It Is Time For America To Address Institutionalized Racism In Education

November 12, 2011
Written by Janice S. Ellis... in
Please rate this article
In California, Black students step up and take a stand for their future by demanding a better education now. Photo Credit:

One has only to look at the level of access and use of technology as an essential tool in schools that boast of delivering a high-quality education to see the institutionalized disparities in the educational system in the United States. The “haves” have access to the technology. The “have nots” do not. More often than not, the disparities are existent along racial and socio-economic lines.

I was speaking with a colleague the other day and she was expressing her conflicting feelings about her children, in grade school, already having access to the IPad as a learning tool. Most minorities and students in depressed urban areas do not have access to desktop computers, let alone, laptops and mobile devices such as the IPad, IPhone, or Ipod.

Institutionalized racism is so prevalent and entrenched — even invisible — in this country that it seems normal to many. Practices in the educational system are merely a microcosm of it in action.

Suspend the technological or digital divide for a moment. The pernicious and institutional racism is evident in how resources are allocated, how students are assigned to learning tracks and teachers, and how we continually push a curriculum with a scarcity, or even worse, the complete absence of black authors, inventors, scientists, and other contributors to American history.

Even the celebration of Black history month confirms institutionalized racism in our educational system. Black history month is an attempt at filling a gapping void in our educational system, an effort to set a distorted record straight about the contributions made by African-Americans in building America.

What other ethnic group has to carry the burden of trying to do justice to its history in a mere month?

Hispanics are the largest growing minority in America. Will they be confronted with the same issues as the minority they have surpassed — blacks?

Perhaps, if we are willing to fully confront the ugliness of institutionalized racism and take some systemic actions for lasting change, there may come a time when we can note the closing of the achievement gap. America will not improve its educational standing until institutional racism is confronted head on.

Nothing reminds us of this as poignantly as the ongoing debate around affirmative action. Affirmative action was designed to rid this society of its entrenched discriminatory practices in education, from grade schools to institutions of higher learning, along with other social and economic disparities. Yet, education seems to be the area where affirmative action is most challenged.

It seems perfectly okay to give preferential treatment to students whose parents are alumni of a school, or have some other social, political, or economic standing, even if the students applying have a marginal “C” average. This is common practice at most elite institutions of higher learning.

It would be interesting to find out how many African-Americans with “C” averages have been admitted to Yale University and Harvard Business School, or to graduate school or law school at the University of Michigan, for that matter.

Isn’t admitting students because of name, money, and position of influence another form of affirmative action? If race is to be dropped from the admittance equation, shouldn’t name, money, and position be dropped as well?

There are those who would argue that educational achievement at any level is based primarily on parents, home life, and economic status. While these factors definitely play an important role, their effects are severely compromised when confronted by an unlevel playing field, which institutionalized racism injects into the equation.

Institutionalized racism — biased attitudes, practices, and expectations in the classroom, whether in grade school or college — continues to cripple many of our children and youth disproportionately.

The infusion of millions of dollars into buildings, busing at the grade school level, and the use of point systems at the college level have done little to address the destructive attitudes and practices that continue inside and outside the classroom.

If the current conversation about America falling behind on the global stage when it comes to the educational achievement and competitiveness of our children, or the challenge we face nationally in closing the achievement gap between whites and blacks, does nothing else, it highlights the tremendous work that still needs to be done. We must make it a priority to eliminate institutionalized racism in our educational system. That is the only way to ensure that all children will receive the quality of education they need to have productive lives and become productive citizens to secure and advance us as a nation, and for us to remain competitive globally.

Contrary to what we will like to believe, if we do not rid this nation of institutionalized racism, all of society will pay.