Systemic barriers that Black people face in obtaining high-quality education  

Hadeeqa Aziz
March 24, 2022
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

C/O Jessica Yang

This is where societal change to fight racism in academia begins  

If there is any hope to overcome racial prejudice in modern society, it is important to gauge the nature of discrimination and stereotyping. Questions that come to mind revolve around the roots of systemic issues that create these seemingly unavoidable circumstances for racialized groups — especially Black individuals.  

Early twentieth century America successfully manipulated the general public into believing that African Americans were “mentally inferior” and “simple-minded” through various media ventures. Today, society is excellent at wrongfully labelling Black individuals using terms such as aggressive, violent, lazy and disrespectful.  

Centuries after the abolishment of slavery, one look at the political and professional workforce will tell you that society is still not fully capable of looking past the colour line — let alone acknowledging it.  

Though racial equity gaps are not all rooted in education barriers, these barriers serve as a vehicle to ensure the persistence of these gaps through time. In a society where the allocation of opportunities is becoming more and more dependent on knowledge and education, individuals who lack access to it are at a great disadvantage. 

This is merely one of the many reasons racism and discrimination against Black people are systemic. Until root causes such as education barriers aren’t addressed, the white politician’s call for diversity, public statements on racism and renaming streets will serve as nothing more than political stunts.  

Standardized test scores have shown gaps in educational achievements between White and non-Asian minority students, but the primary debate we face is interpreting these results.  

The foolish presumption that guides these discussions is that equal opportunities exist for pursuing education. Therefore, any gaps must be a function of a deliberate lack of effort and disregard for learning.  

Here’s an idea: instead of blaming a child’s unwillingness to learn, try examining the (intersectional) barriers that may prevent that child from having access to an adequate education. Socioeconomic status shouldn’t determine students’ opportunities or disrupt efforts for equal opportunities, but we find ourselves in a world where it very much does.  

The relative lack of Black people in the professional workforce sheds light on the socioeconomic inequalities faced by many Black communities.  

Within these communities, you will find barriers that include a lack of access to learning materials, resources, connections, skilled teachers, study environments and of course, active discrimination.  

Many education systems still thrive off racial and ethnic inequities within academic achievements, whether it’s disproportionately streamlining Black youth into lower education tracks, perpetuating racial stereotypes through their behaviour or treating Black children as threats inside education settings.  

Now here’s where the cycle begins (yet another insight into the systemic nature).  

One may presume that a lack of Black representation in influential sectors of society implies that it’s dominated by privileged non-racialized groups — and this is completely true. When these elitist academics dominate their fields of study, minorities are expected to embrace inferiority to comfort white fragility.  

A power imbalance exists that favours whiteness and ultimately, Black students may find it impossible to create their own identities because they have been conditioned to see themselves as an extension of whiteness, rather than individuals. They are conditioned to accept and remain within their cycle of educational detriment, creating the same circumstances for future Black generations.  

As much as society loves to gloat about the progression of racial discrimination, in many ways, it is stuck.  

The obvious solution seems to be simply not to look past colour and not see it at all. The problem with this is that it creates a colourblind system where the struggles and inequalities of Black people aren’t acknowledged. How can you, therefore, expect to arrive at solutions for problems that are a symptom of said inequalities?  

Instead, an equitable approach where these barriers are acknowledged and steps are being taken to alleviate them may be more helpful.  

For higher education institutions, this may look like introducing more programs such as the McMaster Black Student Success Centre, where specialized help is provided in the form of scholarships and bursaries, mental health resources and events that bring the community together.  

Creating more opportunities for Black students to enter the workforce at a professional level can help break the cycle for future Black generations as well. A systemic issue can only be solved through systemic solutions.  

If only society put more emphasis on that instead of renaming statues and pancake syrups.  

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