Challenging Educational Racism Devoid of Racial Language

The California Assembly recently approved a bill that would give the state’s public universities the opportunity to consider race, gender and other demographics when they admit students. AB2047, which passed on a 44-24 vote, is now headed to the Senate.

Democratic Assemblyman Ed Hernandez introduced the bill to address the education gap in California. Latino and African American students lag behind Whites and Asians in college attainment.

I suspect it will be harder to get this bill by the California Senate. And, if it passes, then the proponents of Proposition 209—a California voter initiative banning public institutions from using race and gender in admissions or employment—would declare it is against the public will and potentially illegal. The passage of the bill may spark a vicious battle—possibly replaying the nasty war over Proposition 209.

Although it is enormously encouraging that Assemblyman Hernandez and other California politicians are deeply concerned about closing the gap between the races, I think they should have gone about it in a different manner. 

Racists, consciously or unconsciously, no longer usually discriminate and demean using racial rhetoric or policies laced with racial language. It is time for those of us who are seeking to thwart educational racism to do the same.

We live in a country that is still in part dictated by racism, racial stereotypes, and race nationalism. However, unlike in previous ages, racial rhetoric showcasing the racism, stereotypes and nationalism has been pushed primarily into the private sphere.

The dispersion of racism without racial language has allowed racists to operate without restraint. It has also placed the onus on progressives to somehow prove racism in a situation lacking racist rhetoric in a country that has reduced racism to language.

Opponents of racism can just as easily use this 21st century racial landscape to their advantage. Instead of dispersing racism without racial language, we can champion the spreading of affirmative racial action toward reversing the effects of racism without using racial language.

What do I mean by this? Let’s take the case of the education gap in California public colleges and universities. Instead of seeking to blatantly use race in the admissions process, which is sure to compel a firestorm of charges of “reverse racism” and African-American and Latino “privilege,” there are many other novel considerations lawmakers could propose to close the racial gap without using race.

They could give special consideration and advantages in the admissions process to students attending inner city schools, students who faced unique personal challenges, students who speak multiple languages, students from farming families, and students who are impoverished. They could significantly reduce the weight of standardized tests and grade point average. 

The bill would be void of racial language, but all these changes would make Latino and African-American candidates stronger and significantly increase the African-American and Latino student population. It would then put the racists in the untenable position of proving reverse racism without racial language. In reducing racism to language, racists will now suffer the consequences of their own folly.

Dr. Ibram H. Rogers is an assistant professor of African-American history at SUNY College at Oneonta.