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No, Jaylen Brown, Racism Is Not Why Blacks Underperform in School

In a recent interview published at The Guardian, Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown gave an in-depth interview about his career, his personal life, and the state of racism in America, something he says is the reason blacks underperform in today’s education system even after years of affirmative action.

Racism definitely exists across America today. Of course it’s changed a lot – and my opportunities are far greater than they would have been 50 years ago. So some people think racism has dissipated or no longer exists. But it’s hidden in more strategic places. You have less people coming to your face and telling you certain things. But [Donald] Trump has made it a lot more acceptable for racists to speak their minds.

It wounds you. But when I got older and went to the University of California [Berkeley] I learnt about a more subtle racism and how it filters across our education system through tracking, hidden curriculums, social stratification and things I had no idea of before. I was really emotional – because one of the most subtle but aggressive ways racism exists is through our education system.

Brown is no doubt reacting to the fact that blacks are still underrepresented in higher education and that the numbers have been stagnant for many years. A New York Times article from last year confirms this:

Even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago. The share of black freshmen at elite schools is virtually unchanged since 1980. Black students are just 6 percent of freshmen but 15 percent of college-age Americans.

According to the article, while white enrollment has steadily dropped at nearly every university, even below 50 percent in some cases, blacks have remained underrepresented with little change. Hispanics have done slightly better, though not by much, and Asians have far exceeded other minority groups, passing whites at some colleges.

Why have blacks not improved despite all the advantages they’ve received? Brown and others believe the cause is hidden racism within the system, starting in elementary school.

In the Times article, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights affirms this perception: “Elementary and secondary schools with large numbers of black and Hispanic students are less likely to have experienced teachers, advanced courses, high-quality instructional materials and adequate facilities.”

But can this disparity really be blamed on lack of quality education for blacks? Are blacks really not going to college because of socioeconomic reasons or hidden racism that denies them opportunities given to “privileged” white students?

Despite what Brown and civil rights leaders say, not all research supports this conclusion. One preeminent study by John Ogbu, “Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement,” concluded that the education gap between whites and blacks has more to do with community forces than economic status or racism.