Stumbling Towards a Post-Racial World: We Have a Long, Long Path Ahead

The stain of slavery and Jim Crow appeared to be erased with election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Many commentators, both conservative and liberal, have celebrated the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, claiming the election signified America has truly become a “post-racial” society. It is not just Lou Dobbs who argues the United States in the “21st century …is a post-racial society.” This view is consistent with beliefs the majority of White Americans have held for well over a decade: that African Americans have achieved, or will soon achieve, racial equality in the United States despite substantial evidence to the contrary.

 America was looking forward to a new emergence of Camelot. Younger voters flocked to the poles in unheard of numbers; a wave of progressive voters revived and seemed to presage the end of the Republican Party and a new era of progressive legislation waiting to become law.

A black president would influence generations of young children to embrace a new vision of American citizenship. The “Obama Coalition” of African American, white, Latino, Asian American and Native American voters had helped usher in an era in which institutional racism and pervasive inequality would fade as Americans embraced the nation’s multicultural promise.

While the two terms of Obama may not have lived up to expectations, and while the Republican Party didn’t fade away we seemed to have moved past endless decades of racism and repression.

We brushed away the increasing number of vile racist comments and threats and failed to comprehend that the election was only the first step of a long, long road

Claude Steele … argued that the crippling academic achievement gap between Black and White Americans can be closed if the nation has the sufficient will to end the decades-old practice of imposing negative stereotypes on Black children.

Eight years later Obama’s farewell address was a list of achievements; an upbeat view of the future and a realization that we were far from a post-racial society.

There’s a … threat to our democracy – one as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago – you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.

 Three years into the Trump presidency much of the Obama achievements have been ripped away or hanging on frayed strings. The future of our democracy is threatened from within and we fear we are edging towards wars abroad.

Beneath suits and dresses of too many Americans we see the cloaks of the Klan.  Attempts to address inequities that were once collective actions across the political spectrum are now bitterly attacked.

In New York City attempts to address the inequities of the Specialized High School Admittance Test (SHSAT); the results of the SHSAT test in the spring of 2018: only nine offers of admittance to Black students out of over 900 offers. The Hecht-Callandra Law (1971) contains an alternative admittance pathway,

The special schools shall be permitted to maintain a Discovery Program to give disadvantaged students of demonstrated high potential an opportunity to try the special high school program without in any manner interfering with the academic level of those schools.

The Bloomberg-Klein (2002-2014) mayoral administration abandoned the implementation of the Discovery Program; attempts to replace the law failed.

A report from the Center for NYC Affairs examines the impact of the new admissions standards proposed in the de Blasio bill, a bill that has not moved forward in the legislature.

The School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG), a blue ribbon mayoral panel, issued two reports, one supporting the integration of schools and a just-released report to end the Gifted and Talented programs created, once again, by the Bloomberg-Klein administration. G & T programs begin testing for admissions  at age four and the overwhelming number of classes placed in middle class schools.

David Kirkland, the Director of the NYU Metro Center, is a member of SDAG, and, a highly respected, award winning scholar, wrote an op ed in the New York Daily News defending his recommendation to end the G & T programs,

Though cloaked in language that attempts to make the focus on race less obvious, it boils down to a defense of systems that have unfairly and disproportionately benefited whites for generations.

 In the world of Twitter Kirkland was subjected to personal attacks,

David E. Kirkland


Sep 20

When you challenge the system and those who benefit from it, both the system and the privileged resist. Perhaps, I’ll analyze the discourse of those who are resisting me. This analysis will makes a point; however, I’m more interested in conversation and a commitment to our kids.

David E. Kirkland


Sep 20

I wrote a piece about how racism motivates resistance to change in education. All of today, I’ve been inundated with people calling me names and distorting my argument, attempting to pit me against Asians. This is how I know that the perspective is right–it’s challenging people.

The debate around school integration and the elimination of G & T programs has dominated the news cycle; and, unfortunately the “debate,” fueled by the NY Post, is nasty and nibbles at the edge of racism.

In our democracy challenging the status quo is at the core of our political system. Change is inevitable, incremental and is constantly seeking pathways.

Integration plans were designed by the local school boards, the Community Education Councils; the best decisions are made by those closest to children and classrooms.

I believe the recommendation to wipe away all G & T programs is the wrong pathway. The aeries of power rarely bring about embedded change. The decision by the John King, the former commissioner of education rammed through the adoption of Common Core State Standards and Common Core state testing and, an unintended consequence, created the opt-out movement. Virtually no one is a fan of the tests; they are required by federal law and have not raised student achievement.

I believe that G & T programs should be a decision made at the local level. School districts should have the authority to keep or abandon the programs as well as the ability to set admissions standards. Yes, awkward, the programs would vary across the city, and, most importantly, districts would have ownership.

Only through dialogue, through continuing dialogue, through challenging and uncomfortable debate can we identify pathways to eradicating the burdens of centuries of oppresson.

Kirkland keeps stirring the pot, encouraging us to think about questions of race and inequity.

When students do not come packaged the “right” way, too often our systems decide we cannot teach them. Instead of adapting to them, our systems label them, suggesting that something is wrong with vulnerable students. They label them as lazy, unfocused, misguided. In a sense, they blame their families, their genders, their socioeconomic circumstances, or anything else about vulnerable youth that deviates from the ideal. Our systems fail to see them, and thus our systems fail them.

There is clear evidence that this inability to see some students drives educational outcome disparities. The problem is not necessarily the unseen but our assumptions about what we see. Seeing is not neutral.

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