Hey — hey America, can we talk about racism for a second? Everyone else, feel free to listen in, but America . . . we really need to talk. Why? Because you seem to think the only racism that counts is the kind that involves crosses being burned on lawns by people in white hoods.
In reality, it’s the way that racism is passed down through generations — the way that it is taught passively and overtly — that should concern you. And one of the many ways this happens is via our deeply flawed education system.
Our education system is systemically racist in myriad ways — from unequal funding for schools, to a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects students of color, to the fact that white women in education make up the majority of teachers, which can engender oppression against female students of color.
It’s ironic, then, that we also don’t teach kids about racism, and how it has informed American culture since the country’s inception. We teach a lie about Thanksgiving to keep racism going, and we venerate Columbus for “discovering” America, but we don’t talk about how manumission laws were written to prevent people from buying the freedom of their families.
Because we don’t teach real history during the K-12 years when history class is mandatory, by college, many Americans are left with the idea that racism is over because slavery and Jim Crow are over. That’s why there are many Americans with the flawed perception that the U.S. is post-racial, and that electing a Black president is proof we’re beyond our history.
Without understanding how racism works, white students also often have a fundamentally flawed understanding of affirmative action, believing it to mean that their classmates and co-workers of color are actually less qualified because they’ve been “helped” along. They point at lower graduation stats for marginalized communities as proof that “those people simply don’t value education.” And this idea — that only some (read: white) communities care about education — means that when people of color do succeed, there’s an assumption that they don’t deserve their success. It’s this attitude that led Abigail Fisher to sue the University of Texas at Austin in 2008, claiming affirmative action is what kept her out of the college — and not…