Chapel Hill: Opinion

Wanda Hunter: Why racial equity matters to white folks, too

Racial achievement gaps in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have persisted for decades despite multiple initiatives designed to reduce them. Recent reports show that students of color receive disproportionately harsher discipline, even for exactly the same behavior.

In 2010 by a racially divided vote of our school board (all four white members FOR, all three black members AGAINST) we expanded the number of courses divided into “Honors” and “Standard,” and with this action we increased racial segregation within our schools as predicted by the black members of our board and even a number of white staff and faculty.

A report, released this fall, by the Campaign for Racial Equity, highlights these racial differences in educational experience in our schools and calls for commitment from school leadership to examine the underlying foundations and culture that continue to maintain power, advantage and privilege for white students and their families, and disadvantage for students and families of color.

Inevitably the question arises: Why would white people want equity? Who would want to give up power, advantage and privilege? And recognizing how strong and entrenched racial power and privilege is, some despair and say if white people don’t see equity as benefiting them in some way, or worse yet, if white people fear that equity will harm them, we’re never going to move the institutional dial that tips in the direction of white advantage.

I don’t buy into the notion that my racial group cares only about its own continued dominance. I think most of us long for the day when we are not a society that classifies and treats people according to race.

We need to be clear that white people, too, are harmed by the racial inequities in our schools and that we have much more to gain than to lose.

There is a societal cost to sustaining institutions where racial advantage is still so strongly present and impactful. While students of color are denied opportunity, treated as less competent, and over-identified as problems to be dealt with, white students who really need help (for example, because of a learning problem, depression, drug use) are often under-identified.

By not adequately educating black children we may be losing out on the next great inventor who will revolutionize society or cure cancer. We have untapped resources.

And we know that our children are learning more than the “3 Rs” from the moment they step through schoolhouse doors. Schools are critically important in teaching children about themselves and about the world around them. That’s where they get implicit messages about who is most intelligent, best behaved, most respected, most likely to be successful, most important in our shared history, and whose lives matter most. But I don’t think we want our children educated in schools where one racial group is regularly assured of its superiority, while another group looks in from the margins.

And there are economic costs. Institutional racism against black Americans alone costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars per year. This includes the costs of taking care of premature babies in the NICU, of poor education and job opportunities that artificially restrict labor productivity and output; of prisons and imprisonment; of public assistance; of forfeited loans and bankruptcy. These costs are borne by us all.

And finally there is a spiritual cost to maintaining racially inequitable institutions. Whether we are religious or not, we all like to think of ourselves as ethical and moral beings. Racism is our nation’s original sin, one that has left us with a tragic and confusing inheritance. But we can change the course for future generations by telling the truth to ourselves and our children about how we find ourselves so differently situated by race even now in the 21stcentury. It’s not a matter of being charitable and generous with our bounty, it is a matter of truth, justice and love. Schools based in these values will set us all free and reap rewards we cannot even begin to imagine.

A community forum from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, at United Church of Chapel Hill will present the Campaign for Racial Equity’s findings and recommendations and invite community input. (To register go to http://conta.cc/1ZEzrMI)

A community forum from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, at United Church of Chapel Hill will present the Campaign for Racial Equity’s findings and recommendations and invite community input. (To register go to http://conta.cc/1ZEzrMI)

  Comments