Global Racial Inequality Keeps Children Away From School

Around the world, children from ethnic, racial and linguistic minorities are being left behind in the quest for universal education, according to Lauren Feeney, multimedia producer for PBS’s documentary television series, Wide Angle.   Feeney explains that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a set of targets for international development agreed to at the turn of the millennium, call for universal primary education by 2015.  While some progress has been made towards that goal in the last decade — today, nearly 90 percent of children are enrolled in primary school, compared to 85 percent in 2000.

Even as that is a victory to celebrate, there remain 75 million children are still out of school; and of those, the majority are children from racial and ethnic minority groups.  Although the U.N. doesn’t track progress based on racial or ethnic criteria, but a new report from Minority Rights Group International estimates that between 50 and 70 percent of out of school children are from minority and indigenous populations.

This kind of racial inequality exists around the globe, in Latin America, in Australia, in Africa, in India and in Europe.  As Joe wrote here recently, the treatment of Roma in Europe is one that is steeped in racism that few are willing to face.  Indeed, speaking out about their treatment prompted crowds to boo pop-icon Madonna for speaking out in support of them.  When it comes to the treatment of the Roma, and how Roma children are doing meeting the Millennium Development Goals, it’s difficult to tell.   Fenney writes that most reports on the Millennium Development Goals don’t bother to track progress in highly developed countries such as those in the European Union, which Romania joined in 2007. But Snjezana Bokulic, the Minority Rights Group International program officer for Europe, says that conditions for the Roma minority are “comparable to sub-Saharan Africa,” so, while European countries are likely to surpass most of the goals, “a segment of the population will be left out.” As for the goal of universal primary education, only 31 percent of Roma in Romania complete primary school, and Roma comprise between 2 and 10 percent of the population (depending on who’s counting), so the goal is unlikely to be met. “It’s an issue of mathematics,” says Bokulic.

Extrapolating from the non-data-collection on Roma in Europe, I assume that these reports are not being collected on indigenous and racial/ethnic minority groups here in the U.S. either.  That would be a worthy research project for someone to do is find out what percentage of indigenous and migrant workers children are enrolled in school.

In a rather striking example of what happens when you fail to take into account intersections of race, class and gender, the Millennium Development Goals include a specific provision calling for an end to gender disparity at all levels of education, but there is no similar targeting of disparity based on racial or ethnic difference. One observer from the Minority Rights Group calls this a “glaring omission.”  Maurice Bryan, who contributed the chapter on Latin America to the Minority Rights Group International report, says that no one realized it at the time, and goes on to say this:

“People didn’t used to think that you should pay special attention to women but once they realized that it was necessary, there has been progress on the gender gap. Now the racial gap is the new kid on the block.”

I found that a remarkable quote.  While it’s pointless to try and say which is “more” or “less” necessary – it’s both and – I was just found it interesting that at least according to Millennium Goals the idea of addressing of gender is more established than the idea of addressing racism and inequality.  If it’s still the case that 50-70 percent of the world’s children who are not in school are from ethnic or indigenous populations, then it seems long overdue to start addressing this form of inequality.

Black Girls in White Schools: School Settings and Racist Actors

School Daze

The relatively new journal, Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Perspectives, has a very interesting article by Tiffany A. Eggleston of the Columbus City Schools and Antoinette Halsell Miranda of Ohio State University on interviews with eleven black adolescent girls in a predominantly white suburban school (Creative Commons License photo credit: Burnt Pixel).


The researchers present interesting data-comments from the students on gendered racism in everyday environments, and conclude with suggestions for teachers/principals concerned with the gendered-racial impacts and isolation faced by such isolated black students in historically white institutions:

1. Teachers should partake in cultural diversity training to help understand the normative behavior of African Americans and other racial minority groups. By learning to understand the nuances of various cultures, teachers will be better able to relate to the students and offer support, thereby helping to lessen the feeling of isolation described by many of the participants. In understanding the different cultural behaviors, teachers may be more apt to discourage the continuation of stereotypes about African Americans and other racial minorities within and outside of the classroom. 2. According to the findings of this study, many of the participants did not feel close to any of their teachers, which was reported to be a disappointment to some of the participants. … Thus, teachers should work to improve student–teacher relationships to help increase the likelihood that the students will turn to school personnel for help or support.

