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Racism in Education: Then and Now

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Studying racism and race relations since the time of the Gilded Age, one can see that there have been many changes in the United States dealing with this subject. The “Land of the Free” has oppressed groups of people based on their skin color and country of origin, throughout history for various reasons. Some just believe that the white race is superior to any other, while others at times, find some races to be a threat to their way of life. Whatever the reason, racism is deeply rooted in the history of our great country. The most memorable probably being the enslavement of African Americans for over 300 years. While unfortunately there still is racism to be found in almost every part of the country, the United States actual legal policies on racism, has unquestionably been altered over time. Blacks, whites, and other minorities races are all intended to receive equal treatment now, according to the law. Even with this legal protection, there are still ways that are found to hold African Americans and other minorities down.

In more recent times, it is now illegal to treat people unequally because of their race, but unfortunately racism still does exist in our country and throughout the world. Racist violence is less prevalent than what it used to be, but that does not change the fact that people are still being raised, learning to judge by skin color. People’s judgment and views throughout time are a cause of stereotypes and ignorance. Stereotypes give preconceived notions about certain groups of people. I am virtually positive that most people have heard some sort of racist stereotypes portraying African Americans. For instance, some labels are that they are lazy, violent, lower class, drug dealers and/or users, uneducated, just to name a few off the top of my head. These biased traits paint a poor picture of the African American community to some people, providing a foundation for modern day racism.

African Americans were forced into slavery to provide service and labor to their white buyers. For the most part, they were used to make their owners money. Once slavery ended, the idea of free African Americans entering into the actual labor force did not seem of use to many whites, or at least a use that was in the white mans favor. States endorsed things like tax laws to keep blacks working on plantations and farms, making the tax higher if they tried to find employment elsewhere. Even after the addition of the Thirteenth amendment, which freed the slaves, the United States still had methods of holding African Americans back. Black codes enacted after the Civil War barred blacks from jury duty, denied their right to vote, forced them to enter into work contracts and stay respectful and subordinate to their boss, who in many cases would be a former slave owner. If they refused to work, they were in danger of being disciplined by the army.

Though blacks had finally received the freedom they had so longed for, they were not treated or even looked at as equals for many years to come. The 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson ruled that it was okay if blacks were separate but equal. Besides holding a person against his or her will, I do not think that there is a worse way to hold one back, then to put restrictions on the education he or she receives. Many African American children were not able to attend school because they needed to work to support their families. This was a unending cycle. Many blacks were being held back from attaining decent jobs, so in order to support the family, children were put to work to bring in extra income. Besides many black children not being able to attend school, there was the other problem of school segregation. Blacks were not permitted to go to school with white children, but white school board leaders were the ones making decisions for the black schools, keeping power over them. Because whites were generally favored over blacks during these times, black schools were overpopulated, under funded, and not as successful as the more tended to white schools.

I believe the education system is still a significant cause on why African Americans continue to be discriminated against today. Children are sent to school based on the district they live in. In most areas, these district lines are drawn in ways as to separate classes of people. In many places in the United States, blacks suffering from poverty out number those of other ethnic groups. Individuals with similar backgrounds, such as race, will frequently stick near the familiar and form communities around each other. All across the nation one can see poor black communities separated from the higher level classes. As a result of these district lines, the poor communities suffer while the more well off tend to flourish. This is a direct and serious threat to the educational institutes of these poor communities. The more poor the district is, the less tax money it has. Fewer taxes mean less money goes to schools.

School population in these areas tend to be high compared to the funds available to support all its students and school needs. This causes schools to be under funded and not able to provide the best facilities and most up to date supplies for students and faculty. I think this has somewhat of a domino effect. Teachers become frustrated with inadequate materials which can negatively affect their teaching methods and interaction with the students. In return, students are hurt by a deprived education which can bring about feelings of being trapped in their present situation. If everyone received the same education with the same funding, then this country would be helping to provide true equality of opportunity and perhaps in the future changing the racism associated with district lines.

While legal policy on equality and liberty have changed greatly over the past 150 years or so, the United States education system alone is a representation on how our country is still continuing to oppress people, especially minorities. Education is a major key to providing a country based on equal opportunity. Without equal education, how can there ever be equal opportunity? There must be equal chance to receive that opportunity. When schools are all, in reality, equal and all children have the chance to obtain the same education with up-to-date resources and supplies, then will everyone actually have the chance to make the most of themselves and fully develop their person. For this to occur would really give everyone equal footing, and help bring an end to the discriminations people of the United States still face today.


Roark, James et.al. The American Promise. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006.

Nash, Gary, and Ronald Schultz. Retracing the past : Readings in the History of the American People, Volume II. New York: Longman, 2005.

Johnson, Michael. Reading the American past. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004.

Seraile, William. African American Education: A Historical Overview. Institute of Development and Education for Africa, Inc. 13 Nov. 2008. .

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