The renowned French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1897/1951) asserted in his groundbreaking tome Suicide: A Study in Sociology, education “is only the image and reflection of society. It imitates and reproduces the latter in abbreviated form; it does not create it” (p. 372). The statements, therefore, of Nieto and Bode (2008) relative to the failure of our schools to provide all students regardless of their background or situation with equal and unbiased educational opportunities is an indictment of the society in which these schools exist.
The ideals of the American democratic society are equal rights and equal opportunities for all people regardless of their creed, color, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender. Unfortunately, we have not lived up to the principles and, thus, today we see a continuing inequity in the nation’s schools although there has been a marked increase in the awareness of how racism is manifest in society (D’Andrea & Daniels, 2007). Beady and Hansell (1981) assert that “the promise of school desegregation for reducing educational inequities has largely gone unfulfilled” (p. 191). The 30 years since this statement was made have done little to change the truth of it.
There are three types of racism that are observable in our society: (a) individual, (b) cultural, and (c) institutional (Constantine, 2006 as cited in D’Andrea & Daniels, 2007). While individual racism produces problematic and often dramatic displays, the more subtle demonstrations of cultural and institutional racism are also seen in schools. Individual racism is when White individuals treat members of other racial groups differently because the White individual believes the person or the group to whom the person belongs is intellectually, morally, socially, emotionally, or culturally inferior (Constatine, 2006 as cited in D’Andrea & Daniels, 2007).
Cultural racism is demonstrated by persons who hold that White cultural norms and values are superior to those of other cultures. This can be seen in many areas including emotional styles, linguistic expression, music, art, and religion (D’Andrea & Daniels, 2007). Institutional racism, on the other hand, is the “collective failure of institutions to provide appropriate and professional services to people because of their color, culture, or ethnicity (Carmichael & Hamilton, 1967 as cited in González, 2007). Some of the educational manifestations of institutional racism include culturally-based testing, culturally biased curriculum, and lack of ethnic diversity in administration and faculty positions (D’Andrea & Daniels, 2007).
The vignette on Rashaud Kates illustrates cultural racism. Kates noted that, “There’s not really any stories [sic] or literature about African Americans in our school” (Nieto & Bode, 2008, p. 104). He became discouraged with the literature he had to study because it did not reflect his culture, heritage, or historical experiences (Nieto & Bode, 2008).