1. Principals should offer and ensure that teachers participate in professional development courses on cultural, racial, and gender diversity to help increase their understanding of African American females. 2. According to the participants, one source of discomfort came from being the only one, or one of just a few African Americans in class. This occurrence was specifically mentioned in relation to advanced (Honors and Advanced Placement) courses and was cited as a possible reason why more African American students choose not to enroll in those courses. Principals should closely monitor African American enrollment in such courses to ensure that students participate. If it is noticed that African American students do not participate, steps should be taken to actively recruit them. 3. Many of the participants were discouraged by the apparent lack of interest in African Americans, even during Black History Month. Thus, principals should develop cultural activities and school presentations that address African American culture. … principals should make efforts to offer courses on African American culture (i.e., African American History, African American Literature, African American Studies). Due to the prominence of racial slurs, racist behaviors, and stereotypical views, students of all races would benefit from learning about African American culture. 4. Principals should make a sincere effort to hire a diverse staff.

There is much that is important and useful in this analysis of the pressures of white images of female-ness in society and in these predominantly white settings, and these young women are quite pointed and detailed in the gendered racism they describe in this school. These is much here to learn from them.

However, the researchers seem unwilling to examine directly and analytically the role of white teachers, white principals, and white students in such educational settings. These white actors certainly appear in the student accounts.

Yet, the words “white teachers” and “white principals” are terms that never appear even once in the article. And “white students” appears but once in a critical comment from a black female student. At no point do the authors examine, substantially and specifically, the white racial framing of the many white actors who are critical to the problems of such oppressive school environments–other than to note, as above, that “students of all races” would benefit from some of the proposed reforms.

The reality of the “racial slurs, racist behaviors, and stereotypical views” is noted, but not attended to analytically much beyond these typical diversity proposals. No terms like systemic racism, institutionalized racism, or structural racism appear in the article, nor is there such a systemic racism analysis. The white racism environment is discussed in terms of the gender ideas imposed on black girls in this environment, but the white imposers are only implicitly considered, as in most social science research of this type. And the solutions are mostly considered and useful but, once again, seem too much like putting band-aids on cancers? Where are the proposals for dealing with the racist white students, teachers, and principals who cause these girls problems, and their white racial framing (their racist mindsets) and their racist everyday actions?

[Note: The journal, Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Perspectives, is a joint publication of The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Office of Minority Affairs at Ohio State University, together with the Indiana University Press. A good journal to know about.]

Poverty, Stress, and Achievement: What Role Does Racism Play?

Day 58 _ a reveiling day
Two weeks ago, the results of an important study –
“Childhood Poverty, Chronic Stress, and Adult Working Memory” – were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers, Gary W. Evans and Michelle A. Schamberg, examined the relationship between poverty and poor academic achievement, which they note has been studied extensively for many years (Creative Commons License photo credit: frerieke). What makes their research unique is that they measured the mediating effects that chronic stress, resulting from living in poverty during childhood, have on later achievement. They found that the chronic and intensive stressors caused by poverty leads to “working memory deficits” in young adulthood.

Because working memory is critical for language comprehension, reading, problem solving, and long-term retention of information learned, weakened working memory from poverty-induced stress may be central to explaining why young adults who lived in poverty as children have poorer educational outcomes than young adults who lived above the poverty line as children. The longer the child was poor, from birth to age 13, the weaker her or his working memory was as a young adult.

I read Evans and Schamberg’s study with great interest because of its important implications. Poor parents have long been exhorted to spend more time reading to their children and taking them to museums and other educational venues where admission may be free on certain days of the week, with the expectation that these activities, routinely provided by more affluent parents to their children, would improve poor children’s academic achievement.

However, while undoubtedly enriching, the Evans and Schamberg study indicates that these activities are not sufficient to compensate for the negative impact of the daily stressors inflicted by a life of economic deprivation.

Those stressors must be alleviated as well. As important as the findings are, though, the Evans and Schamberg study may not be generalizable to children of color. That’s because their sample was composed of 195 white male and female young adults. This surprises me given that, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, while 12.1% of white families live below the poverty line, 29.1% of black families and 24.3% of Hispanic families live in poverty. And the further impoverished a family is, the more likely they are to be black or Hispanic.

Certainly, poor black and Hispanic families experience the same kinds of stressors that poor white families experience: e.g., housing problems, the dangers posed by living in high-crime neighborhoods, stretching the limited income available to buy food and pay for other necessities. But poor families of color experience a stressor that poor white families do not experience: racism.

