Racism Can Be Subtle

In our most recent class periods, we have discussed the unceasing reemergence of racism in education even today. As we learned, Brown v. Board was an instrumental case that aimed to deconstruct segregation within educational realm. However, according to authors like Guiner in “From Racial Liberalism to Racial Literacy”, the case is now being interpreted as ambiguous and complicated. This is due to the lawyers on the case solely attacking segregation in school systems and attempting to break down barriers that separated the races. Now, though it appears on paper as if the state is evenly distributing goods to all races, this distribution becomes a matter of class and geography. That is, those who live in a better neighborhood or are wealthier are able to create better school systems than those who are lower class and minorities. This leads to a gap between minorities and lower class white people who cannot afford to have a better school system and the upper class white community who can. Desegregation may be occurring, but class and geography allows the persistence of whiteness as a property through new and subtler forms.

In an effort to learn a little more about how racism in education still resides, I took to Google. Literally, within the first Google search, I could see how racism is still present. One of the most astonishing, yet believable, articles I read was found in the Huffington Post. The article discussed Western Union Elementary School and the trouble it had recently (written in 2012) got itself into. In an effort to “celebrate” African culture, the school sent a note home to families asking students to wear “African American attire or animal print”. Additionally, the letter suggests students wear shirts with “animals native to Africa” on them such as zebras. The article then cites several blog post comments that individuals decided to share in regards to this situation. One states:

“What’s the point of celebrating -– or hell, even learning about -– diversity if school administrators are unable to ascertain the difference between Black, African American, and African? Or for that matter, the difference between black people and African animals?”

This article really struck me as important. People tend to look at big picture arguments against racism, but racism continues in smaller and more subtle ways as well. Little actions like this are ever present in our education system due to accepted societal norms such as phrases and taglines. Like this blog post implies, often times, people just do not understand the implications of their statements. Calling a woman of international descent “exotic”, or calling a black friend that is “practically white” an “Oreo” defines the that person and their race. It places them in a box, creates barriers and is a means of asserting dominance over them. Categorizing a person based off a stereotype confines them to a certain image, thus disabling their social mobility and freedom of identity. Acting a certain way should not categorize a person by their race; acting a certain way should be seen as that person just being themself. The elementary school obviously did not mean to equate the African American culture to that of animals, but situations like this exemplify the people not truly understanding what their actions and words can do to a person. Like Guiner explains, cases such as Brown v. Board focused on the idea of desegregating the community; however, the hurdle between whiteness and blackness is still subtlety impeding in places like our education system through accepted societal norms. Essentially, I am arguing subtle forms of racism still exist today and are prominent in school systems through phrases, slogans and tags. I am wondering how you all feel about this. Do you feel as if your school promoted these subtle forms as well? How does one counteract these forms? What other ways does racism exist in our school system? Should these statements actually be considered, in fact, subtle at all?


7 thoughts on “Racism Can Be Subtle

  1. This is extremely appalling that the school officials would actually approve a letter asking children to wear animal print as part of African culture. With that, I agree with the comment you shared of the person who brings up the point of celebrating. It is concerning that an elementary’s idea of celebrity African culture is so far from what African culture actually is that it would seem more logical to bypass the celebration all together. This, to me, is exactly how racism perpetuates in our society. People honestly believe they are not being racist while they say subtly racist things. My high school definitely perpetuated these acts as we were a high school with 90 percent white kids and 8 percent hispanic and roughly 2 percent asian and black. Not only was the school prominently white, our mascot was the “Rebels”. If I had gone to school in the south, we would have had to change out mascot but it is interesting how my high school never seemed to mind. I think the best way to overcome these ‘subtly’ racist actions and words is to call people out when they use them. Although this will only reach a select number of people, it is a start that will hopefully spread elsewhere. Like we read in Lopez and Omi and Winant, we cannot bypass the subject of race to overcome racism. This needs to be a discussion people have in order to dismantle the ‘subtle’ racism.


  2. Reading this blog post makes me think of two examples of racism, one based on ignorance and the other as an example of the systemic nature of our racist history.

    The first example based on ignorance is the fraternity at Arizona State University who had a “Martin Luther King” black party where they were encouraged to dress “black.” I would venture so far to argue that many of the members of the fraternity would not consider themselves racist, when in reality they were guilty of perpetuating an incredibly racist stereotype of being “black.” Party members wore basketball jerseys, dressed “hood,” and drank from watermelon cups. This form of racism is blatantly detrimental to our country for obvious reasons. The next example illustrates a more historically situated form of racism still greatly shaping our communities. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/24/arizona-state-frat-party-mlk-racist_n_4656322.html.

    I remember reading this article last year about a high school in Georgia that for the first time was integrating their high school prom. Prior to April of 2014, parents would sponsor segregated proms, known as “white prom” and “black prom.” This segregation is situated deep in history and is a problem that plagues communities both north and south because of its affect on shaping young peoples perspectives of what their world should look like. It took the efforts of students to fight for a school sponsored prom open to everyone, and even then the students faced backlash from the local community. http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/04/living/integrated-prom-wilcox-county-georgia/

    I believe these two examples are similar to the blog post in highlighting the different forms of racism still prevalent in our country.


  3. OMG. Whew – talk about clueless!! Animal print = African! Because we don’t have any animals with prints here in the US.

    And Kelsey – the example of the Rebels is a good one. What did the mascot look like? Were they wearing gray and wearing little civil war hats? Or the mascot was James Dean? Curious.

    In fact, the example of mascots is a really good one – I don’t know if you’ve been following the Washington R*edskins brouhaha. The good white folks of DC see the mascot as simply tradition. But of course native American groups see it as mocking and hurtful. Jason Jones of the Daily Show did a GREAT segment on this: http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/189afv/the-redskins–name—catching-racism. It’s worth watching in its entirety: hilarious, sad, rather surprisingly ignorant.

    These examples of good ones of the perhaps unintentional, but nonetheless HARMFUL forms of race-talk.


    1. Dr. Pool – The mascot was wearing a civil war uniform that was grey which is what the Union soldiers wore. But it is interesting too because our colors were red, white, ad blue so it was just clueless all around. The video from the Daily Show was is interesting too because my grade school was the warriors and our symbol was the same as the Washington Redskins. It is intriguing how clueless American society is to race-talk when the society as a whole is so sensitive to the word ‘racism’ and being classified as a racist.


      1. But wait – the Union wore blue. The Confederates wore grey. So….it sounds like the mascot is a Rebel as in Johnny Reb as in Confederates and not Union soldiers.


  4. AND Jason Jones’ clip points out that most mascots are EITHER animals or Indians. That is like a pot of gold in terms of how those two things are related in the white American mind.


  5. I think that your blog post really captures our discussion about the complicated consequences of Brown v. Board of Education. I recently watched a youtube video that demonstrates the struggles of high school black students (which you can watch below).

    This video affected me because it seems that age does not matter. Kids of all ages are becoming embedded in this white structure, and they know it. We try to protect our children, but the tears and emotional recollections found in the video demonstrate that our very society’s structure is hurting them. Thus, your blog post and this video demonstrates that society still has far to go to combat the racial lines found in the realm of education.


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