As a new wave of activism aims to directly face racism and break down social constructs built upon racism, some teachers try to specifically target their students, using their classrooms as a place to learn not only academia but also humanity. Currently, many racial stereotypes plague society, especially educational aspects of society. For example, blacks are often perceived as uneducated and illiterate, and Asians are perceived to be very smart and consistently achieve full marks. These misconceptions of race and intelligence further restrict marginalized groups in society.
The History of Racism
Race, at a technical level, indicates apparent differences between groups. Unfortunately, humanity has associated race and skin color to divide different types of people, leading to unequal societal treatment based on race and unequal access to resources. Throughout history, humans have determined success to be partially passed on through “royal blood,” a concept with no actual biological grounds (Sternberg). While there are distinguishable differences between blood systems and literal royal blood, there are just as many differences in blood types among groups of people who share religious beliefs, body types, and skin colors. This poorly based concept of “royal blood” partially ignited racism as we know it because the division between royal and nonroyal blood began the separation of races with even minute differences.
As “royal blood” evolved into modern racism, the groups that were seen as the bottom of society—and sometimes were not even considered human—finally regained some of the natural rights stolen from them. Marginalized socioeconomic groups would be forced to remain near or below poverty as the government created gerrymandering and redlining to keep these groups, typically black families, behind and far from the success that the general white population shared.
How Racism Evolved into the School System?
Because of the systemic racism inherent with ancient concepts such as “royal blood,” poorer neighborhoods, areas in which the population is often mostly blacks simply do not have access to the same quality of societal resources as the areas funded and maintained by the government. One of the pertinent disparities of this unequal access is education. Because poorer areas are inhabited greatly by black people who were forced to remain in these areas, students in these areas cannot receive the same high-quality education that a student living in a middle or high-class neighborhood would.
Another instance of systemic racism leading to unequal access to education is gentrification. The low socioeconomic areas are rebuilt to house wealthier people and attract wealthier businesses to the area. As a result, residents living in these gentrified areas are usually displaced to the outskirts of the area. This displacement keeps the original population in the same area as the new, wealthier population, leading to a misrepresentation of demographics.
A study conducted in the neighborhood of Bay View High demonstrates the harsh effect gentrification can have on the marginalized community (Kuhl). This neighborhood was historically a high-poverty African American neighborhood and had been gentrified, introducing a new population of white and multiracial families. With the revitalization of the neighborhood came new academic programs for Bay View High, including a rigorous STEM academy for which highly qualified teachers were recruited. While the population of students at Bay View High was made of 37% African Americans and 18% Latinos, these races are rare in the enrollment of the rigorous academics, only making up 5% each in these pathways.
Ending Racism from the Inside-Out
By breaking down stereotypes in the classroom and directly addressing identity issues and racial stereotypes, teachers can help the racial movement by recognizing that the problems of modern racism are even seeded in the school systems. These racial stereotypes and systemic racism affect both the organization of schools and, more importantly, the wellbeing of affected individuals. Improving engagement and overcoming blockades for these students is a manageable task for teachers who want to help improve race relations and begin the end of racism. Improving the learning environment for all students erases misconceptions of race in society and benefits students who are cornered into low-quality classrooms because of the lack of resources in their living areas.
Kuhl, Patricia K., et al. Developing Minds in the Digital Age. OECD Publishing, 2019.
Sternberg, Robert J., Elena L. Grigorenko, and Kenneth K. Kidd. Intelligence, race, and genetics. Vol. 60. No. 1. American Psychological Association, 2005.