In Grades K-12, Race and Racism Are Not Discussed In Any Meaningful Way
Race and racism were never discussed in any meaningful way in any class or even a single lecture that I had in my entire K-12 years. I went to public schools, but exceptional ones—selective magnet ones, with gifted/honors/IB/AP courses—so theoretical school “quality” was not the issue. Not until college was it even discussed in a critical way, and even then it had limitations. I attended PWIs where the “hurt” feelings of Whites is of greater concern to professors than how microaggressions, overt racism, and structural/institutional/systemic racism impacts Black and other students of colour. Here is this major thing—race—that is never a question of “if” race is factor but “how” is race a factor and it is practically nonexistent in classrooms or appears in highly abusive ways. My schools were no anomalies. This is fairly standard. (See this, this, this, this and this.)
Even in high school when books such as Things Fall Apart, Beloved and Their Eyes Were Watching God were assigned reading and we engaged in college-level literary critique in high school, that critique remained literary. The manifestations of racism (as well as other isms) in the lives of the characters was examined as some sort of anomaly occurring in complicated albeit fictitious literary worlds. The juxtapositions between those characters’ lives and the lives of Black students as we lived them were never topics of examination. Whether assignments were something as stupid as worksheets/end of chapter questions that focused on details or something as complex as the aforementioned literary analysis, everything but truly examining racism occurred.
Then of course there is the real theatre—the games. The absence of nuanced Black history in classrooms. The ideas perpetuated in classrooms, that Black people did not exist, then popped up as slaves, then Lincoln, then MLK, then today, as some sort of quick linear nonsense where Black people are objects not subjects in our own experiences. The ridiculous Black History month activities of picking 5-10 Black sociopolitical icons who have already been turned into one-dimensional caricatures and focus on how benevolent Whites made their existence “worthy” and write repetitive superficial reports on them. The typical labeling of racism (and other isms) as “bullying” versus what it actually is.
But then I remember the truth. While theoretically education is supposed to be a tool to liberate, education as an institution does not serve that purpose. Its purpose is to convince, control, indoctrinate and create compliant future workers to support capitalist hierarchies where most will remain at the bottom. It exists to reinforce the status quo. It exists as a drop off spot for kids in the post-Child Labor Laws era, so that older people can fulfill their roles in the capitalist hierarchy. Why on earth would it be a place where meaningful discussion would occur on race and racism? A truly educated populous—not via the banking method but education as the practice of freedom, as Paulo Freire referred to—would completely revolt against existing kyriarchy. Why on earth would those invested in kyriarchy want this to occur on a mass scale? Once I remember the aforementioned, the disaster that is education makes more “sense” so to speak, though it is truly a disgusting “sense.”
There are people who want “nigger” removed from books written during the error of slavery as if this erases slavery. There are people who do not want slavery taught at all, as if the manifestations of slavery, such as racism, Black body dehumanization and capitalism itself do not exist today because of what occurred then. They want novels that mention racism removed from the curriculum as it “scares” White children and makes Whites “look bad.”
Ultimately, they want the conversation on race and racism to be nonexistent prior to age 18…for White students. (Beverly Daniels Tatum wrote a great book on why this is a mistake.) Black students and other ones of colour do not have said luxury. Since we experience the manifestations of racism from birth and begin to deal with it in classrooms at an early age, we cannot ignore it to make Whites who perpetuate it (or even do not perpetuate it individually, but do not have to in order to have White privilege and benefit from racism/White supremacy) no less, more comfortable. Black children are expected to place White comfort at the center of their entire frame of thought and to not do so while also rejecting “responsibility” for all of the ways that we are affected by racism as students, is called “making excuses.”
The myth that younger people are automatically less racist is just that—a myth. Racism prevails on campuses and not just among administration and teachers, but also students. The nasty reaction by non-Black youth to “Rue” in the film The Hunger Games is just a microcosm of how racism is proliferated by youth. The Abigail Fisher and Suzy Weiss type of youth who think they are “owed” a slot in a school for being White reveals racist sentiments among the young.
The delusion that racism does not exist—and if it does, Black people are to ignore it and accept responsibility for any problem that exists because of it, while never mentioning the existence of racism in the first place, as Whites benefit from racism and pretend that it is solely their “hard work” that affords them the perks that they cannot even recognize because of White privilege—remains a dangerous one. Only a genuine approach to education—and apparently outside of the institution that is education—will begin to change this.