Why We Need to Have Formal Anti-Racism Policies in Educational Systems


The deaths of Ahmaud Abery, Breonna Taylor, and countless other people of color, and the COVID pandemic data continue to illuminate the fact that black and brown people are more negatively impacted by systems that are supposed to support all people. Over the past few months the ongoing marches, protests, and removal of visual monuments that represent, for some, a past that should not be celebrated are all evidence that things are changing in this country. 

If you have been paying attention to the news and the current climate of the world over the last few months you have observed or participated in the language shifts that have taken place in this country. One term that has emerged and become more prevalent is the term Anti-Racist or Anti-Racism. We have seen businesses, non-profits, and even school districts make public statements in support of organizations like Black Lives Matter, who for years have tirelessly advocated for the dismantling of systems that oppress. 

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In those statements we have seen words like white supremacy, racism, anti-racism/anti-racist to show solidarity with people of color, who for over 400 years have experienced intentional and systemic racism through every system in the U.S., including education. And because of the policies, practices, resource flows, mental models and relationships that were purposely created to advantage one group of people over others, outcomes for people of color are markedly different than other racial/ethnic groups in this country.

Did you know?

Did you know that African Americans are 2.3 times more likely to experience infant death according to the Centers for Disease Control? Or that African Americans are 2.7 times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop according to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics? Have you ever wondered why neighborhoods in most major cities are segregated?

The answers to these questions can be found in the systems that were created in our country. Systems that are made up of policies, practices and resource flows that support things like criminal justice, health care, and housing. For example, redlining policies, where people of color are denied access to services, were created as part of our housing system. These policies impacted who was approved for mortgages and in which areas people of color were shown houses and “allowed” to live. Books like The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein provide a detailed history of how the government of the United States of America actively participated in ensuring people of color were not allowed to achieve the American dream of home ownership through the creation of such policies. 

So why should we formally adopt anti-racism in the school house? 

Why is it necessary to make the declaration that we are adopting anti-racist policies, not just working on diversity, equity and inclusion? Why must we take what some see as such a radical stand, as educators? According to Ibram X. Kendi, the author of the New York Times Best Seller “How to Be an Anti-Racist” and director of Boston University’s Center for Anti-Racist Research, you are either supporting racist policies through your actions or inactions or your are supporting antiracist policies through your actions or expression of ideas. There is no neutral. 

Kendi also states that, as individuals, we are not all one (racist) or the other (anti-racist), and that at any point in time through our actions or lack of action we can be supporting racist policies and practices. Therefore we must actively work to dismantle systems of oppression, otherwise we are participating (many times by not acting) in systems that oppress. 

The Racial Equity Institute developed a metaphor of groundwater, which underscores the need to take an active stand against racism in the school house. They compare the systems to groundwater and ask that we imagine that we are approaching a lake to find one fish that is belly up. It would make sense then to analyze the fish and ask what happened to the fish. However if we approached that same lake and more than half of the fish were belly up dead, we would begin to ask other questions like what is wrong with the water? If we approached five different lakes in the same region and all of the fish were dead we would ask what was happening below the surface, in the groundwater, that contaminated the lakes? 

Now transition this thinking to education. Imagine that the fish is a student failing in an education system. Our questions would change to ones like did he study hard enough, or did he get enough help at home? We are all participating in systems that over half of our children are failing, suffering from poorer health outcomes, and experiencing disproportionate criminal justice outcomes. We, educators, are producing inequities through schooling because the system is set up to do so. 

How are we contributing to the inequities? Remember, there is no neutral. We must actively work against racism or we are contributing to the current system. 

Be on the lookout for Part Two in this three-part series which will be specifically about the School to Prison Pipeline.