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?