Racism in Education–Why the Resurgence?

As a Black mother, I used to think my battle with the educational system was a covert one. I battle soft expectations, I battle that “who do you think you are?” look when I advocate for my son with Jay-Z-like unstoppableness, Obama-like diplomacy and an Ivy League vocabulary.

But a recent string of events across the country indicates a frightening trend of a resurgence of the kind of racism and insensitivity that is so insulting it harkens back to Jim Crow and poses a challenge that can’t be won in the principal’s office.

Witness a few recent news items:

In Alabama, a teacher uses a hypothetical assassination of President Barack Obama as an example in a geometry lesson. He later apologizes for his “very serious error,” gets a formal reprimand and is now on paid leave while the administration decides what to do with him.

A North Georgia teacher allowed four students to wear mock Ku Klux Klan outfits (they used SpongeBob Squarepants party hats under the sheets for that oh-so-necessary cone effect) for a final project in a high school social studies class.

The Texas State Board of Education, a Republican-dominated group, voted to rewrite history and adopted a social studies and history curriculum that amends or waters down the teaching of the civil rights movement, religious freedoms, America’s relationship with the U.N. and hundreds of other items. The suggested revisions include calling the Atlantic slave trade the “Atlantic triangular trade” instead and describing the civil rights movement as creating “unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes” among black and white Americans.

And the Arizona legislature continues its momentum of racist lawmaking by recently passing an outrageous bill trying to ban specific ethnic studies courses.

I know there is a more sophisticated sociological question to be asked, but WTF? just seems so apropos.

We send our students to school to learn. And although we, as Black parents, always knew that we couldn’t rely on the schools to teach our children our history, our true history and our complete history, they at least were sure to cover certain parts.

Now our shrinking and incomplete history is becoming even more invisible. And our children, our needs and our viewpoints are sure to follow. The message in Texas and Arizona is clear–our history is an unwelcome intrusion to the “real” American history, one that shows America as flawless. They don’t want us to have any reason to wallow in our oppression, because that would be un-American.

As for the geometry teacher and social studies teacher, I can’t even say that I was shocked. Sadly, I’m rarely floored by instances of racism anymore. Teachers, like all humans, have subtle biases and insensitivities that they may not be even aware of, and they bring those into the classroom every day. I am just glad that another teacher, student or parent spoke up about it and that both teachers were reprimanded. You may do something stupid, but you can’t just get away with it. We have to hold our educators accountable.

What’s really sad is that these disturbing trends, especially on the legislative and state level, come at a time when a Black man sits as president. I have often said that Black power is more feared than Black people, and we are now seeing the response to their fear of Blacks and other people of color gaining more power. Their fear of us gaining more knowledge. Their fear of our children having knowledge (= power)  and a true understanding for who we are.

The most insulting part, and I’m speaking directly to the Texas and Arizona messes here, is that do they really think that if they “rewrite” history or cut ethnic studies classes, we won’t teach our children our true history? Do they think we are so stupid that we will actually forget the Civil Rights Movement? The answer is yes. And that’s what really gets me.

Memo to the Texas School Board: You can call the transatlantic slave trade the NBA Draft for all I care, but I will never forget what happened nor ignore the lingering after-effects today. I will never let my children forget. I will never let my grandchildren forget. And I don’t even live in Texas. Oh and by the way, removing our history doesn’t change that we are here in the present. Our children are still here and present. So while you waste your time removing our history, we are busy crafting our glorious futures, one Black child at a time.

Let’s see how you will rewrite that.

Cross-posted by permission from Essence.com.

Above photo from Creative Commons, attribution–share alike 3.0 unported


  1. Amen!!!! “while you waste your time removing our history, we are busy crafting our glorious futures, one Black child at a time” Thank’s for the righteous rant and positive possibilities.

  2. Melanie says:

    Not to add more fuel to the fire, but there was the incident in Seattle of the white male teacher sending home the black girl because the product in her hair supposedly gave him a headache. Seriously.


    Never ceases to amaze me how some people get teaching licenses.

    • If the teacher had allergies to the girl’s hair product, I don’t see how it’s the teacher’s fault. The lack of communication is the real problem. I don’t see it as racism– I would feel the same if a little white girl had dealt with it.

      Just… very poor communication.

  3. Sparkles says:

    I’m reallyreally peeved about the rewriting of the Texas standards and am thankful that in these more digital times that textbook companies can cater their books to each state. Previously, they just went with the Texas standards since were the highest buyer (though, it’s not like my school ever really uses the old mishmash of books we have). However, to be fair, a portion of the slave trade IS also called the triangular trade and has been taught with that terminology in all level of schooling. The wording does make it sound like they’re trying to whitewash that whole part of history, but it doesn’t mean that a teacher can’t call it the slave trade in instruction. The slave trade just also includes so much more than the three ports of the triangular trade. I want to think that they were just making an effort to clarify which portion of the slave trade they were trying emphasize in the standard, but the skeptical side of me doubts it. Especially knowing that amendments were made to remove some important people because someone “didn’t know who they were.” I just know that I won’t be moving to Texas anytime soon…or, ever really.

  4. Ciderkiss says:

    To me rewriting history is a sign of desperation. They can feel their power slipping away.

  5. Teacher from AZ here. Not only are they attacking ethic studies, but they are attacking public education in general. They are giving a dollar for dollar tax credit for private school tuition while cutting funds from public education. It really is an attack on minorities, and it’s very disturbing. Not to mention, the law they passed recently to take away any protections teachers had for time of service, and to allow districts to cut our pay at any time for any reason. This is all especially disturbing because 45% of our public school students are latinos. As a social studies teacher, I will always emphasize minority and women’s history. I will not be silenced!

