Saturday, April 21, 2018

Is Your School Racist?

I pulled you in with that one didn’t I? Well of course a school can’t be racist, because a school
is just a building, not an actual human, with traits and characteristics, and experiences,
stereotypes, bias, and emotions (but, what about the school's culture). What I really meant to ask
is, are the principles and foundation of your school or institution rooted in racism? Wait, hold
your answer until the end of this blog.

Institutional racism, emerging from structural racism, is a pattern of social institutions, such as
governmental organizations, schools, banks, health care, law enforcement agencies, and
courts of law who have policies, procedures, legislation, and practices which have  
disproportionate negative outcomes for racial minorities. Institutional racism began in the
United States in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia, when the Dutch nations of Europe brought
African slaves into the New World to cultivate virgin soil, harvest lucrative tobacco plantations,
and build up an economic system that set the foundation for Colonial America and continued
on up through our modern society today. Institutional racism occurs within and between institutions.
It is discriminatory treatment, unfair policies, and inequitable opportunities and impacts, based
on race, produced and perpetuated by institutions.

Institutionalized racism is often hidden within institutions. It is implicit-meaning, unseen
or unconscious. It is embedded in institutional systems and structures and as a consequence,
these structures adversely impact marginalized groups. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and laws like
SB 10-70, where police have the right to force any person to show proof of their citizenship
are past examples of institutionalized racism. While those practices did not overtly single out a
specific minority group, it implicitly enforced racial stereotypes for Blacks and Latinos through
racial profiling and stereotyping.

Today, African-American men have become targets for police and law enforcement’s
disposal, with the judicial system helping to reinforce this practice through mass incarceration.
While law, judicial, and police institutions don’t explicitly state that they should target black and minority people, this implicit behavior is exactly what is happening.

In considering schools, institutional racism can and does occur in classrooms, administration,
and at the district level. Think about how many students of color are represented in academically
rigorous programs at your school (AP classes/Chemistry/Physics/students college bound).
How many students of color are tested for gifted programs? How many students of color are in
remedial/special ed programs? Do you have lower expectations for your students of color vs
your white students? Does your curriculum (books, class posters, lessons) represent your student
population? What is the ethnic breakdown of people who have the most power in your schools
and districts?

Do your discipline records within your school disproportionately show that African-American males and females are sent to the office at higher rates than their white peers; while white students who commit the same infractions in classrooms do not receive a referral? Could it be implicit bias causing the higher rate?

Think closely about every aspect within your school and examine whether students of color, particularly African-American students have the lowest test scores, lowest achievement rates, highest drop-out rate, the most reported discipline issues, largest number of referrals, highest numbers in special education services and compare that to their total population on your campus and then look at the rates and percentages nation-wide and see if the percentages and pattern is similar to your school’s.

Instead of attempting to make excuses about how Black/minority students are more aggressive/criminal or misbehaved, lack drive/motivation, aren't as intelligent, can’t/won’t learn, are in group homes/foster homes, are juvenile delinquents, or have bad parents who don't care about their education, I will halt you there. None of the scholarly research supports any of those excuses as reasons why adverse numbers at your school and across the nation show similar patterns.  What research does show is that institutional racism and discriminatory practices are prevalent, implicit bias is real and plays a pivotal role in negative outcomes for African-American students at school and thereafter, racism must be addressed and no longer ignored as a key factor of academic, emotional, and behavioral underachievement in Black students within K-12 and higher learning institutions, and putting new systems in place within schools/institutions that incorporate culturally responsive pedagogy and practices that are more inclusive of all stakeholders will make dramatic positive differences in minority student outcomes now and in the future. Otherwise, through the continuity of the current systems in place within schools, we will continue to provide inequitable learning experiences that lead to terrible outcomes for our African-American students, while teaching and reinforcing institutional racism to all students (in K-12 schools and college) that they will carry with them through adulthood and their careers; only to preserve a systemic, never-ending cycle of racism and discrimination.

Why does this matter? There's lots of research that shows a school system where most of the teachers are white and most of the kids are not has negative outcomes for students of color, especially African-American students. A primary goal of an effective educator is to teach, engage, and promote learning and thinking for all students so they become productive members of their community and the most important factor affecting student learning is the teacher.

The history of educational institutions in America for people of color is rooted in institutionalized racism. Well after slavery in America, when African-American children were initially allowed to attend school, schools were segregated, barring them from access to quality education. Even after the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education ruling, segregation persisted. In reality, today’s schools remain segregated racially and economically. Within schools today, the promotion of white superiority is the overarching theme of the day in most classrooms, including those taught by minority teachers. History books and lessons shine impressive lights on the achievements of mostly white men and neglect to share the positive stories of black/brown people, women of all races and ethnic groups, and those of diverse backgrounds (religious, sexual orientation, etc). Policies and practices in schools promote customs and activities of the white dominant culture as the norm and standard for every aspect of what is deemed correct or appropriate-neglecting to include or acknowledge cultural norms, customs, or ideas of the students, families, and communities of those who actually attend the school.

Are you ready to answer the initial question posed yet?

While some may get offended by the mere idea of institutionalized racism or may even disregard the whole idea as nonsense, the better response would be to consider how we can level the playing field for all of our students and then begin examining your own school/district for signs of institutionalized racism and discover ways in which you can help to dismantle it so that all stakeholders (especially your students) within your school/district/community can truly receive success and equal access to education, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I’ll share the ways we can begin to dismantle institutionalized racism within our schools in my next blog posting. For now, let this resonate.

Until next time…
Future Doctor J.


  1. Superior article. All educators need to pause and think.

  2. Thank you! Absolutely, we should all be concerned with the implications of bias and institutionalized racism and how it has adversely affected culturally diverse learners. Thank you again for your comment.