A number of years ago a public-school teacher, who taught in an inner-city school context, was asking for help so she could buy needed supplies for her grade school classroom. As it turned out the kids didn’t have notebooks, pencils, and other necessary items. I was a bit befuddled. I had never heard of such a thing. I attended public school my whole life and we always had plenty of supplies.
Education as the means to overcome
As I noted in my last post, education is one of the primary means by which a person can overcome poverty. The problem in the US is that the educational system does not afford equal opportunities for everyone. As one source put it:
“Latinx students and other students of color feel the impacts of systemic racism through education. A lot of it has to do with the way schools are funded in the U.S. Historically, America’s schools are financed in large part through property taxes, the tax paid by owners of other homes and businesses in a community. It’s a system that some experts say automatically puts low-income communities at a disadvantage.”
Many attempt to counter this argument by claiming that if a student is determined enough they can get a better education and make a better life for themselves. UCLA Research Professor Patricia Gàndara says that’s not true.
“We’ve done studies of that and I’ve heard that too and it makes my skin crawl because I know firsthand that’s not true,” Gàndara said. “Schools that serve very low-income children often times don’t even offer the courses that are required to be able to get into college. So you can be an A student, but you didn’t take the courses that are required for admissibility to the university’”
If the major source of funding for public schools in America is local property taxes, I don’t see how there can be much of an argument about whether or not there is a problem with systemic racism in our country.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that the schools in the wealthier neighborhoods will be well funded and the schools in the poorer ones won’t be!
Since race is a major factor in who lives where I don’t suspect the conversation regarding systemic racism needs go much further.
Ah, but it does!
What do we do with this?
I have had the opportunity to travel and teach in many parts of the world. I have always thought that one of the ways in which the US was superior was because it provided education to everyone. And it is!
Little did I realize that our educational system was not equitable and that it serves as a means of furthering racial injustice.
Before I proceed—and we have a long way to go—allow me to make some observations.
First, a few years ago, when I started researching the topic of racial justice, I was not convinced that systemic racism existed in America. I suspected that it did. But I wasn’t certain.
The point is: it has taken me a long time to arrive where I am now. I suspect that many readers may be unsure if what I am saying is valid. I simply ask that you continue to read these posts and prayerfully discern if what I have to say is legitimate.
Secondly, it is human nature to weave narratives on how we perceive the world, or, shall I say, how we want to perceive the world: which is often in a manner that affirms our comforts. We must be aware of this danger.
- We weave narratives in accord with our knowledge and experience in order to make sense of our world.
- When someone suggests something that is contrary to our perceptions of the world, it is not uncommon for us to deny the information, dismiss it, or even become defensive.
By this latter point I mean that when information comes through that does not conform to what we have known, or which we perceive to be a threat, our human inclination is to respond in one of several ways:
1. We may simply deny the facts as they are presented
Note: many do not move past this point because they refuse to continue to explore the data. After all, “I know it is wrong.”
What is becoming more and more problematic these days is that many have their own “trusted” source of media. Fairness is often not part of the conversation on either side of the media aisle. This means that our “trusted” sources of information commonly serve to confirm our prior set of narratives and to reinforce our denial of the new found facts.
2. We may begin to accept the new facts. Once we begin to do so our initial response is often to find alternative places to lay the blame. This serves to release us from any personal responsibility.
a. We might blame the government or the system: sometimes this is more of a “what else can we do?” type of response.
b. At other times we might even blame the victims
All of this is to say that coming to terms with the fact that things may not be as I have always believed is a process. All I can do is to encourage you to continue on the journey as difficult as it may be. Perhaps what I have to say will only confirm what you already knew. Perhaps it won’t.
Why this long introduction?
Because I can imagine that some readers have not been too moved by what I had to say. I don’t think they perceive the gravity of the problem.
“Sure, it is unfair that some have access to a better education, but. . . .
“Why do they choose to live in lower-income neighborhoods?
“It’s not my fault they live in poorer communities.
“If they work hard enough, they can escape poverty. This is the land of opportunity.
“If there wasn’t so much crime in their community, they could overcome their poverty.”
I know some of these sentiments because I can very much see myself saying, having said, or at least having thought them.
What I didn’t know was that the problem is way more complex and way more sinister than I realized. I realize now that I should have been more suspicious. If the fact one of the leading sources of funding for public schools is property taxes, doesn’t scream systemic “injustice,” then what does? But I am not sure that I saw it that way. And I suspect that many readers may still not see the problem.
In the US, there has been another avenue for ensuring prosperity and a hope for the future: homeownership. Historically, homeownership has been one of the primary means by which the average person has been able to gain some semblance of financial prosperity.
The problem is that homeownership, especially homeownership in suburban areas where the potential for equity is greater, was largely not available to people of color for much of the 20th century. In other words, most Blacks didn’t choose to live in ghettos and urban areas. They lived there because Whites in America—largely by means of racist government legislation—would not allow them to live in their neighborhoods.
If this sounds too over the top, all I can say is that the problem is much worse than I will be able to draw out in the next few posts.
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 I am focusing these posts on Blacks primarily. The issues regarding systemic racism certainly applies to all persons of color. The problem is that to widen the scope of these posts is to widen the conversation to a point that is hard to contain in a series of posts. Systemic racism affects all persons of color. American history is stained with regard to its treatments of Africans, Asians, Latinos and many other groups.
 I strongly encourage readers to consult The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein.