Racism is a developed set of attitudes that include antagonism based on the supposed superiority of one group or on the supposed inferiority of another group, premised solely on skin color or race. Some authors suggest that racism and White racism may be synonymous. Defining bigotry as a primarily White problem does disservice in two ways. It ignores the fact that racist attitudes can breed in any ethnic group and it undermines the expressed goals of this decade’s most promising solution – multicultural education. Celebration of diversity is a better foundation for racial harmony than is class guilt, says Charles Glenn.

Reprinted from: Beswick, Richard “Racism in America’s Schools,” ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management (ERIC Digest Series, Number EA49, 1990).

How do Racial Attitudes Form?

Kenneth Clarke details the developmental phases of racial attitudes in children. By age two, a child notices color differences. In the next two to four years, the child begins to identify with his or her own racial group. At that point she forms preference patterns on the basis of the prevailing attitude within the group and not by contact with a racially different group.

Parents are the earliest and most powerful source of racial attitudes (positive or negative), while peers run a close second. By the early grades, every child carries at least some stereotyping.

Institutional and cultural prejudices are more subtle because they are embedded in unexamined assumptions and established procedures. The roots of these are multigenerational and can persist even after years of legislative remedies.

A quarter century of desegregation has not yet solved the self-depreciation, low levels of educational performance or overall quality of life for people of color. Racism in any measure undermines children’s self-esteem and erodes the educational process.

Reprinted from: Beswick, Richard “Racism in America’s Schools,” ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management (ERIC Digest Series, Number EA49, 1990).

How Extensive is Racism in Public Schools?

In the progressively liberal, mostly White community of Eugene, Oregon, a study found that racism exists and may be on the increase. The report stressed the frequency of racial jokes and slurs, derogatory racial stereotyping and (less often) violent acts left unpunished by school authorities.

Augustine Garcia notes that our inner cities and areas of high density immigration (California, Florida) are experiencing the intimidation and irrational violence of Neo-Nazi skinheads and racial gangs. Children from dysfunctional families are particularly susceptible to peer pressure to adopt a racist posture.

It is not just the condescension and violence exhibited toward minorities that must be taken into account when looking at incidents of racism. Restrictions on minorities’ opportunity to succeed are often racially determined. For example, Asian-Americans incur resentment for academic excellence and “overachieving.” If racism is explicit at the street level of society, it is often implicit and equally entrenched at the highest levels.

Reprinted from: Beswick, Richard “Racism in America’s Schools,” ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management (ERIC Digest Series, Number EA49, 1990).

Examples of Aversive Racism in Public Schools

…A school system decides to create specific campuses for limited-English-proficient(LEP) students arguing that this is in the best interest of the students whose English language skills are so limited and they will be better served in an educational environment that they can relate to. Such students will be around other students who understand them, teachers who can communicate with them and support-people who know them. School officials say that this environment will nurture LEP students in a way that does not occur on their existing campuses where staff members lack the skills necessary to respond appropriately to their educational characteristics.

…A cluster of school systems have reached a settlement with the court to desegregate through an open enrollment system. The districts have agreed to allow African American students from the local urban area a choice to attend any of the schools in the county. In doing so, those predominantly White schools would be desegregated to some degree. The urban school district would also accept White students in a reciprocal manner. The receiving schools have made absolutely no attempt to prepare the gaining staffs or students for the possibility of receiving minority students. The curriculum, school culture, staff members and virtually all support personnel do not reflect the racial/ethnic diversity of the county (including the urban district which is predominantly minority). When asked by the state to explain why no changes were made to accommodate the presence of African American students, the districts took the position that they did not need to change. They stated that the very fact that African American students would be in a more enriched environment, around existing students and staffs, would be all they needed to improve their academic outcomes.

…A school district is using the magnet school concept to desegregate its schools. The district has placed a number of magnet schools on predominantly minority campuses. The magnets are established on a school-within-a-school concept, where the magnet is virtually separated physically, academically and socially from the remainder of the school. White parents have taken advantage of fairly excellent magnet programs by sending their children to the predominantly minority schools where the magnets are located. Minority parents have begun to raise objections to the set up because their children are receiving little or no benefits from the magnets being on their campuses. White parents agree and take the position that the magnets should be opened up to include more minorities provided the standards do not drop and the minority candidates meet all of the qualifications.

– from the files of IDRA’s Desegregation Assistance Center – South Central Collaborative

How is Racial Prejudice Reversed?

