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Because of Race

Because of Race: How Americans Debate Harm and Opportunity in Our Schools

Mica Pollock
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Because of Race
    Book Description:

    InBecause of Race, Mica Pollock tackles a long-standing and fraught debate over racial inequalities in America's schools. Which denials of opportunity experienced by students of color should be remedied? Pollock exposes raw, real-time arguments over what inequalities of opportunity based on race in our schools look like today--and what, if anything, various Americans should do about it.

    Pollock encountered these debates while working at the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights in 1999-2001. For more than two years, she listened to hundreds of parents, advocates, educators, and federal employees talk about the educational treatment of children and youth in specific schools and districts. People debated how children were spoken to, disciplined, and ignored in both segregated and desegregated districts, and how children were afforded or denied basic resources and opportunities to learn. Pollock discusses four rebuttals that greeted demands for everyday justice for students of color inside schools and districts. She explores how debates over daily opportunity provision exposed conflicting analyses of opportunity denial and harm worth remedying. Because of Race lays bare our habits of argument and offers concrete suggestions for arguing more successfully toward equal opportunity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2901-9
    Subjects: Education, Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-21)

    For this book, I have analyzed hundreds of arguments over racial discrimination in public schools that I encountered while working at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) from 1999 to 2001. I participated in most of these arguments, as I investigated cases and talked on the phone to local educators, parents, and advocates, or discussed office policies and practices with my colleagues. I overheard a few arguments in a fluorescent-lit office hallway or over the wall of my cubicle; I encountered others on the pages of circulating government documents. All centered on a longstanding, still-raging debate...

  2. REBUTTAL ONE Harms to Children of Color Cannot Be Proved
    (pp. 22-63)

    Every complaint alleging racial discrimination that I investigated while working at OCR was filed by a person of color (often a parent) who felt she or he had hit a wall in trying to explain to white educators that a student or students of color were experiencing harm along racial lines.¹ In each case, complainants contended that local educators seemed unwilling to believe that the students had experienced harm that could be termed “racial.” The complainants were right: educators would soon make the same argument to OCR.

    In most of the Title VI complaints I investigated, parents had already met...

  3. REBUTTAL TWO Harms to Children of Color Should Not Be Discussed
    (pp. 64-100)

    Arriving with my coffee at our regional OCR office each day, I often set to work typing letters reminding educators that the law ultimately enabled OCR to tell them how to equalize opportunity. OCR began and concluded all investigations by sending letters to districts announcing its authority to enforce civil rights laws on all districts that receive federal funds. In this sense, in Title VI cases we positioned ourselves publicly as an agency ready to enforce everyday justice. Yet during my day, I would spend much of my time talking to managers, colleagues, and educators themselves about what not to...

  4. REBUTTAL THREE Harms to Children of Color Cannot Be Remedied
    (pp. 101-135)

    When Title VI was passed in 1964, just ten years afterBrown v. Board of Education, the core form of educational discrimination lawmakers conceptualized was intentional segregation. From 1967 through the early 1970s, OCR muscularly threatened recalcitrant districts, primarily in the South, with the loss of federal funding if they continued to run purposely segregated schools.¹ Title VI also made it possible to analyze a much broader set of educational policies and practices, declaring that any “exclusion from participation,” “denial” of “benefits,” or “discrimination” “on the ground of race, color, or national origin” was illegal in “any program or activity...

  5. REBUTTAL FOUR Harms to Children of Color Are Too “Small” to Fix
    (pp. 136-174)

    This chapter explores one final way that people debating education resist demands for everyday justice for students of color today. They claim that everyday harms to children of color inside schools and districts are too “small” to fix. Some people argue that harms experienced in everyday life are too “small” to add up to racial inequality of opportunity, while others argue that “big” structures of unequal opportunity cannot be remedied through everyday activity. Some people argue that no one in particular can be seen denying opportunity; therefore, no one in particular should be pressed to provide it.

    It is harder...

  6. CONCLUSION Arguing toward Everyday Justice in the New Civil Rights Era
    (pp. 175-186)

    Many observers call this the “post–civil rights era.” The phrase is meant to describe more than our temporal location, although the mass marches and legislative victories of the civil rights movement are now to many a distant memory. It is meant to characterize an era in which white Americans in particular resist specific measures to equalize opportunity for people of color, even while now stating shared beliefs in the basic premise of equal opportunity.¹ On surveys, researchers now find some people of color resisting specific policies designed to equalize opportunity racially for groups other than their own as well.²...