Illustration by Srinidhi Shukla
The continued uprisings in the Black Lives Matter movement have forced allies into new conversations surrounding the rampant racial inequalities in the United States of America. The movement has galvanized increased support for substantial policy changes that promote equity. One of these fights includes the movement towards policy reform that addresses systemic and structural racism within the education system. As a sustainability student, this topic is crucial to the development of a more sustainable society as it addresses the perpetuation of systemic racism through the mainstream education of this country that leads to the normalization of complicit racism and directly inhibits sustainable development.
One study by Jon Valant asked Americans to think about test score gaps in education. It featured a survey experiment with a nationally representative sample of adults. The study design tested for differences in how Americans see Black-white, Hispanic-white, and wealthy-poor gaps. The study’s main finding was that Americans are far more concerned about, and willing to address, wealth-based gaps than race- and ethnicity-based gaps. When asked “How much of the difference in test scores between white students and Black students can be explained by discrimination against Blacks or injustices in society?” Nearly half (44%) of respondents chose “None.” Only 10% chose “A great deal.” (2) This finding is striking as it highlights the core issue when it comes to the challenge of systemic racism in this country: there is not enough being done to address the intricacies of how people of color are affected by policies that inhibit their academic and personal growth. This survey exposed the conventional belief shared by white people that this gap is due to perceived deficiencies based on race, exemplifying the banality of institutional racism embedded in education. One of the first systemic barriers people of color face in this country begins with inequitable school funding. Studies have shown that school districts attended predominantly by students of color receive $23 billion less in funding than primarily white districts, adding up to $2,200 less per student per year compared to about $150 less per white student from a lower socioeconomic class than the national average (1). So, you might be wondering, how did this happen? Unfortunately, every state finances its public schools based on local property taxes, meaning the higher the property value surrounding the school, the more funding the school receives. This disproportionately affects people of color because of the historical segregation practices that are essentially still in effect. For example, there are exclusionary zoning laws that remain widely used that prevent families from entering higher performance school districts. “The most severe and pervasive instances of today’s exclusionary zoning occur in the Northeast, while Wharton researchers found that the towns with this negative regulatory environment tended to be less dense and wealthier than counties lacking exclusionary zoning” (3). Although the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination based on race and other factors, research demonstrates that to this day real estate agents direct black buyers away from predominantly white neighborhoods and black families with similar or greater incomes than white families are less likely to qualify for prime loans (3). Exclusionary zoning practices, tax policies that prevent black wealth accumulation, mass-incarceration practices, and other policies infamous for their implicit racism disproportionately affect populations of color and prohibit equitable education.
Another issue involves the conventional curriculum in public and private schools across the country. I have personally witnessed and experienced the effects of a curriculum that reflects complacent racism. Schools across the country have been desegregated for 60 years and are still lacking in education that promotes racial equality. I attended a majority white catholic institution called Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona that consistently and purposefully avoided topics based on racial discrimination. The administration refused to acknowledge implicit bias and white privilege and as a result undervalued the existence of people of color, their needs, and their voices (below I will attach a link to an Instagram page dedicated to students’ testimonies on their racist experiences at Xavier College Prep). Some examples of the implicitly racist curriculum taught at my school include the lack of required books that are written by people of color, a completely white narrative on historical events, and the lack of attention to the history of racial injustices in this country. I was very disappointed to have graduated with only a few pieces of short readings by people of color compared to hundreds of examples of literature written by white people. To promote racial equality, the youth of this country need to be taught an anti-racist curriculum that fosters and encourages diversity instead of squandering it. People of color and Black lives need to be honored and celebrated by creating policies that shift from a majority white narrative to a diverse and inclusive one. As a student studying sustainability, I realize more and more the relevance of systemic and institutional racism within our education and how it directly inhibits sustainable development. By teaching the importance of anti-racism curriculum and the ever-present existence of the ramifications of the post-Jim Crow era, we are creating a future that is intolerable to complicit and complacent racism, and furthering the efforts of sustainable development goal #4: Quality Education and development goal #10: Reducing Inequality. Please feel free to discuss this topic below. Have you experienced or witnessed racial discrimination or bias in the classroom? Do you have ideas on how to address this issue? Comment below!
Link to IG page: https://www.instagram.com/bipocatxcp/