There is a substantial body of research that shows that racism is a chronic stressor throughout the life course for people of color, and that the stress caused by racism has serious negative effects on both psychological and physical health. For instance, Nancy Krieger and Stephen Sidney found that stress induced by racial discrimination has as much or more of an impact on blood pressure as smoking, lack of exercise, and a high-fat, high-sodium diet (“Racial Discrimination and Blood Pressure: The CARDIA Study of Young Black and White Adults,” American Journal of Public Health, 86(1996):1370-1378). Ruth Thompson-Miller and Joe Feagin found in their interviews with elderly blacks that memories of racist interactions with whites produced a number of negative physical and psychological reactions indicative of what they call “race-based traumatic stress,” the impact of which lasts a lifetime (“Continuing Injuries of Racism: Counseling in a Racist Context,” The Counseling Psychologist, 35(2007):106-115).

Importantly, Thompson-Miller and Feagin show that men and women of color experience race-based traumatic stress regardless of their social class. But when we consider the additional stressors of poverty and the fact that people of color are disproportionately represented among the poor, the need to examine racism as a stressor in research such as Evans and Schamberg’s seems essential.

Although they do not mention examining racial differences or the potential role of racism on working memory or other indicators of academic achievement in future studies, I hope Evans and Schamberg, as well as other scientists, will undertake this challenging but important research.

For an extensive review of research on the physical and especially psychological impacts of racism on people of color, see a special issue of The Counseling Psychologist. I’m grateful to Ruth Thompson-Miller at Texas A&M University for bringing this special issue to my attention.

Continuing Significance of Institutional Racism: Latino Undergrads

The US Census Bureau just released population projections that by 2050, minorities will be the numeric majority of the population. For Latinos especially gains in the percentage of the population are expected to increase dramatically. In an article on cnn.com, Dave Waddington, chief of the Census Bureau’s population projection branch, stated that “Who’s going to do the jobs that are characteristically held right now by certain types of people…All those things are subject to change.” As the white population decreases and the number of people of color increase, it is critical that we take a look at how systemic racism plays out in some of our major institutions, especially education. Change is coming and in so many cases needs to happen in order to prepare for a future that is more diverse (photo: Brewer).

Education is important to Latinos, and universities often claim to value diversity by actively recruiting students of color. This effort by universities can be interpreted either as a cynical effort to enhance the image of their school, or more benignly as a true reflection of a deeply held value of cultural difference on campus. Nevertheless, there is often concern at universities about recruiting and retaining students of color. However, through my interviews with Latino undergraduate students at three universities (“Southern University,” “Southwest University,” and “Midwest University”) across the country, I found that institutional discrimination continues to be a major impediment to student success. Universities are historically white arenas and they continue to be so today, regardless of their rhetoric about diversity.

My research showed that many aspects of the university are still white dominated. Almost universally, students reported an underrepresentation of Latino faculty on their campuses. It was difficult for students to find faculty members that looked like them or that they could relate to. When students did have Latino instructors, they were often non-tenured and/or teaching only in Latino areas (like Mexican American studies or Spanish.)

“I think that that does happen. There probably aren’t that many Latina professors or working as the dean or something like that. And there are more cooks and janitors that are Hispanics or—[Have you had any Latino professors?] No, I haven’t. [How do you feel about that?] I hadn’t really thought about it, but I would like to have a professor who has similar, I guess, cultural background as me. That could connect more I guess, but I haven’t really noticed.” – Southwest University Female 19

Increasing Latino faculty membership and tenure, as well as diversifying departments are important issues that institutions of higher education must face if they truly want to retain Latino students. Most of the adult Latino faces that students saw were those working in lower (and underappreciated) positions at the university. This included food service, landscaping, maintenance, and custodial work. Latino students saw this pattern of work as lowering their status at the university, as well as reinforcing what they see as low expectations from whites about their potential.

