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It’s not just policing: How schools reinforce racial inequality

a young black boy reading a workbook
"By reducing the history of indigenous and Black people in America to teepees, ghettos, you preserve this idea that they’re not real Americans,” said Stateside education commentator Matinga Ragatz.";s:

Protests continue across the country in response to police brutality against Black Americans. But while systemic racism might be most visible in the criminal justice system, it touches every aspect of American society. That includes our education system. 

While almost every American child learns about the history of the Founding Fathers and Westward expansion, far fewer learn about significant events in Black American history like Juneteenth and the Tulsa Massacre. A better understanding of how Black Americans have shaped our nation's past can inform how we understand systemic racism in today's society, but it isn't widely taught in schools.

We checked in with education consultant and Stateside commentator Matinga Ragatz about how the U.S. education system reinforces inequality, and what a better, more inclusive curriculum might look like. 

Putting race back into the conversation

“It’s become this fear that we’re going to separate people by talking about race, by talking about economic levels, and things like that. But what has happened is by not talking directly about race, we have reduced ourselves to using dog whistles and coded language to talk about race.” 

“Whitewashing” the history of American racism 

“You will see that racism turns its ugly head in the curriculum when you constantly depict people of color as victims, and you’re only telling the story of their struggle, but you do not specifically tell the story about how they began their struggle. So when you’re specifically talking about, for example, slavery, you don’t talk about slavery in terms of, like, human trafficking and rape and murder and complete and absolute devastation of somebody’s heritage, and uprooting somebody’s culture that took thousands of years to build, and now, 500 years later, they’re still trying to build it.” 

How unconscious bias punishes Black children 

“There is this narrative that racism is an outward, and sometimes a violent, demonstration of power. But racism in America, again—it can be a lot more nuanced. And so study after study will talk about ... that kids of color, they are more likely to be suspended, they’re more likely to be expelled, or turned over to the police. And we specifically know about studies where middle school Black girls, especially, from age 12, they’re seen to be less innocent and expected to be stronger, so that the only emotions that are recognized in them is anger." 

How what happens in classrooms shapes communities

“We have to make sure that we teach the children the workings of the politics of race, and how a dominant culture is structured to create this hierarchy of human value. And so, what I'm trying to say is there’s a clear demarcation that some people are simply more valuable than other people, especially when it comes to race. And there are people who believe to this day that when people of color begin to populate their schools and their suburbs, it devalues their property, and it devalues the quality of their school. And so, I want to ask the question, you know, what exactly are you saying by that? And if you are believing that, or at least living in that environment, what are you teaching these kids so that they can, in the future, not propagate this problem?”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.

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Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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