Education, Race and Inequities

The processes and accredited outcomes connected with institutional education and scholastic achievement is widely perceived as a socio-economic “escalator”(Kristof, 2014),  a means by which individuals can ascertain up-stream economic mobility through a democratic and flexible societal hierarchy. This conceptual framework has three underpinning assumptions: primarily it insinuates that individuals with lower-socioeconomic standings, especially minorities can use education to override systemic privileges of dominant cultures; secondly, that education can benefit all racial groups in equitable financial, social and political terms; thirdly, that education can lead to income, thus wealth, homeownership and freedoms associated with societal success. Misguided students bank on educational accreditations and pursue degrees at all costs only to be underwhelmed once they face a competitive global economy. Foster (2011) conceptualizes the realities of contemporary institutionalized education and debunks the assumption that education is an uplifting escalator by simply stating: “[education] replicate[s] hierarchical division of labor” (p.8). In other words, middle-class students receive middle-class employment; schools are mere mechanisms that oppresses socio-economic mobility via oppressive functions that aggravate equity. 

The United States of America, its political, social, cultural, educational, and overarching institutions are the contexts in which this multi-faceted assumption will be analyzed. Immersed in this context is a power-struggle between the oppressed – African-American and other ethno-cultural minorities –  and oppressive forces: systemic institutionalized racism across innumerable factions of American society. The research herein will illustrate American society’s embedded white privileges which are upheld, by in large, through government directed discriminatory policy in economic, education and other factions. The latter will be exemplified by considering the racial income gaps, racial wealth differences, returns on investment from homeownership and racial income derived from a four-year college degree. A historical over-view of African-Americans people will establish a context that will inform and explain their past and current position in American society.

The root of this power-struggle began with the colonialism and the slave trade. The so called Negros, were seen as a sub-human race by political, social, and cultural entities of across American society.  Slavery was much more than simply free labor. Slaves were seen as items of commerce, it was illegal for them to vote, to travel, own possessions, marry etc (Medhurst, 2010). Furthermore, psycho-socially, slaves were reinforced with the idea they were a “deficient race” (King, Crowley & Brown 2010, p.2). The question becomes, to what extent has slavery and race-based policy of the 20th-21st century impacted contemporary African-American lives? The current education system reinforces the notion that African-Americans are lesser people, that their intellect, history, and identities are subpar verses the rest of society. This is rooted in historical overt systematic racism in American education: “Whites were taught that they were superior beings, Blacks that they were suited only to a life of servitude. The school curriculum reinforced this perspective, teachers for the most part acceded, and no one was encouraged to challenge any part of it” (Ayers et al., 2008 p.314). As Apple (2000) would suggest, education is a form of “social control” (p.195). In the book The mis-education of the black negro., Carter G. Woodson (1990) informs the underpinnings of  social control and the extent to which it impacts African-Americans,

If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one. (n.p)

The American government, media and societal stereotypes has largely controlled the way Blacks behave and think by continuously oppressing them into believing they are inferior. Moreover, there has been direct action by the government to historically and contemporarily segregate black into ghettos and/or communities of low value that have resulted in poor community resources, subpar infrastructure and degraded school facilities etc. Low quality living environments, systemic racism and militant police force, racially bias judicial system, the privatization and profiteering of prisons, have lead to a new way of stripping African Americans their of liberty. However, broadband racism is not limited to those variables. The following research suggests that racist government policy has lead to Blacks falling significantly behind compared to whites in regards to: income, wealth, return on investment of four-year college degrees, educational success from K to College and value of homeownership. As will be illustrated, these variables are inextricably linked.

In the United States and across the world, the income gap between the rich and poor is continuously expanding. As infamously proclaimed, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; the top 1% in America control 46% of the wealth and it is expanding. According to Sullivan et al. (2015) the income gap is not only widening between rich and poor, the divergence is happening along racial lines. The framework that is fueling the income divide is a complex multi-facet array of political, historical, social, cultural variables “rooted in historic injustices and carried forward by practices and policies that fail to reverse inequitable trends. As a result, racial wealth disparities, like wealth inequality overall, continue to grow” (Sullivan et., al p.5) Demos, a public policy organization that seeks to, “reduce both political and economic inequality, deploying original research, advocacy, litigation, and strategic communications to create the America the people deserve” (Demos, 2015) collaborated with The Institute on Assets and Social Policy, to further explain the nature of the widening income gap along racial and ethnic line.

Homeownership and the extent of the value of the home is representative of income, wealth and socio-economic status in society. If a group in society was previously banned from ownership, had less income to purchase a home, earned less income derived from higher education than other racial groups and pressed with racist policy that devalued their neighborhoods — the result would set that specific racial group to the lowest tier of economic denomination in American society. All of the above are true for African-Americans.  Gaps in income, wealth, homeownership and education literally and symbolically represent race-based policy in America.

