Equal Opportunity and the Institutional War on Black America

Introduction

In this essay, I will attempt to define and shore up my personal beliefs on racism in America. First though, an important comment. Both conservative and liberal talking heads have significant ammunition to throw at each other concerning the proper function of government, media and culture when addressing the problem of racism in America. I will not use any of that ammunition and I think they are both wrong. I have no interest in discussing rhetoric. I just want to delve into the outcomes of policy. I vehemently affirm the philosophy, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, and that philosophy is the backbone of how I am going to proceed with this essay. Additionally, Hanlon’s razor (a philosophical maxim created by Robert J. Hanlon, as a submittal to a joke book, which has become part of the cannon of philosophy), simply states, “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” So, with that in mind, I am going to assume that all actors in this story are well intentioned and I will only use their policies and the resultant statistics in my analysis. Because anything else would be straying into Rhetoric, and in turn, placing this essay squarely in the garbage bin as far as I am concerned. 

This is an overwhelming subject. It’s painful. It’s scary. And it is massive in scope. To do it justice would require a library full of knowledge. And I don’t have the time or desire to read that library in full (though I have read a small selection of it). So please, as I use Hanlon’s Razor on historical figures, please use the same on me. I mean no harm, and I only want to help. 

Where To Start – An Example

I do not believe in “equal opportunity”. But I believe in equal opportunities. I do not believe in “equality”, but I fight for equality. Let me give you an example of what I mean. 

Traditionally, Equal Opportunity implies that society upholds every individual’s right to access the same basic facilities. In education, that would mean that all students have similar opportunities to receive at least a high school diploma. All students should be able to go to a school which is safe, affordable, and pushes their educational level higher. That is the definition of Equal Opportunity which I support. Now, what we have implemented in society is something totally different. First, there is no equal opportunity. Schools in upper middle class neighborhoods look totally different then in working class communities (slums). Poor neighborhoods receive a fraction of the educational expenditures that rich neighborhoods get to use. Let’s look at Chicago Illinois as our example. Yes, I’m aware this is also the worst case scenario, but extremes are useful case studies. Now, I will also freely admit that there are plenty of places that do great at creating equitable education expenditures. I picked Chicago, because the rhetoric coming from the leadership of the city is so at perfectly at odds with actual policies deployed by these bureaucrats. 

In Chicago, property taxes are used to fund schools. This format could theoretically work. Simply take all of the property taxes generated in Cook county and equally disseminate the generated funds across all local K-12 education centers (maybe weight the funds to the schools based on the size of the student population). Simple solutions. But government has to make everything exponentially more complex, because government is largely driven by lobbyists and special interest groups. So, rather than an equal dispersement of funds, “concerned parents” lobbied to have school funding “kept within their local community”. AKA, gerrymandering. Here is what the high school district map looks like for Cook county Illinois: 

Each one of those purple outlined school districts represents a specific “neighborhood”. District 14, located at the very top of the map, has the second highest rated high school district in the country, HSD 225. District 14 makes sense. It’s in the north of the metro Chicago area. It’s a super wealthy area, and the neighborhood is pretty homogenous. Its a fairly neat box. Now, lets take a look at District 5. Located in the notoriously dangerous South Side of Chicago. One of the most crime ridden places in America. The school districts in South Chicago are a spider web. No neet boxes. District 5 is an abomination. And it has some of the worst funded and most overpopulated high schools in America. Same Cook county. Same Illinois tax system. 

Now, let’s look at the racial demographics of these two districts. District 14 averages just 18% African American, with the richest school in District 14, averaging at just 6% African American. in District 5, 68.8% of the student population is African American, and some of the absolute poorest schools have upwards of 90% African American student populations. Seems to me like rich white kids from the suburbs have significantly better access to education than poor urban African American students. Now, equality of opportunity would say that we need redraw those school district lines. I do not have a degree in educational finance, nor is that something I have investigated. All I can say, is the current approach in Illinois is not working for POC students and is a form of systemic racism. But, it’s not necessarily intentional racism. See Hanlon’s Razer. We will assume the people of Illinois are not intentionally providing sub par educational access. But regardless, that’s what they are doing. Why? One simple reason, and I already stated it above. Parents in wealthy neighborhoods want their high property taxes to go towards funding the schools their kids go to. It’s not about black American students to them. It’s about funding their own student’s educations. 

Now, I went on this mini-investigation for one reason. I wanted to be able to create a keystone example of what I consider to be systemic racism and a context for what I believe equal opportunity should look like. Equal opportunity means that the education funds generated across Cook county through taxes should be equally distributed between each school district. Equal opportunity also means that the school districts should not be gerrymandered to allow some students better or worse access to education funds. This is how equal opportunity should work. I firmly believe in treating root causes, not symptoms.  

