We're Confusing the Black Kids and Scaring the White Kids: Issues of Race, Racism and Racial Overtones Are Often Ignored in American Educational Programs

By Jones, Wayne A.; Fiore, Douglas J. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, October 29, 2009 | Go to article overview

We're Confusing the Black Kids and Scaring the White Kids: Issues of Race, Racism and Racial Overtones Are Often Ignored in American Educational Programs


Jones, Wayne A., Fiore, Douglas J., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


AS A NATION WE HAVE MADE SIGNIFICANT STRIDES IN THE PROBLEM OF EQUAL ACCESS AND EQUALITY FOR African-Americans. The election of Barack Obama as the 44th president was hailed as an indicator that the country was moving closer to being a land where people are judged by their actions, who they are and not on the basis of color. And clearly, children of all races are enriched by the educational opportunities presented by our nation's first African-American president. This was evident when many educators encouraged parents to use Inauguration Day to have age-appropriate discussions on race and the presidency with their children.

The question now is what happened between Jan. 20 and Sept. 8--the day President Obama decided to speak to America's school children as they began the academic year.

As readers will recall, the president's message was one of encouragement and optimism, yet the contentious uproar accompanying his announced intentions created a display of the discord that often erupts when people let fear and prejudice control their perceptions. What should have been a half-hour educational break in the school day for students to receive a pep talk from the president turned into a rolling referendum on whether school districts should show the president's address. This occurred as the result of a tide of opposition from many parents. A baffling concern arose that the president might use this occasion to indoctrinate our students with partisan political information.

In analyzing the decisions made by school system officials nationwide to show students the president's speech, one distinctive feature became obvious. As with many issues in this country, in the final analysis, it boils down to a matter of race. Race as a deciding factor in issues like this one may be quite covert, and it is certainly denied by many. Nevertheless, ignoring the significance race played in this historical decision is like ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room. In those school districts where White students are the predominate race, the decision often was not to air the president's speech. Conversely, the decision typically was just the opposite in those districts where Black students are the majority population.

What messages are we sending to the children and what racial overtones are contained in this message? These questions must be confronted, although doing so requires an honest examination that too many people choose to avoid. Issues of race, racism and racial overtones are difficult to discuss and often ignored in American educational programs.

For African-Americans the Obama presidency is the fulfillment of what once was thought to be the impossible dream. …

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