Facing Racism

May 2014

By Patricia Obletz and F. Sanders, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

White people, or people who think they are white, spend little time thinking about being “white,” whereas most so called Black people think “Black” 24/7. Evidence shows that it all affects behavior. Certainly, it relates to what writer, James Baldwin describes as the need for white people to study their own history, not withstanding its influence upon their behavior, which may firm up why some whites will not give up racism and being racists.

In 1986, writer James Baldwin, in a speech before the National Press Club, began to tire of the repeated queries about why Black folk do what they do, and responded with the following: “…(W)e should establish ‘White History Week’ for the answers to these questions is not in me, but in that history which produces these questions. White people don’t know who they are or where they come from. That’s why you think I’m a problem; but I am not the problem — your history is, and as long as you pretend not to know your history, you are going to become the prisoner of it; and “…there’s no question about you liberating me, because you cannot liberate yourselves.”

America’s history of inhumane treatment, slavery, atrocities and mutilations, including that of “scalping,” was brought here by impoverished Europeans. They, mostly poor, had been denied freedom by an incest practicing Monarchy with designs to keep royalty in the family.

Poor folks were blamed for diseases, the Plague, and with no choice, many were packed up to face the Atlantic and indentured service. They would compete with the thousands of Scots whom the English have enslaved before.

Yet, full comprehension about the 3,700 mile London to America would help seed self-awareness, and a series of rationalizations, even that of making God an accomplice, which if repeated often enough, would become legitimized as “fact” even by today’s creditable historians, philosophers and scientists.

Imagine growing up with the belief that you are inferior to the majority of people, who were white. This belief can be submerged until Black folk are discovered, made victims and blamed for anything that goes wrong, or that which certain white folk do not like.

In light of the recent Supreme Court of the United States ruling against affirmative action in Michigan, eight-year old research by professors, Douglas S. Massey and Mary J. Fischer, suggests that even children who racism has segregated are endangered.

Their findings, The Effect of Childhood Segregation on Academic Performance (Jan. 2006), concludes that the “United States is still a racially segregated society. In addition, recent analyses of census and school data reveal that “current levels of segregation are not much different from those prevailing in 1970, just after the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.”(Orfield and Sanni 1999; Iceland, Weinberg, and Steinmetz 2002).

Although desegregation efforts have been relatively successful in employment, media, retail, and public accommodation, they have lagged behind in schools and housing.

Harmful Consequences of Segregation

People living in minority-dominant neighborhoods likewise experience elevated concentrations of poverty, which operate to lower the odds of success across a variety of socio-economic dimensions (Brooks-Gunn, Duncan, and Aber 1997; Sampson, Morenoff, and Gannon-Rowley 2002)

Although primary and secondary schools remain highly segregated by race and ethnicity (Milwaukee is the worst city for black students), desegregation efforts have been more successful in colleges and universities. In institutions of higher learning, race-conscious admission policies have transformed former bastions of white privilege into more representative reflections of American society (Bowen and Bok 1998). From the early 1970s through the middle 1990s race-conscious college admissions were the norm throughout the United Sates. Although recent attacks on affirmative action (Michigan April 2014) have rolled back race-conscious policies at public universities in a growing number of states, race continues to be taken into account in admissions at selective private institutions, and it continues in many public schools as well.

Segregation and academic achievement

Segregation experienced in childhood can influence later academic performance through a variety of channels, some obvious and some not so readily apparent. Perhaps the clearest pathway is through the quality of education itself. To the extent that mainstream society is reluctant to invest scarce resources in minority schools and neighborhoods, people growing up in segregated settings will receive lower quality instruction and fewer neighborhood services. On average, they will be taught by less able teachers, using substandard materials, in more dilapidated circumstances (Kozol 1991) and they will live in neighborhoods with higher crime, greater poverty, and more physical dilapidation (Massey, Condran, and Denton 1987; Massey and Fong 1990). As a result, students who grow up in minority-dominant schools and neighborhoods can be expected to arrive on campus less prepared academically for the challenges of a rigorous and competitive academic environment.

American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass

By Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton, 1993


In this study we draw upon data from the National Longitudinal Survey of freshmen, a representative survey of nearly 4,000 men and women entering college in the autumn of 1999, to consider the effects of housing and school segregation during childhood on academic performance in college. We show that black and Latino college students, even those enrolled in the nation’s most selective academic institutions, display large differences in background and experiences that are strongly conditioned by racial segregation. Those coming of age in a segregated environment were less prepared academically and socially for college life, and were more exposed to violence and social disorder while growing up. After documenting these differences, we estimate regression models to predict academic performance as a function of the minority composition of the neighborhoods and schools where respondents lived ages 6 to 18, controlling for a variety of individual and family characteristics, as well as the correlates of segregation.

