The recent college admissions scandal is just a fraction of the rigged American Education System
This is the result of an American education system which has been designed and made to function with the tenets of white nationalism in mind
by Daniel Johnson
Regarding the abject brutality of the way the criminal justice system discards Black bodies and lives, writer Kirsten West Savali describes the practice in this way, reframing the common narrative that the criminal justice system is merely broken: “The system is not broken, it is functioning exactly as intended.” There is little in the American construction of the current society we live in and underneath that does not follow this pattern, and as explored by The Atlantic, white nationalism has been embedded in the American fabric from the very beginning, resulting in several presidents vocally pushing for the acceptance of white supremacist ideology.
The education system then follows these two basic tenets down to their inevitable end: the breaking and devaluing of not just Black bodies, but Black minds. The African and the African in America’s experience inside the confines of this system have long paralleled the duality of being American and being a Black American. That is to say that the game has been heavily rigged against us. White America has created a system that rigs the game in weighted scales. They have concentrated wealth, created an insurmountable income gap, and sold us an American dream stuffed inside a waking nightmare. Namely, they have told lie after lie of something called a meritocracy, which unravels with every story about mostly rich white people buying access to so-called elite institutions of higher education.
The truth is, however, far more insidious. White folk have been buying access to allegedly superior education experiences with impunity ever since they outlawed teaching Africans who became or, more precisely, were made into the enslaved. Following the abolition of slavery, they could not bear the thought of educated Negro children outperforming white children when the playing field was leveled. Therefore, they created segregation, either by de facto or de juris means. Whether you were in Massachusetts or Georgia, chances are your education was tied to either income or race, which in the white American imagination was synonymous with Blackness, and it still is.
The remnants of such an unequal system rear their heads in the vestiges of systems in states like Texas, where test performance is tied to school funding. Study after study confirms that this arrangement perpetuates inequity and does not improve the performance of schools which are now being labeled “failing” or “low-performance” or “at-risk”. Additionally, measures such as state takeovers, like the one currently being advocated for by the Governor of the State of Texas, Greg Abbott, do more harm than good for Black and Brown students who are ultimately being targeted by the white supremacist American education system.
It is no surprise then that, within the context of the college bribery scandal, many of the students’ parents are both rich and white, because these are the markers of success set up by the American system. This has forced Black and Brown children to have to be twice as good as their white counterparts. Twice as good in failing and underfunded schools, which largely function without the benefit of the biggest safety net in this American society, money.
This, of course, has nothing but negative consequences for those who are forced to navigate this society bereft of the boon that is income or class security. Those who “make it” into the Ivy Leagues or the “elite” colleges in the American college system are often forced into enclaves when they make it to those campuses and used as proof that those schools have made sufficient progress. As we have seen over the past year, making it to these universities is no protection or indication of white progress.
Being anywhere, but particularly in spaces seen as “white spaces”, leaves Black and Brown students in a position of perpetual vulnerability to demeaning and potentially dangerous interactions with the police. These interactions are also disastrous for Black students at these universities as they often are left to deal with trauma as a result of interacting with police who are overzealous to protect these white spaces and thus are unconcerned with the rights of the Black students who are also entitled to be there.
The long national lie of meritocracy has also been slammed as a result of the scandal, testing and college admissions have been rendered as an “even” playing field, where names and family wealth and other advantages that typically went in the favor of white women like Lori Loughlin don’t matter. What is coming out in the wake of this scandal is that these things not only never stopped mattering, they never stopped influencing who was allowed access to these “elite” American colleges. If you have enough money and privilege in America, you can buy anything, even a “spot” at one of America’s so-called elite institutions of higher learning.
Whiteness, just as much as it was back when teaching enslaved Africans how to read and write was a crime, is still petrified of being surpassed and its national mythos of white superiority being reduced to a rubble of lies. In order to protect this national lie, they once enacted the Black Codes, Jim Crow, and Redlining, which naturally morphed into gentrification and gerrymandering, and strategically districting schools to ensure that the richest neighborhoods would remain the whitest neighborhoods. Even this was not enough to satiate the greed of whiteness. They had to ensure that even with all of these advantages, the lowly Black and Brown children could not gain access into “their” spaces, so they bought them.
Many have cited the cases of Black women like Kiarre Harris, who was arrested and had her children placed in the foster system because she chose to home school them, and Yolanda Miranda, who sent her four children to another better-financed school system in Rochester, NY. Eventually, Miranda was the target of a four-month investigation and charged with grand larceny and three other charges. Of course, white women and white parents are not held to anywhere near the same standards, as is evidenced by the college scandal where some parents paid millions of dollars to get their children into schools where their own grades and test scores could not gain them admittance.
Nationally, the stratification of the American education system has had a disastrous effect on the schooling of Black and Brown students as a study commissioned by The Atlantic reflects. In a survey of 100 of the largest American cities, Black and Brown students are much more likely to attend high-poverty schools. This is no accident. This is the result of an American education system which has been designed and made to function with the tenets of white nationalism in mind, and much like the West-Savali’s quote with which I began this piece, it is a reminder of the full brutality of the American injustice system that is undergirded by the American education system.
And it’s not only Black and Brown students that suffer. Black and Brown teachers nationwide are also underpaid in relation to their white peers, which means that the entire economy of the education system is set up to ensure that this dynamic persists. The American education system functions as a pervasive reminder of the intentions of white supremacy, which has long been set up for Black and Brown children to fail and then to blame them when they cannot lift the weight which they have been buried under.
It is a wonder that Black and Brown children still dream, but these are the children of the once enslaved and the children of domestic workers and the children of migrant workers who were not supposed to survive in America. They are dreaming and surviving and turning the tables on the white nationalists who never imagined these “lesser” beings were capable of besting their white children at a game which has always been rigged for white prosperity. America may be a brutal place, it may actively try to kill us, but much like the great Lucile Clifton wrote, we are also collectively invited to celebrate our survival and our ability to thrive despite all of this.
“won’t you celebrate with me
…come celebrate with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed”
Daniel Johnson studies English and creative writing at Sam Houston State University. In his spare time, he likes to visit museums and listen to trap music. His work can be found at The Root, Black Youth Project, Racebaitr, Those People, and Afropunk.