Racism Wastes Much Knowledge: Risking Societal Progress or Survival?

Boston.com summarizes an encouraging research report on the fact that more students of color

are enrolling in US medical schools, according a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges, a nonprofit that represents all 150 accredited medical schools in the United States and Canada. Native Americans had the largest enrollment growth, at 24.8 percent, followed by a 9 percent increase for Hispanics; 2.9 percent for African-Americans; and 2.4 percent for Asians. The growth is in part due to a push by schools to attract more underrepresented minorities — African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, and mainland Puerto Ricans — to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population.

Joyce Sackey, dean for multicultural affairs at Tufts medical school attributes the increase at Tufts of underrepresented minorities to growth there in scholarships available to economically disadvantaged students, many of whom are students of color. And Boston University School of Medicine’s associate dean, Jonathan Woodson, underscores as well the an early acceptance medical program there.As Boston.com summarizes this:

The [Boston University] program provides a more gradual transition into the curriculum through provisional acceptance into medical school at the completion of two years of undergraduate study.

In a country as large as the United States there are a great many students from economically and racially subordinated communities who would do well in our colleges and universities, including our medical schools. It is sad that so many talented young people of color are not allowed the privileges and access to educational resources of well-off whites. We all pay the price for that systemic racism. I make this knowledge expansion argument at the end of a recent book, The White Racial Frame:

A century ago, sociologist and civil rights leader, W. E. B. Du Bois, made strong arguments for the general societal benefits of ending systemic racism and building a real democracy for the United States. In his view when we exclude and marginalize many people, as is routinized in systemic racism, we leave out “vast stores” of human wisdom. When Americans of color are oppressed or marginalized in the country’s major institutions not only do they suffer personally and in their families and communities, but also numerous white-controlled institutions suffer significantly–and some may eventually deteriorate and decline as a result. Excluding or marginalizing a great many people of color has meant excluding much human knowledge, creativity, and understanding that they hold in their heads and in collectively preserved memories. A society that ignores such a great store of knowledge and ability irresponsibly risks its future.

Ending racial discrimination involves the kind of moral thinking and action that is in the long run good for this society’s health because that frees up the knowledge and energy of millions who have long faced substantial racial barriers to knowledge-generation, achievement, and prosperity. All Americans will benefit from the inclusion of new knowledges in the public and private spheres. Only by bringing in the perspectives and experiences of formerly excluded Americans can the U.S. government and the larger society expect to meet the hard challenges of a clearly difficult national and global future.

What do you think?


  1. parvenu

    Joe, Thanks for the excellent diary. It is obvious to all observers that the national institutionalism of American racism is massively, massively wasteful both in capital and scientific advancement. However, in any discussion such as this, the ultimate purpose of the conversation must be defined. Is the discussion essentially an enlightening intellectual exercise, or is the discussion a clarion call to action with all who participate committed to positive action?
    The answer to this very important question will unconditionally shape the scope of the discussion.

    American racism is perpetuated by two markedly different channels, both of them exercised by white people. The first is racism inherent in accidental social encounters between black and white individuals who happen to meet in the course of their daily activities. The manifestation of racism on this plane is largely fueled by emotional responses created by the certain negative aspects of the encounter. These responses can range from hostile glaring looks up to the point of actual violent assault. If we are addressing the encounter form of racism, then our discussion would naturally proceed along the line of thought dedicated to improving race relations in American society. This involves racial healing, and creating an atmosphere where people of different races can come together and celebrate their differences without feeling uncomfortable or challenged.

    However, there is another less discussed aspect of American racism which the driven by the neo-slavery proponents in modern America. This sector is made up of a coalition of profit driven enterprises whose mindset remains fixed upon the idea that it is a white man’s right to reap solid profits from the collective labor of American Negroes. This coalition feels that strict control over the American Negro population is necessary in order to preserve the ease of exploitation and unconditional access to the labor potential of America’s large Negro population. Continuing the guidelines established when slavery was institutionalized in America, these powerful white American interests actively suppress every phase of self improvement among American Negroes, including education. This coalition is well aware of the inventive accomplishments of African Americans over the life of this young nation. They know full well that Eli Whitney did not invent the cotton gin, but his slave was the actual inventor. In Whitney’s time since the slave was the property of his/her owner, everything that belong to the slave legally was the property of the slave owner.

    Unfortunately, the super rich American oligarchy has no interest in nurturing the educational possibilities of young African Americans. Their goal is genocide by benign neglect of all African Americans who fail to assimilate into the white race by becoming pigment neutral enough to pass as a white person. The members of this super rich white American oligarchy have demonstrated their power recently via their generous financing of the “Tea Party” victories in the 112th Congress. This victory will only embolden this group in the coming years as they strive for a pure white America of European descendents. The current hold over the American mainstream media by this racialistic oligarchy guarantees that without some form of major intervention they will ultimately maintain a stranglehold on the government, simply because he who controls the communication channels controls the people.