First, it is more likely that negative life events will occur to people they know and care about, causing stress to flow towards them through their social networks. Even though minority students may leave segregated schools and neighborhoods far behind, it is likely that many of their friends and relatives will continue to live, work, and play in minority-dominant settings. Because these settings evince higher rates of crime, delinquency, and physical distress, members of their social circle are more likely to become sick, killed, injured, or otherwise victimized by crime, accidents, and illness.

In addition to experiencing stress indirectly through social networks, respondents from segregated backgrounds are also quite likely to experience chronic stress directly in the places where they work and study (Massey 2004). People living in poor, segregated neighborhoods are personally exposed to high rates of violence and delinquency over long periods of time, bringing about repeated activation of the body’s stress response syndrome (LeDoux 1996; Kotulak 1997). Chronic exposure to stress has been found to have relatively strong effects on cognition*/reducing memory, increasing frustration, limiting attention, and compromising the physiology of learning (James et al. 1987; McEwan 1992, 2002; Diamond and Rose 1993, 1994; Goleman 1995; Bremner 2002). Thus, students growing up in segregated environments may have developed cognitive traits that undermine their academic performance, even holding constant overall aptitude.

You do not have to publish. Just make reference so that they can get it for themselves.
In contrast to the relative homogeneity of white and Asian backgrounds, Latinos and especially blacks experienced a diversity of school and neighborhood compositions while growing up. With respect to neighborhoods, 54 per cent of Latinos and 36 per cent of blacks grew up in a predominantly white setting while 24 per cent of the former and 37 per cent of the latter came of age in minority-dominant areas. The respective figures living in racially mixed neighborhoods were 22 per cent and 27 per cent. We observe a
Similar range of experiences with respect to school composition.

Among blacks, 38 per cent attended predominantly white schools, 40 per cent mixed schools, and 22 per cent predominantly minority schools. Among Latinos, the respective figures were 20 per cent in segregated institutions, 32 per cent in mixed schools, and 48 per cent in predominantly white settings.


This analysis drew on a representative sample of the 1999 cohort of freshmen entering twenty-eight selective colleges and universities to explore the long-term consequences of segregation. We showed that whereas upwards of 90 per cent of Asian and white students
grew up within social milieu dominated by whites, only a third of black and half of Latino students did so. Indeed, a quarter of African Americans and a fifth of Latinos came of age under conditions of high racial minority isolation, attending schools and living in
Neighborhoods that were at least 70 per cent black or Latino; and these students, remember, are among the most elite in the nation. The distribution of black and Latino college students in general would undoubtedly be skewed even more towards racially isolated

Our data also indicate that separate is by no means equal. Black and Latino students who grew up under conditions of segregation were less prepared academically than those coming from majority-dominant settings. Indeed, those minority students who were fortunate enough to grow up in a predominantly majority context generally experienced

The Effect of Childhood Segregation on Academic Performance

We also considered how social and psychological preparation for college varied by level of childhood segregation. We found little evidence that minority students were hampered psychologically by the experience of childhood segregation, at least in terms of self-esteem and self-confidence. If anything, black and Latino students who come of age in minority-dominant environments exhibited higher levels of self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-confidence than those growing up in integrated settings, and much higher levels than whites and Asians as well.

Given the foregoing disadvantages of a segregated upbringing, we were not surprised to find that the degree of school and neighborhood segregation experienced between the ages of 6 and 18 was strongly associated with diminished academic performance later, as measured by the GPA earned during the first three terms of college or university. When we entered the correlates of segregation into a regression equation predicting GPA we found that four background factors explained most of segregation’s effect on GPA: parental education, academic preparation, social preparation, and environmental stress.

The mechanism by which long-term exposure to violence translates into depressed academic performance in college or university cannot be established here. We do know, however, that they do not seem to operate through general cognitive ability, as the introduction
of SAT or ACT scores does not alter the strength of the effect of environmental stress in separate regressions. Our working hypothesis is that long-term exposure to stressful neighborhoods act to reduce long-and short-term memory, limit attention, and lower
frustration thresholds (see McEwan 2002; Bremner 2002). These cognitive traits, in addition to academic aptitude, are critical for academic achievement.

Back to top
Back to Front Page

Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on May 07, 2014

Legal Information |  Designed and built by Emergency Digital. | Hosted by Steadfast Networks