Systemic racism: should America’s public schools be including this as part of their standard curricula?
Just before leaving office last November 2020, Donald Trump issued an executive order restricting federal institutions from developing any curriculum dealing with systemic racism, white privilege and other race and gender bias issues.
Then, on January 20, Joe Biden, rescinded that order.
Supporting Biden’s decision was Rocio Inclan, of the National Education Association’s Center for Social Justice. “Public schools power our communities, but their strength depends on us to address the systemic inequities that our students and communities face,” Inclan said.
He went on to say that institutional and structural racism are barriers to achieving (the NEA’s) vision . . . that advances inclusion, equity and racial and social justice in our schools.”
Republicans, of course, disagree. Tim Scott (R-SC), though himself Black, in his recent response to Biden’s speech to Congress, categorically stated that America “is not a racist country.” Thus, “Systemic Racism” taught in the public school curriculum is for him and his party a resounding no-no.
And believe it or not, I agree.
“Teaching” systemic racism smells of propaganda. And a curriculum that so blatantly designates racism – systemic or otherwise – as a specifically American problem would further heighten the view that American educators are all liberals bent on indoctrinating students in progressive thinking.
But with my agreement I would suggest an alternative approach, an approach that would involve not “teaching” systemic racism but simply providing a more granular history of the United States . . . and not skipping over the multitude of uncomfortable facts concerning this country’s treatment of Blacks and others of color.
Among these facts:
• that as a country invaded and ruled by white people, America has existed more than twice as many years with slavery (341) than without (154);
• that from 1526 to 1867, 12.5 million slaves were shipped from Africa, and 10.7 million arrived in the Americas. The Atlantic Slave Trade has been called “the most costly in human life of all long-distance global migrations”;
• that twelve U.S. presidents were owners of slaves (among them the author of the Declaration of Independence – who bred several himself – and even Ulysses S. Grant);
• that at least 655,000 American lives were lost in the Civil War, the result of some southern states’ addiction to and defense of slavery;
• that the Reconstruction period after the Civil War saw the implementation of segregation and the suffocating preservation of white political and cultural domination;
• that from 1882 to 1968, 3,500 Black people in the United States were lynched;
• that Jim Crow laws serving to enforce racial segregation and disenfranchise Blacks were enacted by the southern states in the late 19th century and were broadly enforced until 1965;
• that these laws resulted in the segregation of public schools, a trend continuing to be reinforced by the persistence of residential segregation and the primary financing of schools by local taxation;
• that in 2018, 34% of those incarcerated in the United States were Black men, 29% white men (the U.S. overall having the largest prison population in the world, and the highest per-capita rate of incarceration (698 per 100,000 individuals);
• that the “War on Drugs” and its continuing application disproportionately targets and criminalizes Black populations, Blacks are far more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than non-minorities, and receiving much stiffer penalties and sentences;
• that the “collateral consequences” of drug offenses include loss of professional license, loss of ability to purchase a firearm, loss of eligibility for food stamps, loss of eligibility for federal student aid, loss of eligibility to live in public housing, loss of ability to vote, and deportation;
• that the rate of fatal police shootings of unarmed Black people in the U.S. is more than three times more frequent than among white people (according to research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health);
• that a major American political party is currently attempting, with a spate of new laws in more than 40 states, to limit voting by Blacks and others of color.
So, here’s your final exam question for my proposed American History course . . .
“Given America’s deep racist history, the rise of Black Lives Matter, and the current demands for equal justice, discuss: In the year 2021 this country is, or is not, free of ‘Systemic Racism.’”