  6. Sky Captain says:

    Has anybody considered taking their kids out of school and buying this book:
    The Teenage Liberation Handbook

  7. There are quite a few problems with the arguments used in this article.

    We must ask ourselves a few simple questions when assessing the comparable magnitude of the above "news items." Why is this a problem? Who does it offend? Who does it harm?

    These answers, obviously, are subjective and extensive. Let us look at the math teacher incident as an example

    The math teacher reacted to a student's comment in order to portray a mathematical term in a real-word scenario. Granted, the example happened to be of incredibly poor taste, but only when brought out of the context of his classroom. OBVIOUSLY the teacher has no intentions of assassinating the president. In fact, he never would have used the example if not prompted by a STUDENT beforehand! The teacher has been described as highly dedicated, competent, and caring. He has fallen victim to the media's exponential misrepresentation of trivial affairs.

    Do opponents of "rewriting history" actually believe that fully educated, majority-elected lawmakers desire to sap the educational history from Texas' students??? Other motivation for the law must have existed. Perhaps the lawmakers believe that in lessening the focus on the civil rights movement, Black people will become less oppressed in today's society. Maybe the effect of learning civil rights in school motivates certain White children to become subconsciously racist. Who knows?

    Furthermore, referring to the white population as "they" and talking about "our [black]" grievances only compounds the problem at hand. "Eliminating" the focus on civil rights education might help integrate Blacks into our society more effectively! A societal proclamation of "we" should refer to SOCIETY, not an individual ethnic group.

    My message: learn to see the good in whatever possible. This is not to say that voicing public opinion should be lessened. It fact, it should be advocated. I only ask for people to see events like those above through their own eyes, and to draw from them their own conclusions.

    Maybe if we focused less on incriminating hard-working young teachers and more on stopping gang-violence and drug trafficking in underprivileged Black communities, this world would be a better place.

    • Conscious Advocate247 says:

      Imagine…imagine if “Blacks” who were against slavery were told by those “comfortable” as slaves were told “why do you have to see being a slave as a “bad thing?”

      Imagine…that Blacks were opressing themselves, and preventing themselves from being educated? Imagine that African slaves came here and enslaved themselves?

      Imagine…the family members of the men and women who were lynched post slavery were told…”you shouldn’t have tried to own a business, or be a positive representative of the black race!?”

      The fact is that Texas wants to change the past because in the PAST that history was a proud display of something they wish still existed. That history lesson was used to make black children feel “less” and powerless. Now the children see Oprah, Obama, and other positive blacks and question the savagery of their ancestors actions! They are ashamed!

      They want to make it look like it was just business, because they don’t look superior, they look “sick, monstrous, and savage!”

      The discussion should be about “how the achievement gap” is being created purposely. How all white suburban schools TODAY… filter ethnics into the classroom of the “lazy” teacher, and how as soon as middle school they start shaving grades, to give the illusion that white children are smarter. If parents knew the lifetime effects their children are experiencing…I wonder would living THERE be worth it?

      Having someone question why “we” refer to ourselves as “we, and them” when referring to non whites…is wild. Blacks just wanted a safe and equal environment. THEY drew the colorline in the sand, abused our families, and continue to work against us. THEY chose to flee the local schools/neighborhoods when blacks moved in.


      Blacks remained slaves for many reasons, and one being other blacks who “didn’t understand there was a better life out there, and smiling whites who said it could be worse, atleast you have a roof over your head…etc.”

      Racism is resurfacing in education because an educated man and woman of color run this country, and had he not been educated…he wouldn’t have had a chance in hell!

      I agree racist whites fear educated blacks…they love the ignorant negros because NO ONE IS LISTENING TO THEM! We need to discuss what is happening to our children in these schools!

    • Do you not even realize how your ignore the obvious and focus on gang violence and drug trafficking in black communities just proves her point? I’m all for seeing the positive, but not ignoring the obvious

  8. I don't see how talking about a hypothetical assassination is racist. It happens to be that the man is not white, but does that mean the teacher was racist? :S Getting kids to dress up as KKK sounds a bit odd but if it was for the purpose of education, I don't think there's anything wrong with telling kids who the KKK were. But then this white-washing of history sounds very suspect. I have heard recently American politicians claim that the founding fathers weren't racist! America needs to own up to the fact that their country was founded on slavery and racism.

    • I do think it was racist. Turn the races around: what if, during the 40s or 50s (also in Alabama), a Black math teacher had used J. Edgar Hoover or George Wallace as an example of an assassination victim in his geometry explanation? What conclusion do you expect the community (the White community) would have reached re: the "intention" of that paradigm??? Remember — this geometry class was in….Alabama, not Connecticut (not that there aren't plenty of horrendous racists in Connecticut, but I believe you can catch my drift here).
      And the KKK — oh, for pete's sake. No one should be allowed to dress up like the KKK in public and I can just bet that wasn't for "education" purposes. Do you think kids ought to be allowed to dress up like SS officers? I can think of quite a few better and far less abrasive ways to "educate" students about the evils of the KKK and/or the SS.
      As far as the Texas school-book alterations (tampering? obliterating? obfuscating?) is concerned, that is downright pernicious. Fools!! It may indeed be fear-motivated, as another comment put forth. I can only hope their fears will be realized, soon.

  9. Heather says:

    I love this article, in many ways I can not relate to what it is like to have to deal with racism. I am a white woman, and this provides me with a hugely different life experience…but I do see how some of my friends are treated. How even members of my own family say that "black people" need to "get over it" as if their history is just that of complaining, as if the inequality is somehow the black persons fault. This article has made me reconsider what I see and that many many times the truth is often forced into darkness by ignorance and pride. Americas mistakes should be admitted, for all the people who suffered and still do.


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