Black vs White Wealth & Homeownership

Linking data from the Survey and Income Program Participation (SIPP) in 2011, the median white household retained 111 146$ in wealth, a significant contrast to merely 7,113$ for the median Black households (as portrayed in figure 1). In other words, for every 15.63$ a white household had, Black households had 1$. When considering wealth, homeownership is an important variable; for most of the population it is the largest investment accrued in one’s life. Statistically, 73 percent of white households owned their home while less than half of Black households owned their homes. This is an important variable as the wealth ascertained by homeownership represents 27 percent of the expanding wealth gap between whites and Blacks. To the dismay of Blacks and other minority groups such as Hispanics, racist policy has “systematically operated to shut Black and Latino families out of numerous opportunities to build housing wealth that benefitted white families” (Sullivan et al., p11-12).

If Blacks held the same rate as whites (79 percent) of homeownership, their wealth would increase by 451% from $7,113 to $39,226 (as seen in figure 2). However, even with equal percentages of homeownership, the rate of return and overall value of homes that Blacks own are substantially less due to continued segregation and exclusion from White areas. One would assume that race-based neighbourhood delineations no longer exists, that Blacks can purchase any home, attend any school in any neighbourhood of their choosing. This assumption is debunked by  Sullivan et al., (2015) who contests,

The National Housing Act of 1934, for example, redlined entire Black neighborhoods, marking them as bad credit risks and effectively discouraging lending in these areas, even as Black home buyers continued to be excluded from white neighborhoods. While redlining was officially outlawed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, its impact in the form of residential segregation patterns persists with households of color more likely to live in neighborhoods characterized by higher poverty rates, lower home values, and a declining infrastructure compared to neighborhoods inhabited predominantly by white residents. (p.10)

This is a classic example of historical policy remaining persistent despite being revoked from law. Segregation and discrimination remains part of housing and lending practices. For example, one of the more popular banks in America, Wells Fargo partook in discriminatory lending practices by imposing high interest rates on Blacks. This predatory form of lending practice negatively impacted the credit of minorities and ultimately their ability to afford homes. Predatory lending is not reserved for homes and mortgages. Financial literacy of students is abysmal. As a result, corporate banks and credit card companies have been taking advantage of a young student demographic with little to no financial literacy (Hayes, 2012). Beyond the challenge of financially-illiterate students there are a plethora of corporations that lured students into “misleading and false claims” leaving students with immense debt. Corinthian Colleges, the largest for profit college chain in 2014 is being prosecuted for preying on veterans, single mothers and desperate individuals by promising the thesis herein that education leads to “jobs and higher earnings” (Knowles, 2015). The students in this case and many others find themselves with college degrees, high debt and jobless.

From a macro perspective discriminatory lending practices played a significant role in the housing crisis which led to the financial collapse in the US and ultimately of the world. Moreover, during the recession, the results of racist policy and inequity veered its head once again; whites lost an average of 16 percent of their home value while Blacks lost 53 percent of the value of their homes. To curtail inequity and rebalance with wealth/homeownership gap, one may assume that attaining a four-year college degree will enable African-Americans to substantially increase their income, buy a high-valued home, in a safe neighborhood with high quality schools.   .

Education has often been the perceived roadway to achieve financial stability, societal acceptance and overall wealth in America. However, the following will depict that is it often not the case, specifically for African-Americans who have more difficulty attaining college, graduating and benefiting from its completion. In congruence with homeownership of whites and Blacks, there are stark inequities and challenges in the field of education.  In 2011, 20 percent of Blacks had completed four-year college degrees while whites surpassed them attaining 34 percent. The majority of African-Americans that attended post-secondary education took on substantial debt due to the fact that their households did not have the income or the established wealth to pay for tuition, books, etc. Moreover, despite the fact that the rate of African-Americans college student increased, students of color are not graduating at the same pace or rate at whites. The racial and ethnic rifts forming at the post-secondary level “… reflect other inequities in the K-12 education system and income” (Sullivan et al., p.16).  Education policy framed by state and federal government enlighten the root cause of scholastic inequity. Historically, as aforementioned, policy and law dictated that is was illegal to teach a slave to read and write. That was followed by segregated schools and exclusion from high quality schools based on cost and institutionalized racism. Today the repercussions of historic and current racists policy leave Black students far behind. This is clearly illustrated by Sullivan et al., (2015)  “these past educational inequities matter today because parents’ educational level—as well as family incomes and wealth itself—significantly predict children’s educational success across their lifetimes” (p.17). Policies that impacted and continue to impact all students, specifically students of color who do don’t have access to quality education is embedded in government choices not to invest in restructuring urban neighborhoods. The early years in education are vital for the future of a population. The lack of quality early education establishes a weak educational foundation that persists throughout their educational paths (Sullivan et al., 2015). Education and the extent of its quality is linked its surrounding community and school resources. Ill-equipped and under-funded schools in segregated neighborhoods further impact quality educational opportunities in the short and long term.