In addition to deeper curricular remedies, it is important to declare a public repugnance for racism. One such declaration, the Racism Free Zone, has been effective in Lane County, Oregon, schools. Developed by Clergy and Laity Concerned and modified from the Nuclear Free Zone concept, this program begins with a formal day of celebration. A plaque is prominently displayed that reads in part: “We will not make statements or symbols indicating racial prejudice. Freedom of speech does not extend to hurting others. Racism will not be tolerated and action will be taken to ensure this.” White students acquire a feeling of ownership for this zone of protection, and minority students report a feeling of security and pride.

Far more ambitious is Project Reach, developed by the Arlington, Washington, School District. This four-phased experience takes mostly White communities through human relations skills, cultural self-awareness, multicultural training and cross-cultural encounters. Students research their own heritage to learn the fundamentals of culture; study other cultures through specially prepared booklets on Black, Asian, Mexican and Native American heritages; and participate in field trips. Because Project Reach was developed for mostly White communities, it has received some national criticism for being too removed from practical racial cooperation. But given the demographic realities, communities must begin someplace.

Teachers can build tolerance in early childhood, says Barbara James Thompson, by “role-playing a bus boycott, choosing the unknown contents of a beautiful box and a dirty box, and by encountering discriminatory signs in classroom activity.” Such object lessons point out the hidden values in the child’s assumptions and provide role-models worth emulating.

Resources for teaching about racism are listed by Samuel Totten. These materials teach about the “destructive effects of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination.”

Reprinted from: Beswick, Richard. “Racism in America’s Schools,” ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management (ERIC Digest Series, Number EA49, 1990).

How Can Schools Preserve Ethnic Identity in the Context of Racial Integration?

It is unnecessary to force a choice between integration of schools and the preservation of ethnic identity. In the Rafael Hernandez School in Boston, students work on shared learning tasks in the target language (English) without a double standard of performance expectations, says Charles Glenn. Hispanics, Blacks and Whites also work on Spanish and receive a positive message of its cultural value through drama and creative writing.

Of comparable importance are the programs, such as those offered by magnet schools, that encourage minorities to choose fields of math, science and computer technology. The EQUALS program designs materials that help parents as well as teachers provide the motivation for minorities to excel in these areas.

Glenn believes that a misunderstanding about the meaning of ethnicity and culture accounts for the reluctance of some educators to risk tampering with ethnic heritage. Ethnicity has to do with generational heritage and history. Culture, on the other hand, is the ideas, customs and art of a people’s living present. Culture is not static but rather a dynamic context for social life that all people have a right to shape. Multicultural education must distinguish between culture and ethnicity if it is to preserve minorities’ ethnic identities while freeing them to participate fully in shaping the culture of society.

When these two concepts – ethnicity and culture – are made indistinct, schools can become encumbered with new stereotypes. Cultural relativity is the logical outcome. In this view, equal value is posited for all cultural and religious expressions. In contrast, good education allows students to pursue objective criteria for determining what is good or bad, valuable or useless in any particular culture. Racism may affect the way one regards another’s cultural or religious preference is racist.

Educators have gained many insights into the nature of racism. Multicultural education provides some excellent measures to root out prejudice and to foster appreciation for racial and ethnic differences.

Reprinted from: Beswick, Richard. “Racism in America’s Schools,” ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management (ERIC Digest Series, Number EA49, 1990).

How Can Administrators Prevent Racism?

Educators can employ several strategic, motivational, and confrontational means to change racist behavior. The following list incorporates some steps that have been proved effective.

1. Articulate a clear statement of expectations regarding racism.

2. Establish and enforce a series of consequences for violations of those expectations.

3. Respond to racial incidents quickly and fairly by gathering adequate evidence. Correction should be remedial.

4. Discourage students form congregating on the school grounds according to race.

5. Design seating assignments with a priority on integration.

6. Rely on peer counseling whenever possible.

7. Seek advice and support from parent and student advisory boards.

8. Enlist the help and advice of key minority leaders in the community for teacher workshops, assemblies and arbitration of racial incidents when appropriate.

9. Reward those who strive to reduce racism in their schools and classrooms.

10. Hire and assign an appropriate balance of minority faculty and staff to act as role-models and provide an adequate base of authority for policies and discipline.

Reprinted from: Beswick, Richard. “Racism in America’s Schools,” ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management (ERIC Digest Series, Number EA49, 1990).