A consistent feature of racists through history is that they have fully understood the power of education, or the lack of education, as a tool of oppression. Extraordinary efforts were taken to keep black slaves illiterate, including killing those who deigned to learn to read. After the Civil War, black schools were frequent targets of attack. It should be no surprise that the longest and hardest fight in the Jim Crow South was over public school segregation. Segregationists worked to keep African Americans from lunch counters and in the back of city buses, but they fought like hell to keep black kids out of white schools.
As our nation convulses with discussions of systemic racism, nearly all of the focus has been on questions of policing and the use of force. This is appropriate, of course. But I’d like to highlight a less discussed institution for which a strong case can be made that systemic racism prevails: public education.