Racism in society has been evident since the creation of this nation; it later was extended to institutions such as schools. The legacy of Brown v. Board of Education continues to haunt the country’s schools. It is well documented that children of color are recipients of racism, tracking, and lower teacher expectations. When adding inner city, impoverished students to the equation, the effects are more than doubled. In the research that I conducted in New York City Schools, a team of researchers including myself analyzed data collected from students and staff members to assess the achievement gap and what attributed to a successful vs. unsuccessful student. The following exchange of an all male mixed grade level from an alternative school, discussed the impact of racism on the psyche:
Interviewer: Have you experienced racism?
*Terrance: I had a white teacher call me a nigger.
I called him a spic and he called me a nigger. I punched him and got kicked out.
l find this exchange appalling, especially as a high school teacher. As the adult, the teacher could have asked the student to step outside to speak to him privately, sent him to the office, called security, called home, etcetera. But to return a racial slur with another was wrong on so many levels and just escalated the situation. Both the student and the teacher, a White Hispanic according to this exchange, are here as a result of the African diaspora which took millions of people to the Americas and Caribbean resulting in a legacy of racism. A topic some feel is a thing of the past.
With the election of Obama and now Trump, more people than ever seem to be aware of the racial and gender inequalities that exist. I see students and people open to talking about race much more now, although all is not well as we can see with some people’s support of Trump’s Muslim-Majority Immigration Ban. I remember one year teaching one of my classes about the effects of historical racism only to hear a black student told another student that I was being racist. This was pre-Obama and pre-Trump.
Although unsettling, I used it as a teaching moment and created a lesson where the class had to define race, racism, and racist and then use the terms to describe the historical circumstances and legislations such as the Homestead Act, which encouraged Westward Migration by providing settlers with 160 acres of public land. The class had to determine who created the law, why, who benefited and suffered as a result of the act. After the lesson, it was clear people of color were not the beneficiaries of such legislations, a leading cause of the wealth gap of today.
When assessing class, race, and access to resources it is important to note that 75% of poor blacks live amongst poor blacks, while only 25% of poor whites live with other poor whites (see West). If one compares the same income of whites and blacks, whites still have more wealth than blacks because much of that difference in wealth is held in white owned homes. Access to property allows for wealth and opportunity for the next generation with the appreciation of real estate and the ability to pass it along to offspring. African-Americans have a harder time doing this.
Today, the median black family has 1/8 net worth of the median white family, while Hispanics have only 1/12 (see PBS- Race: The Power of an Illusion), illustrating a legacy of racial inequality. African-Americans, Latinos, or Native Americans have not gained equity by paying rent, which stem from the hindrance of mortgages to people of color or the divestment of resources in minority neighborhoods.
Since the election of Obama and now Trump, students today seem to be more receptive to talking about racial injustices. Now when we talk about the legacy of racism and the criminal justice system, the students actively participate: black, Hispanic, and white students. I told my class this year the story about the girl and they shook their heads in disbelief. Times have definitely changed. I’m glad more people are aware or willing to acknowledge the injustices that exist.
But there is still room for improvement. One student just this morning contended that he supported Trump’s ban on immigration even though the data depicts that the majority of terrorists have been American citizens or legal residents. This student had no idea who Timothy McVeigh was or that the majority of attacks were done by American citizens and legal residents. This student also said Dylann Roof’s murder of nine people in South Carolina was not an act of terror, although the definition of terrorism says otherwise. I further explained to the class that one is entitled to his / her own beliefs but it is necessary to support them with facts, not ALTERNATIVE FACTS (I left the last part out).
Will there ever be true equality? Are we on the verge of another Civil Rights Movement?
*Names have been changed for anonymity.