Racism at school and beyond

The legacy of racism for children: Psychology, law, and public policy (Oxford University Press), Edited by Margaret C. Stevenson, Bette L. Bottoms & Kelly C. Burke; reviewed by Philip Miti.

I was the only black pupil in my year at junior school. I remember being held back in the lowest set for mathematics although my ability was years ahead of the curriculum. My father levelled a series of written objections emphasising my capabilities. His letters went unacknowledged until he reluctantly included his own academic credentials. My own story panned out much lighter than other black pupils’ might have. I was reminded of my experiences when reading this book.

Boasting thorough original research, this book pioneers an interdisciplinary exploration of the legal structures and social policy under which young African Americans suffer frequent injustice. A wealth of current empirical data is presented alongside informative legal and psychological case studies. It is thus not only relevant for anyone who works on the ‘front-line’ in education, psychology, policy, law, health but also those who are ready to address these blind spots in academia.

I was unsurprised to read about the racial disparity in the US ‘school-to-prison pipeline’. For some black pupils, attending school can increase the likelihood of encounter with the criminal justice system. Schools can end up diverting many black children from successful adulthood. Among the underpinning factors is removal from the educational environment, which is one of the most common forms of discipline in state schools. This can begin as early as preschool, and there is a disproportionate exclusion of black children ‘at all grades and ages’. The behavioural and mental health impacts are inevitable.

These children inherit the structures which condemn them simply because they do not appear to be like their Caucasian counterparts – whether they are at school, in court or at the bank. This outstanding book carefully considers how such disparities have been exacerbated by US social and legal policy. It also addresses some of the empirically measurable effects of racism on children with much rippling significance outside of the US too.

For example, the racial gap in housing remains in Britain despite decades of sociological observation. The legacy of racism is ongoing.

- Reviewed by Philip Miti, PhD Candidate, University of Heidelberg

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