With the recent surge in national media coverage of racial injustices occurring across the country, people have begun to question whether it’s really about race or simply a product of biased reporting. Terence Fitzgerald, a clinical assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work, said the answer is clear: It is a race issue.
“Today you have people saying racism doesn’t exist or doesn’t exist as much,” he said. “But these atrocities are not new. It’s just our change in media and technology that enables you to actually see it.”
With his new book, Black Males and Racism: Improving the Schooling and Life Chances of African Americans (Paradigm Press, 2014), Fitzgerald hopes to shine a light on one segment of racial injustice that he believes has often been ignored — the subjugation of black males in the education system.
Black males have a story that’s unique and also that is similar.
“A lot of times our story gets clumped with other people of color or with black women and classified as the black experience. But black males have a story that’s unique and also that is similar,” he said. “This book is a vehicle that allows the voices and frustrations of a marginalized group to come out about public education and higher education.”
Based on 10 years of experience and research in schools, Fitzgerald makes a case that racism remains pervasive in education through subtle mechanisms of institutional social control. He conducted interviews with 89 black males from various walks of life and found a common thread: Regardless of education or location, nine out of 10 said they felt invisible.
“Racism and oppression are still evident. What’s changed is they’ve become more covert, and evolved into policies and procedures that are not as blatant,” he said. “It finds a way to survive because all of our institutions are based on systemic racism and systemic oppression.
Applicants shut out
Examples of systemic racism run the gamut, Fitzgerald said, from the overrepresentation of black males in special education to the fewer opportunities given to black males to join honors programs or courses. He also noted how some universities have upped their base requirements of certain courses, which automatically shut out certain students from applying.
“Because your school only offers two years of Spanish, even if you’re at the top of your class, by default you’re taken off the list of prospective students at the universities that now require a minimum of four years of foreign language studies,” he said.
Fitzgerald also highlighted how black males have been historically perceived in the world and how those perceptions have played in their downfall in education.
Public perceptions … have transcended into affecting one’s perception of himself and how he thinks other people see him.
“These public perceptions — dangerous, deprived, sexual deviant, lacking morals — have transcended into affecting one’s perception of himself and how he thinks other people see him,” Fitzgerald said. “With fewer people supporting us, even within our own community, the idea that we can do better weakens as generations go on.”
Changing the course
Fitzgerald said he hopes that by revealing the collective experiences of black males in the education system, he will help change the course for future generations.
“I’m hoping with my book that a new narrative is drawn,” he said. “A new perception is being paved in terms of the experience of black males, in terms of what they undergo, and how that impedes them and how that pushes them to go beyond what their perceptions are of them.
“I want people to truly understand how important education is. It’s where you learn about yourself, it’s a microcosm of a larger society … and we have to take responsibility as a society that this is happening.”
Black Males and Racism has been adopted as part of the Joe Feagin Series on Systemic Racism. In April, Fitzgerald will hold a second roundtable about systemic racism in social work at the school’s San Diego Academic Center.