Why I don’t believe in “Equal Opportunity”

More recently, the term Equal Opportunity has been modified from its original intent (Or what I believe the original intent to be from my statements above) to mean something entirely different. The modern definition of Equal Opportunity states that because African American students are under represented in Colleges, we need to weight their admittance into universities differently, so that they can be successful in spite of their starting place. On the surface, this sounds great, and there are elements to it which I agree with. But, there are lots of problems with it as well. This new model of “equal opportunity” is actually not “equal opportunity”. Instead, of pursuing the equality of opportunity for POC students, the administrations are aiming for equality of outcome. Equality of outcome means that everyone should get to have the same level of wealth, the same level of education, the same healthcare. And yeah, that sounds nice. But it’s not. See, I want everyone to get to attend a quality primary school. I think that it’s unreasonable that kids from the same local community would receive drastically worse access to education than kids 10 miles to the north. 

Multiple long form studies show that there is a direct link between crime and education. One study out of Canada shows that first, Offenders are three times as likely as the rest of the population to have literacy problems. Second, 79 of 100 people entering Canadian correctional facilities don’t have their high school diploma. And third, 65 of 100 people entering correctional facilities have less than a Grade 8 education or level of literacy skills. Similar metrics can be found across North America. In Chicago, the program Choose to Change, which helps at risk students receive better access to educational and mentoring resources, found that their program students were 32% less likely to participate in criminal activities. Provide better access to education and see crime rates decrease. It’s not cheap, but it’s simple.

But that’s not equality of outcome. That’s equality of opportunity. I would see those kids in South Chicago receive better opportunities to succeed in life. But, it’s their responsibility to take the opportunities they are given. It starts to fall apart when we begin to try and force equality by providing later and later opportunities. Rather than fix the systemic racism and classism which plagues our educational system, we are instead picking winners and losers later in the game. Harvard, the preeminent educational center of the United States, has different acceptance criteria for black students than white students. Now, too be fair, Harvard is a private institution, so it is their right to admit who they want. But, admitting POC students against a lower SAT score benchmark than their white or Asian counterparts is wrong. It is wrong not because they aren’t trying to help. It’s wrong because they are exhibiting the racism of low expectations. 

The logic runs like this, “POC students need lower admittance requirements because they have been given fewer opportunities to be successful, and for that reason, their collegiate ability is lower than their white and asian classmates. Therefore, it is our responsibility to provide them the opportunity to attend this institution, in spite of their lower academic prowess.” The logic sounds nice. But it’s evil. It ascribes a pox to the POC student population. It says, “You can’t get ahead. And we are sorry for you. So we are going to help you out.” But POC students can get ahead. It starts back in pre-school. It starts with them being able to eat dinner after school. It starts with them being able to access textbooks in first grade. We don’t need to lower standards for POC students. We don’t need to stop admitting so many Asian students. We don’t need to force equality of outcome. Instead, we need to recognize the brilliance of our POC students and give them the opportunity to be successful by reducing corruption, bureaucracy, and inequitable school districting. We don’t need more government programs. We don’t need more money to be spent. We need equal distribution of assets within the school system. 

How do we fix it?

While District 14 students in north Cook County are playing lacrosse after school, their peers in District 5 are going home hungry. That is how I define systemic racism.The exclusion of POC through policies which limit their access to services which they could otherwise receive. Those policies won’t change. Not as long as powerful lobbyists control the purse strings of government. One interesting idea I have recently stumbled on is a student oriented fund, rather than a district/building oriented fund. The idea is that each student in the community receives the same disbursement of funds. Let’s say $15,000 dollars per year. That $15,000 dollars is payed by income tax from the county (not school district – we don’t trust districting, because gerrymandering). Then, the students/parents get to choose how to spend that money. Schools would be funded by fees taken from the student’s educational fund. Bad schools would fold. Good schools would prosper. That that’s a good thing. We don’t want our students going to schools with bad teachers or poor administration. And it wouldn’t be funding issue. Because the free market is brutally honest. Perhaps the idea is terrible and I’m missing something crucial. Oh yeah, I am. It will never happen, because gerrymandered school districts help keep legislators in office. The parents of District 14 would not be too impressed by the prospect of District 5 students attending class with their college ready students. So, at the end of the day, nothing will change, because change hurts the powerful. Instead, we will talk about “Equal Opportunity” while providing no real opportunities.

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