Latinos are also underrepresented in the curriculum and symbolically on some campuses. Though Southwest University has done a better job with symbolic representation in terms of artwork, statues, and celebrations that represent Latinos, all three campuses lacked diversity in their curriculum. Latino culture and history are not often discussed in general education classes (like American history) and instead are relegated to specialized courses. Though students are not denying the importance of those courses and departments, the result is that diversity becomes optional. If they do not take those courses, they will not learn about their people, and neither will whites. At Midwest and Southern University, symbolic representation was also a big issue. Latinos were rarely represented around campus in things like artwork and statues, though Southern University students were looking forward to the arrival of a statue of Cesar Chavez. Midwest University did a poor job of representing any students of color symbolically, but students noticed that when they did see art, it was often in the form of photographs from the university’s past—a past that did not include people of color. At Southern University, symbols of white racism are present in the statues of Confederate soldiers and buildings named after racists. These symbols (or lack of symbols) create an atmosphere that is not welcoming to Latinos. Often there are very few places on campuses that they feel they can call their own because of racialized space.

On all three campuses students could point to examples of institutional racism. Institutions of higher education, whether they are in the South, in predominantly Latino areas, or in located big cities, still organize themselves around white ideals and values. Students of color are admitted in greater numbers, but by and large the institutions remain a white place. Because of the changes that are being predicted about our population composition, the institution will have to change and adapt to a more diverse student body.

Homeschooling & Racism

In a recent article, “Homeschooling and Racism” in Journal of Black Studies (November 2007): 1-19, Tal Levy offers a compelling analysis of homeschooling legislation throughout the U.S. (fulltext here, behind a pay wall). Levy, a political science professor at Marygrove College in Detroit, tests 13 hypotheses about the variation in which states passed homeschool legislation and tests each one using event history analysis using logistic regression. His study is intriguing because he found that the higher the segregation index (his measure for how racially integrated public schools are), the greater the likelihood that the state would adopt homeschooling legislation. Levy writes:

“The fact that the majority of homeschooling families are White may be because of the increased racial integration of public schools.” (Levy, 2007:10).

He goes on to note that:

“Data about public school integration (since the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision) show that the level of school integration in most regions of the country reached its highest level in the 1980s. It is also the same decade that 29 of the 28 homeschooling laws were passed.” (Levy, 2007:10).

This is significant because, as Levy also points out, homeschooling has expanded by about 500% between 1990 and the year 2000, and it is predicting to continuing growing between 7% and 15% annually for the foreseeable future. While Homeschooling advocates, such as this one, tend to dismiss the effect that the desegregation of public schools played in the passage of new homeschool laws, my own lived experience suggests that Levy is on to something here with his research.

In the early 1970s, my family lived in Corpus Christi, Texas and I attended public schools there. When the Corpus Christi school district began a plan that would have resulted in the racial integration of the school system, my father was incensed. There was a lot of talk about “pulling me out of school” if that plan went into effect. As it turned out, I didn’t get homeschooled (a truly radical idea at the time); instead, my father moved the entire family away from Corpus and to Spring, an all-white suburb of Houston.

What strikes me about both Levy’s research and my own experience is the lengths to which white people will go to resist racial integration of education.  And, there is no shortage of options  – from all-white suburbs that effectively fund all-white school districts to the contemporary homeschooling  movement – for white people who which to resist such political efforts at integration.

Documentaries About Race & Racism (*Programming Alert)

Back in April, Joe wrote about the major new book, Inheriting the Trade by Thomas Norman DeWolf, about a slave-trading family of “The Deep North.” Tonight, the related documentary, “Traces of the Trade,” by Katrina Browne airs on PBS (check your local listings). And, while I’m not great at predicting future trends, I think we will increasingly see non-fiction books combined with documentary films geared for (near) simultaneous release. Mark my words, this is a trend in search of a name, and it has implications for those of us in the classroom as well.


And, I stumbled upon another documentary called “Resolved,” (currently available on HBO in demand). It’s a documentary about high school debaters, predominantly white, and one debate team from a predominantly black school. It’s deeply engrossing – and not just because I did speech and debate in high school. I was unexpectedly blown away by this film, especially the Freire-ian-turn it takes. I highly recommend this film.


Finally, a brief thanks to Melissa F. Weiner, Assistant Professor at Quinnipiac University, for her suggestions for additional video titles. I’ve updated the video page with her suggestions.


Addendum from Joe: I just finished reading the very personal book by Tom DeWolf, Inheriting the Trade, and it is indeed dynamite. You learn not only about the central role of New Englanders in the slave trade, but also about the way in which some members of a large and extended white family learned about their heavy slavery history and tried to come to grips with it, including travels to slave regions of the US and to Africa. I highly recommend the book to you and for class use from high school to graduate school. It will likely change, a little or a lot, all who read it seriously.