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This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "How to Be an Antiracist" by Ibram X. Kendi. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is there racism in school funding? What are the effects of racism in school funding and is there anything that can be done?

Racism in school funding is the result of the preferential treatment for areas used predominantly by White people. Starting with segregated school districts and continuing to the difference between historically black and historically white colleges today, these inequities continue to be seen.

Keep reading to understand the issue of racism in school funding.

Inequality and Racism in School Funding

Throughout history, discrepancies in educational funding between White and Black school districts have been a major part of space racism. For example, in 1930, Alabama spent only $7 on each Black student and $37 on each White student. However, it was so hard for civil-rights activists to address racism in school funding for racialized spaces that they decided to fight for integration instead, which would allow at least some Black people to access the same resources as White people.

In 1954, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) lawyers argued that separating two races makes the non-White race feel inferior. For evidence, they used a doll test, which involves giving Black children dolls with different skin colors and asking them to choose their favorite. Most Black children chose the White dolls. As a result of the NAACP’s efforts, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was unconstitutional, regardless of whether or not segregated spaces are equal in every other way.

The court did some things right with this decision—they noted that exclusionary White spaces completely dominated by White culture and people that take more than their share of public resources are a problem. However, they did some things wrong too—they noted that integrated White spaces mostly dominated by White culture and people that take more than their fair share of public resources aren’t a problem. So, racism in school funding could continue. The court also didn’t acknowledge the existence of integrated Black spaces that don’t get enough resources.

The integrated White space became the ideal. If a student stayed in a Black space, she was stuck—she could only develop if she moved to a White space. Racism in school funding is exacerbated by space racism and the preference for White spaces.

Some people, such as Martin Luther King Jr., didn’t agree with integration in schools—he was worried about White, potentially-racist teachers being in charge of children’s education and development.

Only some Black children went to White schools, and in 1973, it became impossible to ignore funding inequities between Black and White schools. Funding for schools came from local property tax, which varied by neighborhood. When parents in the San Antonio Independent School District took the school district to court, the Supreme Court ruled that the tax allocations didn’t violate the Constitution’s equal-protection clause. 

Some people, such as David L. Kirp, a Cal Berkeley professor, wrote in 2016 that integration made a huge difference for Black children. He based this on the fact that as more Southern Black students went to integrated White schools, the “achievement gap” narrowed. From 1989 to 2011, when the percentage of Black students attending White schools dropped, the gap widened. Kirp took this to mean that African-American students at integrated schools did better than those at segregated schools. This conclusion was incorrect—there are other ways to explain this trend, such as the fact that when Black students went to integrated schools, they were taught how to take the standardized tests everyone was using to measure intelligence.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

Like public schools, HBCUs and Historical White Colleges and Universities (HWCUs) don’t receive equal funding. For example, Yale and Stanford have 36 times more endowment than Howard, the richest HBCU. UT Austin has 5 times more than Howard. Because there are wealth inequalities between races, certain groups can donate more or less. 

Public colleges and universities also have to deal with inequity in state funding. Racist policies result in HWCUs getting more public funding than HBCUs.

Therefore, when people argue that the best Black colleges can’t keep up with White ones, this is an inherently unfair position. Comparing spaces without taking into account race-classes is like asking a flyweight to box a heavyweight. If you’re going to compare White and Black spaces, you have to compare them within the same economic level to find any meaningful results. For example, when you look at financially comparable HBCUs and HWCUs, HBCU graduates are more likely to be physically, socially, and financially successful, and more Black students graduate.

Some people think that HBCUs aren’t representative of the “real world,” which is majority-White. They think Black students should go to non-Black schools because once they graduate, they’re going to have to operate in a majority-White space. This is untrue—many Black Americans live and work in predominantly Black spaces. People can only think the Black spaces aren’t real if they’re looking at the world from a White point of view.

Racism in School Funding Is a Type of Spatial Racism

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Here's what you'll find in our full How to Be an Antiracist summary:

  • What racism is and how it evolved
  • How you might have subtle racist thoughts and not even be aware of them
  • Why being "not racist" isn't good enough

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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