In education circles, the current catchphrase is “anti-racism.” It replaces the idea that the best way to eliminate racism was to be deliberately “colorblind.” For decades, public schools saw themselves as fighting racism by being colorblind.
Non-Racist or Anti-Racist?
The handbook of the new movement is How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. He frames the debate in terms of being “anti-racist” rather than colorblind. He believes that there is no neutral ground in this struggle, saying that “One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist or locates the roots of the problem in power and policies, as an antiracist.”
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Mr. Kendi’s confusing explanation locates the problem away from individuals and groups and focuses on power and politics, which gives rise to “systemic” or “structural” racism. His analysis invalidates the efforts of the schools over the years.
Racism and American Education
For at least fifty years, public, private, and parochial schools have all fought racism. Education professors and administrators emphasized the need to be colorblind. The idea was to act as if race did not exist. Allowing all students to excel was the mandate of the day. Educators hoped that equal treatment would erase the “achievement gaps” between racial and ethnic groups.
This approach didn’t work as the gaps still exist. The social justice warriors merely changed the narrative by finding schools to be “structurally racist.” If all students are equal in ability and intelligence, racism must be the cause of the differences.
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At the same time, the schools cannot defend themselves with “politically incorrect” arguments that oppose this narrative. They cannot point to families without fathers in the home. They cannot decry the influence of gang-culture. Parental drug or alcohol use must go unmentioned. These arguments are considered racist and, therefore, are forbidden.
Thus, the schools must defend themselves inside the “structural racism” narrative and devise plans to root it out. The difficulty of such a defense is the subject of a recent article in the industry publication Education Week, “Training Bias Out of Teachers: Research Shows Little Promise So Far.” For all of their progressive motivations, Education Week misanalyses the problem.
Structural Racism is a Fatally Flawed Theory
One factor is that Prof. Kendi and his antiracist colleagues placed “the cart before the horse” when they did their research. They began with their conclusion and looked for evidence to back it up. Data that point in other directions were ignored. Their approach might serve an ideology, but it cannot solve the problem.
The Education Week article reflects these flaws. One data point looks at schools in Des Moines, Iowa. “More than 6 in 10 students in the Des Moines district are students of color, while more than 9 in 10 school employees are white, and both students and staff of color reported a lack of diversity in staffing and curriculum, as well as inequitable school policies and practices. Data backed them up; for example, Black and Hispanic graduation rates in Des Moines still trail those of white and Asian students.”
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That perfunctory glance may be tantalizing for the antiracists, but it raises more questions than it settles. What “policies and practices” are inequitable? Why are Asian students lumped in with whites? If there is racism against Black and Hispanic students, why doesn’t the same discrimination hinder Asians? By analyzing only evidence that backs up the prejudice, the antiracists cut themselves off from real solutions.
Another problem is that “antiracist” training antagonizes the teachers being trained. Indeed, the nature of the teaching profession filters out racist teachers. Most teachers enter the profession out of a desire to “make the world a better place.” Many students are already hyper-sensitive to racism and will quickly report on a teacher who displays it. Overt racism is one of the few factors that can lead to the termination of a tenured teacher. Thus, teachers are among the most consciously nonracist people in the nation. They are highly likely to be offended when accused of possessing traits they have fought against their entire professional lives.
Demonstrably False Premises
Even with the above hurdles to a successful antiracism program, the most significant barrier is that Prof. Kendi’s false premise that racism is not the result of individual actions but power structures and political systems that cause negative behavior. The author takes Marxist class struggle theory and creates his own race-based oppressed and oppressor classes in conflict. Hence the term “systemic racism.”
This argument ignores several fundamental truths.
Systems do not create themselves. They are reflections of the people that make them. The core of the antiracist argument argues the opposite idea; that the system creates racists. This formulation denies the concept of free will, which lies at the heart of the Christian and Western philosophical, legal, and social systems.
Another problem is that focusing on a selected set of negative consequences makes problems worse. Consider the lamentably common assertion that the “war on drugs” is racist. The basis for this argument is that more African-American men are incarcerated for drug crimes than white men.
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The war on drugs was designed to decrease drug use’s ill effects on society, especially in ethnically diverse and impoverished urban neighborhoods. The policymakers wanted to get more children through school and on to productive careers, rather than sinking into the morass of drug abuse. The antiracist’s hand-picked statistics will never point to the child who was not killed by a drug dealer. They do not show a violent situation that never happened. Rather, in the pretended name of racial justice, those programs will be abandoned; the problems will grow more desperate.
Indeed, informed as it is by the love of God and neighbor, the Catholic sense is the easiest, quickest, and surest path to just and harmonious relationships among humanity’s various races and ethnicities. Marxist egalitarianism is as removed from Catholic sense as hell is from Heaven, for it is fueled by hate, not love.
In short, children will learn less, not more. The achievement gaps will widen. Ibram X. Kendi’s ideas may sell many books, but they will not make schools more effective.
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