Workshop: America’s Education Inequality

America’s Education Inequality-Addiction was presented by Don Samuels at the Do Justice conference on November 8.

Development of Bias Mentality of African Americans

The biases and myths about African Americans started with the need to morally and spiritually justify injustices and prejudices that accrued to the benefit of the white leadership class and later whites as a whole. Throughout slavery and even after the freedom of slaves in 1865, one way to continue to control African American communities was to prohibit them from participating in educational programs. The myth of intellectual inferiority was the rationale.  Categorically, the inhumane and dehumanizing treatment of  blacks, the relegation to lesser chores , inferior food, clothing, shelter, were justified because they were not fully human. They are morally inferior trouble makers, criminals, dirty, sexually perverse or incompetent to meet work, social and economic demands.

For White people, it was ascertained that they were cleaner, smarter, better and fully human. Thus it was justified to separate the two, with inferior resources to the one and superior to the other. White communities and the majority of African Americans carried those attitudes and passed them on in their homes and families; leading to entrenched, spiritually accommodated, culturally normed, traditions of discrimination against African Americans. It became logical to conclude also, that children of mysteriously mixed race or other races, were, on a sliding scale of beauty, potential and humanity, to the degree that they resembled one race or the other.

“We live with these biases to this day. When black and brown children try hard to do something different with their lives, they are still challenged by these biases and may regress to low social expectations,” said Don Samuels. “These same racial biases still go on today in different forms of inequities.”

“This lie has been going on for so long, it is this bias that lives amongst us that I’m better than you because I’m white; bias is the cause of this inequality,” said an educator, who attended the workshop.


Withheld from Education

Inequality among the African Americans was imposed upon them. As slaves, Black people were not allowed to read a book, and were not permitted to receive an education. And later, during the Civil Rights era, just by attempting to go to school, some black students would get stoned, beaten or executed.

“It wasn’t that Black people did not want to learn, the opportunities were removed, and the repercussions could be deadly,” said Samuels.

Ruby Bridges was the first African American child to attend an all-white public elementary school in the American south. An angry white mob stood outside the school yelling racial slurs, while she walked through the doors of an all-white public school with the protection of U.S. Marshalls. This brought into public view, the level of entrenchment, intensity and degradation that these values had reached in American society.


Other Exclusionary Measures:

Cost of Education – Southern whites created special Academies and fled integrated schools in droves. Northern whites created white neighborhoods and fled from integrating neighborhoods, with the racial integration of childhood and schools being among their biggest taboos. The cost of education in private schools, north and south, became prohibitive factors against equal participation and tools of separation.

Fear – White Americans were often afraid that if black people became educated and successful, they would develop inappropriate levels of self-esteem and unrealistic expectations that would upset the social order and even lead to retaliation.

Restrictions on housing followed by race and class flight – Minnesota has seen its share of white flight. Up until the 60s, Black people and Jews could not live in certain areas. Many churches didn’t want Black people to attend. But perhaps the greatest tragedy is the ongoing segregation of schools especially because Minority middle class flight has exacerbated the balkanizing impact of White flight and made many public schools, schools for the poor and people of color. The inferior outcomes, then feed into age-old stereotypes of academic and behavioral inferiority.

Different Behavioral Standards – But even in schools, integrated by busing, unequal expectations and treatment persist. This shows up in vast gaps in test scores within the same school and vast gaps in discipline, suspensions and expulsions.

What can be done to bridge the gap?

We can help by getting rid of those biased mentalities, and not judging intelligence by skin color, but by ability. This is not something we can do by ourselves. Measures and techniques must be deliberate and institutionalized.

We must work to ensure that African American children can pursue education in safe, bias-free environments.

We must stand for justice for African Americans, believing that they too can be successful. In other words, we must remember that we told black children, for 400 years, that they were intellectually inferior. We were so good at it that we all believe it to some degree. We must repair the self-concept of African American children as deliberately as adults must work to rid ourselves of bias. It is important that we dismantle false self-esteems of inferiority and superiority etched deeply in our culture, history and behaviors. We must begin to see each other as God sees us.

As one educator who attended the workshop said, “God wants us all to be free, healthy and equal in Him. Christ died for all people and not just one color or ethnic group, and that all people have the ability to achieve in education and society. Once we all come to that truth, we can together build respect and tear down the walls of evil.”