By Hakim Shahid, Ph.D.
Out of the darkness…
I was born and raised in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. Like many of my peers, my parents worked at one of the “Big Three” automobile factories. Growing up, my parents would always instruct us that gaining a good education was the only way we were going to make something out of ourselves. I did not heed this advice in elementary or middle school. I found school boring and could not relate it to life in my neighborhood. Because of my apathetic attitude toward school, I was retained in the seventh grade. This was a wake-up call for me to take school seriously. Not because I saw the importance of gaining a good education, but because I did not want to disappoint my parents any further.
…Into the Light
As a science teacher working on my Master of Education degree, I realized while teaching in a predominantly African-American school district that all the information others and I received in urban schools was from a Euro-Anglo perspective. Even if the information was based on fallacy (e.g. Columbus discovering America; the savage African myth; Independence Day; Lincoln emancipating the slaves; Europeans as the creators of science, math, and language; and so forth…) it was still taught and expected to be retained by the students. This realization led me to many long discussions with my professors about the lack of diversity in classroom lessons in urban America. Every meeting ended with my being advised to make sure that for the time being, I teach this information to the students of my class to ensure they received a “balanced” education and until one day I can create and administer educational policies that promote multiculturalism in all classrooms.
Racism: Defined and Explained
Racism as an institutionalized system is a system fed by the socio-economic, political, and cultural practices of two types of participants: the oppressed people and the people who oppress them. In other words, a dominant group of people in society is self-garnered with certain rights and privileges that are not enjoyed by the minority sector. According to writings by Louise Derman-Sparks & Carol B. Phillips, in the United States of America the White race is considered the victors to the hierarchy of societal privilege. As a result, the other citizens of the country: African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Asian-Pacific Americans, and Native Americans are relegated to the lower tiers of the oppressed.
The Capitalist Premise behind Racism
If racism is the mother who gave birth to the inequitable elements that comprises American citizenry, then capitalism is the grandmother who bore racism. Racist practices are as old as humanity itself. The seizing of a people’s land by another to gain access to their riches and resources can be seen throughout history. Racism from this infancy stage would grow to prominence during its adolescent stage in the 17th century. It is here that the introduction of human slavery of Africans served as the catalyst for the most successful capitalist system the world would ever know. The dominant mainstream society exploited the bodies and talents of its ethnic classes by importing the Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean for labor; exterminating the Native Americans who showed the American “settlers” how to live off the land; using Asian labor to build railroads and mine for gold; and presently using the Mexican people as a means of generating products and services from their “cheap labor”. In essence, the dominant mainstream society became richer while setting up policies and practices to keep the ethnic people of color in a subservient condition.
To insure the future status of its progeny, mainstream society created schools to produce its future mainstream as leaders and the “movers and shakers” as well as the future minority-laced staff to work for them which according to Henry Giroux is the ideology behind social reproduction. It is therefore my belief that social reproduction, as a systematic practice, is manifested when contemplating the scholastic nature of urban schools across America.
The problems students of color and I in our locale experienced in school are the same problems experienced by students of color from urban school districts in Ohio, Texas, Georgia, New York, and California, to name a few. This is more than a coincidence and easily explained through the process of social reproduction that guarantees the success of a certain part of our society in a capitalistic system while processing the low self-esteem and academic hopelessness in other factions of society.
Dr. Hakim Shahid is the Science/Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator for Detroit Edison Public School Academy District and an adjunct professor at Marygrove College. He holds a Ph.D. in Reading Education; a M.Ed. in Educational Administration; and a B.S. in Biology and Chemistry. He has presented at national education conferences and lectured at universities across the United States and abroad. For inquiries regarding availability for presentations and workshops, contact Dr. Shahid at firstname.lastname@example.org.