity of a racist system, and “color-blindness” will only allow it to continue.

This post was inspired by my colleagues-in-arms, Renee Moore and Jose Vilson.

6 thoughts on “Our Education System is Racist and You Are Complicit

  1. (Jena 6, not Jenna :))

    It’s funny but lately I’ve been the receptor for all sorts of complaints about TFA, and one that’s been sticking out the most is the irritating overuse of the phrase, “achievement gap”. That makes it seems so easy, as if it is a race and poor kids, black kids, Latino and SE Asian kids, are just too slow and need to catch up.

    I remember reading a study in one of my college Ethnic Studies classes about affluent black kids. It read that black children born in the middle class living in the suburbs had academic difficulties even though economically they were well off. It talked about testing anxiety, struggles of being the only or one of few black kids, treatment by teachers and counselors and adminstration, etc. To me, it reflected my experience and that of my friends attending suburban schools that were surface okay, but suffered the effects and consequences of institutional racism.


  2. Great article! Embedded in this discussion are the cultural legacies attached to the various demographic groups in schools. To understand where we are as learners we should acknowledge the influences from our cultural past. This should not be used as a means to justify or excuse success or failure but may provide a background of culture that affects a students connection to course material. In his book “outliers” Malcolm Gladwell takes a look at the impact cultural legacies can have not only in everyday life but also how it can impact the way various cultures interact with one another. The persuit of learning involves discussing and sharing ideas and if we are not aware of the differences embedded in the language we may never fully address the discrepencies within the education system.


  3. A brave statement that needed to be said. We have to stop thinking of racism as just an individual act. We are still living with the effects of systemic racism built in to how many of our social institutions. It would be easier to dismiss this argument if it were only poor black or Latino students being affected. Gloria Ladson-Billings has written and spoken extensively about why the “achievement gap” is really an “education debt”; I encourage people to study it.


  4. I just wanted to thank everyone who took the time to read and post. I know for some this is a hard subject for some to enter, but all should have the courage to do so.


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