During this national moment of affirming that Black Lives Matter, we must acknowledge that our methods of ensuring Black children have a fair opportunity to learn have been ineffective. While we are at a critical moment of assessing and addressing the universal harms of systemic racism, we cannot leave out the impact of racism on learning outcomes for Black students. If our desire to liberate US policies and practices from systemic racism is sincere, we must also liberate our systems of learning.
When Black Americans were brought to the United States as slaves, education was discouraged. Black people were forbidden from learning to read or write, and a slave who could do so was subject to severe punishment or death. When Black people were eventually formally permitted to go to school, those schools were separated by race and remained unequal. Even decades after 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that Black and white children were legally allowed to go to school together, the tax bases of wealthier communities and discriminatory policies like redlining meant Black children were still largely relegated to schools that, once again, were separate and unequal.