The assumption that education can push past racially restrictive policy is further debunked when analyzing the rate of return of college degrees of whites versus Blacks: “for every $1 in wealth that accrues to median Black households associated with a college degree, median white households accrue $11.49” (Sullivan et al., 2015 p.2).  To put that into context, the mediate rate of return for a four-year college for a white household is 55 869$ and that of a Black household is a mere 4 648$. One of the reasons there is such a stark difference between the rates of return of a college degree is the difficulty Blacks have in attaining high quality, high paying jobs after graduation.

The idea that education is the proverbial road to recovery is further stripped when considering the impact it has on the racial wealth gap. In other words, the direct contribution of higher education to the racial wealth gap is nearly insignificant. Even if Blacks attained the same percentage of four-year college graduation of whites (34 percent) it would be a mere 1percent of the racial wealth gap. One of the reasons why equalizing four-year college attainment of whites equates to modest growth for Black is that it would only reach a third of the Black population. Moreover, as seen with the return of investments on a college degree for Blacks, it has a small impact on income and overall household wealth thus unlikely prone to reduce the wealth gap. Statistically, and surely hypothetically, the equalization of the rate of return on a college degree for Black and Whites would signify a 10 percent reduction is in racial income gap. That equates to 152 percent increase in Black household wealth. Despite the fact that black households would double and a half their median income, they still fall substantially short of white household median wealth.

In a synopsis, according to Sullivan et al.,(2015), “From the continuing impact of redlining on American homeownership to the retreat from desegregation in public education, public policy has shaped these disparities, leaving them impossible to overcome without racially-aware policy change” (p.1). Considering that by 2050, or potentially prior, minorities will be the majority in regards to racial demographics, public-policy must be implemented in order to curtail what may be a future income gap that is so divisive, it will be irreparable. According to Harding (2015) in Manitoba and Saskatchewan First Nation populations will be the majority in 2050. With Black is was slavery, with First Nations it was seemingly one largest cultural cleansing and dissipation of a population in recorded history. What followed for both groups is government policy that aggravated equity and at times promoted it. What is unequivocal is that both these populations and other are still recovering from their dark pasts.

Racist policy leads to racist ideologies. Society, media and racists authors have convinced the masses, even convinced professional academic minds that it is not policy, environment, housing, education, but the very culture and identity markers that Blacks identify with that are they cause of their lower-tiered position in society. In other words, these race-base policies and public prejudices aggravate equity by perpetuating racism, negative stereotypes.

The largest concerns are that racism is often viewed as a resolved issue; that minorities are overreacting to challenges that have long been dealt with. The reality is that racism is overt and has embedded itself so aggressively in college campus that Blacks feel out of place and marginalized in these primarily white institutions. There is subtle racism whereby African-Americans and other minorities are constantly bombarded with micro-aggression of racism based on their speech, behavior and mannerisms etc. More overt forms of racism on college campuses include: physical beatings of black individuals, cross-burnings, mock slave auctions with the ‘slaves’ wearing afro wigs, ‘jungle parties’ (Horowitz, Frazier, Logan & Crockett, 2013 p.699)

Throughout history, long ago and current, whites are the minority in regards to recognizing, understanding and protesting against racial inequality. Considering that Blacks make up the majority of individuals that are fighting the racial equality, whites whom have the privileges of government assistance and societal acceptance are not in a rush to share the proverbial American Pie. “The Corporation for Enterprise Development finds that more than half of the $400 billion provided annually in federal asset-building subsidies—policies intended to promote homeownership, retirement savings, economic investment and access to college—flow to the wealthiest 5 percent of taxpaying households” (p.6). From economic disparity, to police brutality, unequal distribution of minorities in leadership roles, etc. racism remains overt and abundant in America. As Ginnish (2015) stated, “government policies … are inherently bias”. This biases or racism is fueling much if the inequity.

To deny that systemic institutionalized racism is fact, look no further than the quote by the pragmatic curriculists William James, cited in Null (2011) in describe what makes an idea or notion true by indicating, “That [idea] … makes itself true, get’s itself classed as true, by the way it works” (p.117) In an elaboration of this notion, “truthfulness does not exist in an ideal world separate from our daily lives” (Null, 2011 p.118). It is difficult to identify where America is on the spectrum of complete oppression to wide spread equity. However, centuries after the first slave ships docked, racial oppression and white privileges remain systemic. As Harding (2015) indicated” …150 years after Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the Civil Rights movement … racial oppression and white privileges remain systemic.” I believe there is hope for equity and justice in America, however similar to Kristof (2014) I contend that it must begin with an increased moral fabric or “empathy” for all citizens regardless of race, religion on background.


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Mark C. Taylor wrote an article in the New York Times cited in (Adamson, 2015) which bravely suggested,