What are we taught about race?

Ok it’s been a while since I’ve actually done an original text post, but I’ve got all this “creative” energy that I don’t really know what to do with.  I’m working on my master’s thesis and needless to say, the process is really difficult. So much thought and attention has to be given to the project because this is one of the first major milestones before you really establish yourself as a productive and competent scholar.  One of the things that I am interested in, and is hopefully the topic of my thesis, is the messages that African Americans receive regarding race and how it relates to academic outcomes.  I’ve always been interested in matters of race and just how race has such a pervasive impact on our lives.  What society tell us (parents, peers, school, media, etc.) definitely shapes how we see the world and the more frequently you receive certain kinds of messages, the more those messages color your view of the world around.  Unfortunately, in the area of race, there are so many messages that denigrate all forms of Blackness. These messages are so ubiquitous you don’t even notice them.  On television, we’re mostly drug dealers, gangstas, athletes, or entertainers.  There’s not enough doctors and lawyers and scholars because those things do not fit the national narrative of what it means to be Black.  The school system also sends it’s own messages about race.  They’re not as explicit as the messages in media but they can be just as damaging if not more damaging.  Tracking sends messages about race.  The dearth of African American in Advanced Placement classes and the over-representation of African American students in special education courses sends the message that African American students are not smart.  The curriculum also sends its own messages.  Most of what we learn in history classes revolves around American/European history and sends the message that Black people and other people of color haven’t made any important contributions to world history.  All we get in school is slavery and maybe the Civil Rights Movement.  Teachers and administrators play into this system due to the way they treat African American students. African American students are much more likely to punished and are more harshly punished for their actions.  Their interactions with African American students in general are problematic.  All of these can make students feel alienated and that they do not matter.  It can make them feel like academic success is not a viable reality for them.  The school system is an all too early reminder to African American children that they are fighting an uphill battle against racism and all of its manifestations (individual, cultural, structural/institutional).  With the constant bombardment of negative messages awaiting African American children and adolescents, parents are faced with the difficult task of preparing their children for this harsh reality.  This preparation can come in different forms.  Parents can teach children about their heritage and instill a sense of cultural or racial pride.  They can also emphasize how everyone has their merits regardless of race.  Parents can reinforce their child’s personal strengths.  Parents can explicitly prepare and inform their children of the discrimination they will face and the racial barriers they will have to overcome.  One of the reasons why I want to look at how this process impact academic outcomes is because the educational setting is a child’s first exposure to the larger society and this setting is a major socializing agent for roles and expectations of society.  Racial stratification is reinforced here.  I also want to find what leads to positive academic outcomes.  I know things aren’t looking good in general, but I want to be able highlight things that do work and what parents are doing right.  One of the problems with psychology (and any other research on African Americans) is that it too often operates from a deficit model and that it promotes victim blaming, looking at only what is wrong with the individual and how it’s their fault.  There has to be more about what we as a community are doing right.  Hopefully, I’ll be done with this project in a few months so I can get my master’s, but these are just the thoughts that are running through my mind.  I welcome any comments and reflections on what I wrote.


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