Racial Inequality in Education: A Historical Perspective
The historical evolution of African American empowerment through inclusion in education has formed a monumental part of American history. Through this empowerment, various African American authors have developed progressive literature that has not only received global recognition but has also shaped the perspectives of many regarding various issues affecting African Americans. The depiction of empowerment of the African American by Dubois in “The American Negro at Paris”, to me, symbolises the great strides that America has made in addressing the issue of inequality and bias in provision of education.
Inequality in access to education due to racial discrimination has been core to the American history and dates back to the 17th century when freed slaves were afforded admission to institutes of higher learning. The separation of white schools from black schools was characteristic of this period and was also symbolic of the blatant inequality and exclusion of African Americans from access to the same form of quality education as compared to whites. Since then, progressive policy implementation has enabled the reduction of this gap of inequality which, despite efforts to ensure equal access to education, still subsists.
I am fortunate enough to live in an era where literature written by African Americans has gained recognition. Du Bois speaks of a time when it would be absurd to suggest of an African American authored book, periodical or any other form of literature (Du Bois, The American Negro at Paris, 1900). The American Negro in Paris exhibit depicts the development of African American thought where through empowerment and independent thought African Americans were able to initiate and ensure their own progress and development in life. The efforts of Du Bois as an African American to create this exhibit that illustrates the struggle of the African American community to free itself from emancipation is symbolic of the ability of African Americans to do exceedingly well even under racial scepticism.
Why is ensuring equality in access to education so important? In my view education is the greatest asset one can wield, therefore, any policy restricting equal access to education on racial grounds is an unjust policy. Despite the progressive move towards legislation of inclusionary education, the gap between African Americans and their white counterparts in terms of access to education is still very wide. This means that education as a public good which is meant to be shares as such has been capitalized as a form of intellectual property asset more predominantly held by one race. It therefore follows that, this inequality in terms of education translates to Africans Americans being denied access to economic equality since they lack the means by which to empower themselves.
Schombug argues that in order to build their future, African Americans must “dig up their past”. This notion, according to me, implies that it is crucial for African Americans to have a deep understanding of the historical journey that they have endured in order to get a reasoned direction of the way forward. Schombug implies that one of the reason for this is that the African American has over the years been seen to be the initiator of his own freedom and advancement (Schomburg, 1925). In line with this argument, I strongly feel that, in order to achieve the advancement of the African American community, it is important to have more literate African Americans who can therefore make positive steps towards setting clear goals for the future but also relying on the historical perspectives shaped by previous African American scholars.
History has shown us that African Americans have been wrongly perceived in many instances to be intellectually inferior to their white counterparts. For instance, the comments of the Massaccusetts lawyer who in reply to the Patents Office inquiry alluded to the inability of African Americans to invent anything but lies. This comments were made despite the fact that at the time there were a recorded 350 patents that had been granted to African Americans (Du Bois , The Souls of Black Folk, 1903). This very idea of racial superiority could be seen in the establishment of separate schools for African Americans and whites. The African Americans in this case being deemed to be unworthy to learn in white institutions. The “separate but equal” doctrine that was intended to rationalize the separation of African American from White institutions of higher learning is no longer compelling.
I agree that the desegregation of African Americans from whites in terms of education has been fundamental in trying to achieve equality. Similarly, the states support for African American education through fund allocation to Black colleges and post-secondary institutions has aided in bridging the gap (Harper , Patton , & Wooden, 2009). However, in order to eradicate racial inequality in the education sector, it is important that we shift our focus towards affirmative action to enable African Americans to compete on a level playing field.
In conclusion, I believe that the role of African Americans in shaping the perceptions through literature is key to their own empowerment and that this can only be achieved through pushing for equality in education. In Du Bois seminal work “The Veil”, he alludes to the idea that there exists a problematic perception in the society that not only lies with the whites but also with the African Americans themselves. The inability of whites to see African Americans as “true Americans” and the inability of the African Americans to view themselves as anything other than what the whites depict them to be. This problem can only be solved if African Americans who wield the intellectual tools to shape perception do so using literature. This ultimately leads back to the issue of ensuring equal access to education and ensuring that African Americans understand their past and have the tools to shape their future.
Du Bois , B. W. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. A. C. Mc Clurg & Co.
Du Bois, B. W. (1900). The American Negro at Paris. The American Monthly Review of Reviews, 575-577.
Harper , S. R., Patton , l. D., & Wooden, O. S. (2009). Access and Equity for African American Students In Higher Education: A Critical Race Historical Analysis of Policy Efforts. Ohio University Press.
Schomburg, A. A. (1925). The Negro Digs Up his Past. The Survey Graphic, 1-3.