How does systemic racism affect Black children? | Michigan Radio
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How does systemic racism affect Black children?

Jul 17, 2020

After a white police officer killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests erupted across the country against police brutality toward Black people in America. In the intervening weeks, a national dialogue has erupted over the many ways American istitutions prop up and proliferate racism against Black people.

This summer, Stateside is conducting a series of conversations on what systemic racism looks like. This week we hear from educators, parents and journalists regarding how systemic racism affects Black children and reinforces white America’s biases against against them.

Listen to individual conversations below.

Kids will be kids--unless they’re Black: How systemic racism shapes childhood

Desiree Cooper is a writer, journalist and parent. Des, a Black woman who raised her kids in Detroit, recently wrote about experiences raising her now-adult son that revealed biases held by much of white America against Black children. Research shows Black kids are often treated by white adults as older than they are and inherantly criminal.

“I really think it’s not the fear of Black boys in particular being criminals--it’s the fear of the righteous anger that Black people feel being turned against whites. The fear is in them, and it’s being projected onto our children. That’s what’s happening, and that’s not going to get shook loose until the guilt of what has happened to Black people in America has been owned by whites,” Cooper said.

You can read Cooper’s full article in The Rumpus here.

How missing homework landed a Michigan teenager in juvenile detention

The case of a Black teenager in Oakland County who was sent to juvenile detention by a judge after failing to complete an online homework assignment, draws light to how Black children are penalized in education and justice systems. ProPublica reporter Jodi Cohen broke the story.

"In researching the story, we looked at racial disparity data, which is kept by the state--not from every county, because, I believe, there's no requirement that counties report this to the state. But the state does track what they call disproportionate minority contact, and what you can see in that data is that from 2016 to this year, in Oakland County, about 15 percent of the youth are African American, but about 42 percent of the cases that are referred to juvenile court are of Black youth," Cohen said.

It’s not just policing: How schools reinforce racial inequality

Matinga Ragatz, education consultant and Stateside commentator, explained that the U.S. education system perpetuates inequality--from curriculum that doesn’t teach about America’s racist past to significantly higher cases of suspension or expulsion of Black students.

“You will see that racism turns its ugly head in the curriculum when you constantly depict people of color as victims, and you’re only telling the story of their struggle, but you do not specifically tell the story about how they began their struggle,” Ragatz said.

“We have to make sure that we teach the children the workings of the politics of race, and how a dominant culture is structured to create this hierarchy of human value,” she said.

A Grand Rapids educator talks about addressing disparity in education by embracing students’ entire families

Systemic racism in school systems doesn’t only affect Black children, says one researcher--it also influences the way schools interact with parents. Dr. Tamela Brown, an educator and dean of the middle school at River City Scholars Charter Academy in Grand Rapids, spoke with Stateside about the importance of what she calls the “Three E’s”: experience, engagement, and exposure, in addressing racial inequality in education. 

“We’ve had many of our parents, specifically minority parents or marginalized parents and low income parents, who have not been welcomed into the fold of education. They’ve been kind of forced to fit in this middle class idea of what parent engagement and involvement needs to look like,” Brown said.

“One of the things I always say to a parent is: you are the most important advocate and partner for your child,” she added.

Inclusion and Inequality: book highlights U-M's failed attempt at diversity

Systemic racism doesn't end in high school. For many Black students, those experiences continue into post-secondary education. In his new book, Undermining Racial Justice: How One University Embraced Inclusion, Texas Tech historian Matthew Johnson examines the University of Michigan’s efforts to provide a diverse environment for higher education. He said that, in most ways, the university achieved almost the opposite effect. 

"Despite the fact that, for example, African American numbers have gone way down, the University of Michigan still sells itself as this amazing, diverse place. And the concept of diversity allows administrators to do that because it's not attached to a number," Johnson said. 

Johnson also said that higher-ups at UM have perpetuated racial inequities by strategically evading Black students’ demands. 

"After a big social movement or protest, they would create this new position, whether it's a diversity officer or an assistant to the president, someone that looked like a very important position. And they would give it virtually no power to do much of anything. No budget, no power to hold people responsible. And that doesn't produce any sort of change at all. I mean the only power is the hope that that person can go around the university and convince people with power to make changes which never happened," Johnson explained.