Race as a Social Construct: The Impact on Education

By Dorris, Ronald | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Race as a Social Construct: The Impact on Education


Dorris, Ronald, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

During the first half of the twentieth century, two world wars escalated. World War I, 1914-1918 involved approximately 32 nations. World War II, 1939-1945 involved approximately 50 nations. The first war was launched under the banner to make the world safe for democracy. The second was billed as the war to end all wars. The United States, significantly involved in both wars, emerged from World War I as the most powerful military and economic nation on earth, with New York replacing London as the center of world finance. As a nation whose majority control remained in the hands of citizens in the U.S. politically defined as white under the platform of "race" as a social construct, there were those at home and abroad who viewed the march for democracy as white advancement to promote an Anglo-Saxon ideal. Hence by the end of World War II, if the United States intended to remain a partner in conducting world business, this country would have to show that it was not treating its inhabitants of African descent as inferiors and second-class citizens.

At home and abroad, a blatant sense of hypocrisy relative to second-class citizenship and a sense of inferiority directed against people of African descent prevailed in the United States military. Black and white soldiers were commanded to engage an "enemy" in other parts of the world, while the lynching of blacks by those who bought into the social construction of maintaining whiteness relative to supremacy and superiority remained at the forefront of social activity in the United States. Were the country to continue along this route, conceivably the U.S. could conduct business with and treat the populace of a respective nation as second-class citizens and inferiors in their own country. To show good faith on the domestic and national front, on July 26, 1948 President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which ended racial segregation with the ranks of the United States the United States military forces. This move was executed as debate on the declining significance of "race" accelerated to reshape social policy on the world stage.

Desegregating the military was a controlled experiment. Enlisted soldiers black and white were under command of the United States armed forces. A pronounced case to end segregation, and which would have more far reaching impact, would involve the attempt to dismantle segregation in public education. Here was a range of the populace that spanned from the rich to the poor. In 1954 the Brown decision declared that to maintain separate educational facilities for blacks and whites was inherently unequal. This change in policy directed at education had traveled a long journey.

Retrospective

From 1861-1865, the Civil War was underway in the United States. On the part of the South, the conflict was engaged to determine if states rights to maintain a free labor force comprised of people of African descent would prevail in the South. The North, on the other hand, could not use slaves during the frozen winter months and, having developed an industrial economy, engaged the war on the platform that free labor could not compete against slave labor. Thus their aim was to federalize the economy so that two economic systems would not prevail. The war took its toll on approximately a half million members of the populace. This loss was replaced by a wave of immigration that swept the United States, particularly from 1890-1920 (Perrett 1982). Social agencies would need to be established to bring this horde of "foreigners" into the established fold of the citizenry.

Publicly supported high schools were few in number until after the Civil War, and then were pushed to the forefront as part of a social agenda. During the years from 1880 to 1890 the schools were established in the larger centers of population in rapidly increasing number. Costing relatively little, these facilities were attended by only a small number of pupils, most of who were preparing to enter the professions. …

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