Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2020-21/Evidence in racial bias in 20th century USA

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Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2020-21

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Almost seven decades after Brown v. Board of Education[1], racial inequality still permeates educational structures in the United States, as made apparent by the persistence of an achievement gap between African American students and their caucasian peers[2]. This chapter aims to understand why, despite the fact education is often perceived as the ground for breaking down social inequalities [3] , it appears instead to perpetuate them. By looking at the evidence used in Sociology, Psychology and Economics to explain racial inequalities this chapter strives to present a holistic understanding of this issue.

Explaining inequality: Sociology[edit | edit source]

In their endeavour to elucidate the question of racial inequality in the US education system, sociologists have looked primarily at the role of identity and at the structures embedded in education.[4]

The Coleman Report of 1966, supported by a wealth of empirical and qualitative data[5], set a precedent for understanding the achievement gap as a product of family background, rather than as a result of school funding.[6] More recent analysis has aimed to explain how the interplay between family background and socio-economic factors such as social and cultural capital, lies at the heart of these inequalities. Indeed, Diamond and Lewis' research reveals children of white descent tend to have more of both these forms of capital and also suggest their parents are more likely to make use of their social capital.

Other sociologists focus more on structural aspects of the US education system, such as standardised testing. Indeed, it would seem that the inherent form of these tests places African American students at a disadvantage. In turn, black and brown students are disproportionately assigned to lower ability classes, which again has a negative impact on their learning, as a combination of factors renders these lower ability classes less enriching. Sociologists have also analysed the relationship between deviance and punishment, which is stronger for black students than for their white peers. As such, not only is their learning process more often stymied but this also reinforces the State to Prison Pipeline, widening the achievement gap.

By juxtaposing the colour-blind theory[7] with the qualitative data they have obtained in schools, sociologists also argue de jure equality of educational institutions, serves as a justification for the inaction of both parents and policymakers, who turn a blind eye to the persistence of de facto inequality, perpetuating the cycle of racial inequality.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Editors. Brown v. Board of Education. A&E Television Networks 2009. Available from:
  2. Verdugo R. Trends in the Achievement Gaps in Reading and Mathematics. National Center for Education Statistics 2006. pp 3-4. Available from:
  3. Hallinan T. Sociological Perspectives on Black-White Inequalities in American Schooling.” Sociology of Education 2001; volume 74: p 50. Available from:
  4. Hallinan T. Sociological Perspectives on Black-White Inequalities in American Schooling.” Sociology of Education 2001; volume 74: p 57. Available from:
  5. Coleman J, et al. Equality of Educational Opportunity [summary report]. U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, Office of Education 1966: pp-602-749. Available from:
  6. Dickinson E. "Coleman Report Set the Standard for the Study of Public Education" Johns Hopkins Magazine 2016. Available from:
  7. Bonilla Silva E. Racism without racists: colour-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003