Recognizing and Combating Structural Racism

This edition of Executive Director’s Notes appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of connection, the ACLU-DE newsletter.

Violence plagues the streets of Wilmington and is a growing concern in Dover. In 2014, unemployment in Delaware was 4.3% for Whites, 9.1% for Blacks and 9.1% for Hispanics. High poverty schools responsible for educating many black and brown students up and down the state are failing. What do these situations have in common? They are all created, to some degree, by the structural racism that still prevails in our country. We’re uncomfortable recognizing this reality, but we must if we are to address it.

Since structural racism is on my mind these days, when I read a story about Milton schools in the Cape Gazette in October, I thought it presented a perfect example of the challenges we face when trying to dismantle societal structures to create greater equity opportunities across races.

The story began, “The town of Milton has two elementary schools that have been at the heart of a debate for a decade.” H.O. Brittingham Elementary has a student population that is mostly non-white and low income. Less than a mile away, Milton Elementary has fewer low income students and is predominantly white. Test scores at Brittingham are low. Milton students do well on state tests. The Cape Henlopen School District plans to replace one school and renovate the other. The challenge is how can the situation be used to integrate the schools socioeconomically and improve student success?

Some school board members want to suspend school choice for elementary schools for a few years and construct new feeder patterns to create more demographic diversity. Others want to make one school for K-2 students and the other grades 3-5. Many believe that the split grade structure is the only way to ensure long-term integration across class and race. Not surprisingly, the Milton Elementary school parents are happy the way things are. They are pushing back hard against the K-2, 3-5 split. The Brittingham parents support change—any change that will provide better opportunity for their children.

Do you see where I’m going with this? One definition of structural racism is the way government systematically affords White people an array of social, political and economic advantages, while marginalizing and putting at a disadvantage African Americans and many other people of color.

How do you think this story will end?

The hard reality we must face as a society if we sincerely want to make further strides towards equal opportunity for all is this: the opposite side of the coin of racial discrimination is White privilege. Whites must be willing to give up some power and advantage to make our society more just and fair. But what we will gain as a community will far, far outweigh any individual sacrifices or setbacks during such a realignment.

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