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7 - Education Law

Unconscious Racism and the Conversation about the Racial Achievement Gap

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Justin D. Levinson
Affiliation:
University of Hawaii, School of Law
Robert J. Smith
Affiliation:
University of North Carolina, School of Law
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Summary

“What's happened to us?” My friend Tom asks this question with the intimate tone of one sibling speaking to another about a family problem.

“I just read that 60 percent of black males in D.C. drop out of high school,” he says. “Can that be true? Have we let things get that bad?” Tom looks up from the sink where he is rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. He is waiting for my answer.

I am not sure how to begin. I could finesse and tell him that I need to consult the latest data on the dropout rate. Yet Tom’s question poses a greater challenge. He is not really asking a question at all, at least not one that solicits my expertise as an academic who teaches and writes about race and education policy. Instead, he is initiating a conversation. Over the course of our thirty-year friendship, Tom and I have found ourselves in some version of this conversation more times than I can easily count. It is a conversation about what our parents’ generation used to call “the state of the race.”

Tom wants to know my opinion on what the media pundits and policy wonks call “the racial achievement gap” or, less euphemistically, “the black–white achievement gap.” He has seen some of the flood of newspaper and magazine articles that tell a story of a wide and persistent gap between the academic performance of white and black children and ask the rhetorical question, “Why?” Tom is way too smart to think that I or anyone else has a single simple answer to this question. He is really asking me to think out loud with him about how we should respond. I use the word “we” here in the same way Tom has used the word “us” in his first question. We both understand that we are speaking, as our parents would, about what should be the collective response of “the race.”

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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References

Lawrence III, Charles R.The Id, the Ego and Equal Protection: Reckoning with Unconscious Racism 39 1987
Lawrence III, Charles R.Unconscious Racism Revisited: Reflections on the Impact and Origins of “The Id, the Ego and Equal Protection 40 2008
Smedley, Audrey 2002
Gould, Stephen Jay 1999
Jensen, A. R.How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement 39 1969
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Lawrence III, Charles RWho Is the Child Left Behind? The Racial Meaning of the New School Reform 39 2006
Flora, John M. 1999
Gould, Marge ChristensenGould, HennanA Clear Vision for Equity and Opportunity: Diagnosis and Treatment of Vision Disorders in Poor Children Improves Academic Achievement 85 2003
1965
Cohen, Patricia 2010
Slaughter, DianaEpps, EdgarThe Home Environment and Academic Achievement of Black American Children and Youth: An Overview 56 1987
Stewart, Endya B.Family-and Individual-Level Predictors of Academic Success for African American Students: A Longitudinal Path Analysis Utilizing National Data 36 2006
1978
1986
Ogbu, JohnMinority Education in Comparative Perspective 59 1990
Lee, FeliciaWhy Are Black Students Lagging?N.Y. Times 2002
Wilson, William JuliusThe Role of the Environment in the Black-White Test Score Gap 1998
Ferguson, Ronald F. 1998
Goodyear-Kaopua, J. NoelaniRebuilding the ʿAuwai: Connecting Ecology, Economy and Education in Hawaiian Schools 5 2009
1970
2007

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