Race is more of a social construction than a biological fact. With this understanding, there is only one race, the human race. The caveat to this reality is that racism is real, and your race/ethnicity can significantly impact your life experiences especially as it relates to education; primary, secondary, and postsecondary. This section of Lived Experience will focus on the intersections of institutionalized racism and the educational experiences of BIPOC and poor people in the U.S.

The notion of race is constructed in such a way that it advantages some people and disadvantages others. In the United States, Whiteness is socially constructed in opposition to Blackness. To be White or associated with things perceived to be White gives one advantage, attention, and/or privilege (Bergeson, 2003). Thus, to be Black or be associated with Black is to be disadvantaged, ignored, and/or targeted (Harro, 2000; Perry, 2003). Because of how we are socialized in American society, Whites can internalize negative perceptions and deep down believe that people who are not like us are lazy, criminal, from broken families, rebellious, emotional, and disrespectful of authority. Put another way, “to be white was not to be Black” (Perry, 2003, p. 73). This is not to stigmatize all White people and to say that they all actively feel this way or act on racial biases. Instead, it allows us to understand that there is a high level of racialized  social messages that we all receive. These messages impact what we think about race/ethnicity, gender, social class, language, sexual orientation, and so on (Harro, 2000). For Whites, the messages reinforce messages of superiority, while making their race/ethnicity seem normal. Conversely, the socialization process targets people of color and identifies them as the Other. This is true of the systems of education in the United States.

In educational systems This ensures that one group is viewed more positively than the other. The social construction of race operates in covert and complex ways. According to anthropologists, racism (and privilege) operates on individual, institutional, and cultural levels. Individual racism usually means overt acts against people of color such as violence, jokes, and discriminatory hiring practices. These are clear manifestations of racial bias. On the institutional level, racism becomes an unseen aspect of our organizational lives. Institutional racism can be defined as “the network of institutional structures, policies and practices that create advantages and benefits for whites, and discrimination, oppression, and disadvantage for people from targeted groups’’ (Wijeyesinghe, Griffin, & Love, 1997, p. 93).

In K-12 schools, this plays out as policies or race-neutral practices that have clear racial outcomes, such as the disproportionate number of students of color who are suspended or expelled (Anderson & Ritter, 2017; McCray & Beachum, 2014). Institutional discrimination also occurs when students of color are misidentified, mis assessed, and miscategorized regarding being placed into special education programs (Asola & Obiakor, 2016).


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