Viewpoint: Racism isn’t to blame for gaps in education

By on November 12, 2013

I went ice-skating last weekend at the Pelham Civic Center, and was pleasantly surprised my something I saw.  A small boy had fallen while skating and two girls about his age, complete strangers, helped him up.  For the next hour, they skated together while holding hands and talking about how they enjoyed making new friends.  The thought of young children being friendly and caring made me happy.  But what really made me smile was the fact that their skins were different colors, the boy black and the two girls white.  Stories like this one make me optimistic that we have come a long way.  Living in Birmingham, Alabama, a city that fought the integration of whites and blacks for as long as possible, it is hard to believe that racism could be completely eradicated in four decades.  Yet, blatant racism is not common here.  More subtle forms are apparent though, with the history of “White Flight” into the suburbs and the drastic difference in race breakdowns between inner-city Birmingham and the suburbs.  Similarly, the structure of our society and statistics on wealth distribution suggest that skin color plays a role in success in this country.  White Americans constitute 64% of the population, but have 88% of the wealth, a clear indicator that inequality is present.  But is this because we are racist or because of generations of continuity?

Historically, African Americans have been at a disadvantage when it comes to climbing up the social and monetary ladder.  After several generations were enslaved or forced to work for paltry wages, when equality finally came, it still wasn’t really there.  The educational and professional opportunities open to Caucasian Americans had not been extended to other races, mainly African Americans.  Many black Americans worked low-paying jobs and did not finish their education either because it was not available or because there was no point in obtaining it.

Today, even though our President is African American, many black children still do not have the same access to education as their white counterparts.  “White Flights” have happened in many cities where white families moved to the suburbs and left the inner-city schools without the tax-money that paid for the schools.  As a result, many are grossly underfunded, and hence, are not offering equal opportunities to all students of the city.  This, however, is not to say that white students don’t attend inner-city schools and that black students don’t attend private schools, magnet schools, or schools in the suburbs.  Of course, some do, but the take-home message is that majority of students in inner city schools are black.  The statistics on wealth distribution among the races show the result of the lapse in funding for these inner city schools.

Education is important.  Equal access to education and opportunities is what has made America the melting pot that immigrants flock to.  But what many people don’t realize is that the system is not as equal as it should be.  Now can it be proven that racism has caused these disparities?  I would argue that it cannot.  Obviously racism was deeply rooted in the US, especially the South, during the nineteenth and twentieth century.  But a trend toward equality has been seen over the past half-century.  Yes, “White flights” have happened, but not necessarily for the purpose of segregation.  When families are climbing the economic ladder, one of the first things they consider is moving to a nice, safe neighborhood with good schools and amenities; these neighborhoods usually tend to be suburbs.  Most families think this way, regardless of race.

We should slow down for a second and think of all the progress we have made as a society on the racial issue.  Dr. King’s speech fifty years ago called for white children and black children to hold hands and attend school together, something that obviously happens in most schools across the country. Our society values diversity.  However, we still have room to improve.  Programs focusing on closing the gap between funding for different schools needs to be implemented and creating equal opportunities for all Americans should be our focus.

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