There are a myriad of disparities and gaps that exist in our society that place people of color at a disadvantage from their white neighbors and peers. The foundations for these gaps were created when our systems began by individual actors working together, who forcibly and strategically placed whiteness as the norm and first priority. Today, disparities are perpetuated by intentional action, but also by those who fiercely uphold the status quo or who have internalized whiteness as the standard to meet and serve. This is white supremacy. To some, this term only means extreme violence and calculated menace from an era we have left behind; white hoods gathered at night beneath burning crosses. Time may have passed, but white hoods have transformed into police uniforms, teaching attire, corporate suits and business casual garb on the streets of our nation.
In our education system, it shows up in school policies that ban Black children from wearing their hair in natural styles or when schools don’t bother to translate important communication for non-English speaking families. It shows up as a noticeable difference in vendors who resemble the student population and serve the school community in a social sense — not simply business. It shows when districts post equity statements and continue to ignore widening achievement gaps between their white students and students of color — or low literacy rates among their African American students.
None of it is fair to the children we serve. None of it is fair to us.
The education system in our country was created by and for white families in every legal designation the system espouses — traditional, charter or private. The voices and needs of Black and brown students were not taken into account when this system began, and in many instances, are still passed over today. Our entire society lives with the consequences of this. Imagine what our world could be if we truly educated Black and brown minds to their fullest potential. We would have had the cure for cancer right now. Think of the discoveries, art, policies, writing and leaders lost to the perpetuation of this system.
A society operating at only a fraction of its capacity can solve nothing. But, we don’t have to keep withering in the suffocating prison built for us by white supremacy.
Over the last 18 months, The Mind Trust worked to analyze our ability in acting as an antiracist organization and the path forward from ways we have failed. We examined and acknowledged the ways we held up a white supremacist system and asked ourselves what deep work and outcomes are needed to become conspirators against racial injustice. We are asking ourselves questions that we call on other organizations to ask of themselves: How do we begin to reimagine and dismantle a system like this? In what ways do we participate in the system? How do we start building systems predicated on a different reality? How do we not criminalize African American men, women and children? How do we not remove or ignore Latino perspectives and needs?
We will all have to engage in deep interrogation and corporate soul searching to upend this current system. We cannot truly repair our country’s broken soul until we explore the root from which it came and why we continue to align with its principles. We need an effective strategy to masterfully challenge the system, because just as we will fight to tear down this house, some in our midst will fight to rebuild every wall that falls. Some will work diligently to protect this system that is a prison to some and a palace to others.
We will need to hold a deep commitment to this work as a social and moral imperative that can only be judged by outcomes, not feelings of pity or vain name-changing gestures. The commitment will need to produce tangible results for our communities that go beyond the notion that this is simply the right thing to do. For it is right, but it also creates an opportunity for our nation to live up to the promise of equality in the preamble that has been a farce since it was inscribed.
The Mind Trust is committed to continuing the necessary work to dismantle inequitable systems, as doing so can only make this nation, this world, truly live up to its fullest potential. We ask you to join us.
Patrick Jones is senior vice president of Leadership and Equity at The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education nonprofit.