    So you can see that depending on the type of discussion we have concerning how “racism wastes knowledge”, it can be either mildly entertaining or wildly frustrating.

    • Joe

      parvenu, thanks for the savvy comments. I agree there are two parts to all this, one the interpersonal, the other broad systemic and institutionalized dimensions of racial oppression. Racial oppression is designed to steal labor, and thus much knowledge, and/or to destroy resistance labor and resistance knowledge. And you have nailed how the country is organized, and ruled at the top by an oligarchy, mostly a white male oligarchy now for nearly four hundred years. We have never been a democracy, or even close to that.

    • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

      They know full well that Eli Whitney did not invent the cotton gin, but his slave was the actual inventor.

      I think this suspicion runs throughout the black community. I was never aware of any proof; but, once I came to learn that most inventions are a matter of familiarity and necessity . . .

      So I ask sincerely – how did you come to learn that Whitney’s slave, not Whitney, invented the cotton gin? Really.

  2. island girl in a land without sea


    i appreciate your comments; at the same time, i’m troubled by the ways in which you frame them. you seem to operationalize US racism in terms of black/white binary, speaking of racism in terms of social interactions between black and white individuals and framing a historical analysis that begins with the slavery in the US. this seems to be one way that white racism in the US is often framed: solely in terms of black and white. the history of racism in the US predates the arrival of african slaves to the US south and includes systemic oppression of indigenous people, asians, and latin@s.

    in my experience of the world, setting the parameters of the discussion in the ways you describe creates little space for the experiences of people like me. more importantly — and taking white people out of the picture for a moment — its consequence is a division among different kinds of POC in the US, so much so that we cannot seem to get it together to form a multiracisl, multiethnic coalition, to marshall our numbers and energies to make this a truly representative democracy.

    you seemed concerned about how the discussion might unfold, so i thought i’d give my two cents.

  3. Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

    I’m not parvenu, but I hope you don’t mind if I respond to your thoughts. When I fall into the “binary trap,” sometimes I explain that because I’m black, it’s that experience that’s most immediate and accessible to me. I offer the disclaimer that other ethnic groups of color experience racism; I’m just not as learned about their experiences.

    That said, from what I can see – and again, it’s the black experience I’m most knowledgeable about – but from what I can see, race does seem to operate in black/white binary terms. But not as though only black people experience racism. It’s more like the way you’re treated depends upon where you fall on a line from white to black. Like, decimals points between 0 and 1 I guess. The closer you are to black, the more racism you’ll experience; the closer you are to white, the less racism you’ll experience. Even in terms of class, poverty is equated with blackness such that poor whites experience “classism” while rich blacks experience racism. Though not to equal extents.

    With the exception of First Nation peoples, I’m not sure another ethnic group experiences racism to the same extent that blacks do. The one advantage we have is that absent an accent, we’re assumed to be US citizens. And if we remove the comparisons of oppression, one way to understand the “binary” that parvenu presents is that there’re “white” on one hand and “nonwhite,” including but not limited to blacks and Asians, on the other.

    Don’t misunderstand, I do agree that an accurate accounting of US racial history would include the abhorrent treatment of Chinese railroad workers and the expulsion of First Nations from their own land. But it’s not my experience that – and take white people out the picture – blacks’ operating in this binary is the cause of division among different POC. First off, there is no division between any POC that would equal the division between whites and POC. Most of the supposed division if ginned up by media. Where there is division, this binary isn’t the reason.

    And as for a multiracial coalition, I’m not sure that’s necessary. I don’t think LULAC and the NAACP have to merge in order to achieve true democracy. So long as the NAACP doesn’t claim to deserve “equal treatment” on the basis of blacks’ citizenship status and AACRE doesn’t claim to deserve “equal treatment” on, say, the basis of their IQ, I think having different organizations is okay. One negative result of racism is assimilation. I’m not sure Philippinos becoming “more” Creek is any better than even Philippinos becoming more Korean or anything else.

    What’s more, even if we were to marshal our numbers, POC are not the problem.

    Do we need to discuss race in broader terms? Yes. But I’d suggest, not that my suggestion is necessarily all that important to you, I get that – but. If you feel a discussion is too narrow, just create the necessary space yourself. I feel fairly certain in saying that blacks, by and large, don’t mean any harm in discussing race in binary terms. That’s just how most of us experience race.


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