If your secondary school curriculum resembled mine, then you might have learned to equate success with whiteness. It’s likely that this thought never consciously crossed your mind—but it was there. I prefer to think that school boards do not purposefully instill this notion in their students. However, by solely focusing on the accomplishments and contributions of Europeans and their descendants, teachers perpetuate the notion that members of the white race are the greatest contributors and thus, more naturally inclined to succeed.

In light of recent racially charged tragedies, an attack on the education system might seem petty. It is not. See, the aforementioned subconscious thought that Eurocentric curricula fosters can lead individuals to later harbor views that are much more sinister. When these resulting ideas are voiced, the speaker is quickly labeled racist, ignorant or bigoted. Many will assume the individual is uneducated. In many cases, “uneducated” is a mislabel. I would argue that a lack of education is not the reason behind your Uncle Joe’s racist rants. On the contrary, the education that he did receive might be the true catalyst.    

The inflammatory statements made by people like Uncle Joe prompt those around them to respond by attacking only their words. This knee-jerk reaction is dangerous. By reacting this way, one fails to detect and destroy the flawed foundation upon which Uncle Joe bases his ideas. The root cause of his prejudice should be the prime target of those hoping to change him. If we continue to chop away only at the ideas that stem from the root, genuine change will remain a fantasy.

This idea directly applies to modern racial discourse. Consider those who attempt to justify the shooting of unarmed black Americans. Some members of the Black Lives Matter movement are perplexed by those defending the police; I am not. As a woman of African descent, these views certainly haunt me, but I am not even slightly confused by their mindset. Why? Because there is a pattern. Though the explanations always vary, the underlying sentiment remains the same.
Regardless of whether the black victim was involved in criminal activity, “thug” is a justifier’s most beloved noun choice. Evidence of drug use becomes reason to denounce the victim’s entire character. To them, resistance, running or cursing suddenly become crimes that are punishable by death.

These are the arguments used by those who attempt to rationalize these tragedies. This mindset is not simply the result of a lack of education. These warped justifications expose the potential—or lack thereof—that the speaker feels the victim possessed. To these people, the dead black man is guilty because he must be guilty. For many of these defenders, these deaths are not that tragic because these black people were not really going to contribute much, anyway. The media is quick to post an incriminating or unattractive photographs of the victim alongside a smiling, clean-cut photo of the officer. As stated, there is a pattern. The sentiment remains the same.
Again, this sentiment does not result from a lack of education. Prejudiced views are not inborn. They are taught. Thus, racism is not the mantra of the uneducated, but of the mis-educated. Though many Americans are aware that this mindset has led to the devaluation of the black life, many fail to recognize the connection between this devaluation and the Eurocentric nature of our nation’s classrooms. By ignoring this connection, we are continuing to plant ideas about racial categories—and the inherent value of each—in the minds of our youth.

This failure can affect how children of all backgrounds view race, but can be especially detrimental to the way in which students of color view themselves. Though many minority parents take extra steps to supplement their child’s knowledge of their culture and history, some parents do not have the time, will or awareness to do so. While some of these children are not affected by this lapse in education many, sadly, are. These are the students who move into adulthood consciously or subconsciously believing that their potential is naturally lower than that of their white peers.

If unfamiliar with these ideas, one might swiftly cry “race bait” and denounce the entire concept. Luckily, a multitude of social and psychological studies have focused on the effects of internalized racism. Most of these studies have specifically focused on the black community. Though some have used these studies to spark discussion on internalized racism, the root of this issue is rarely questioned. Though many experiences result in the devaluation of the self, it is especially horrifying that this poison might first be prescribed in the classroom.

The change I’m calling for is quite small. If teachers can spend time discussing Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, then they can also mention that America’s first clock was created by Benjamin Banneker—a black man. If we can take the time to study Ancient Greece and Rome, why can’t we also study Ancient African and Asian communities? Civilization first arose in the Eastern hemisphere—our textbooks do not reflect that. There is more to non-white countries than European colonialism—the curricula of many schools suggest otherwise. The histories and contributions of people of color belong in the classroom alongside those of their white counterparts.

We cannot simultaneously support a classroom narrative that quietly upholds racial inequality and expect to somehow evolve into a magical post-racial society. If we wish to dismantle racist ideology from its core, we must first understand where that core lies. Simply studying the surface accomplishes nothing.