Training we could all benefit from
In June, Superintendent Dixon invited me to attend racial equity training. I have to admit that I was not thrilled. Still, I decided that it would be helpful to see what this training was all about. I am not sure if my reluctance to attend was because I believed I had nothing new to learn about racial equity, or because I sometimes feel worn out by the racial issues facing our community and our nation.
The workshop was a collaborative effort by the city of Cleveland Heights and the CH-UH city School District. The Racial Equity Institute, based in North Carolina, presented a session on “Measuring Racial Equity: A Groundwater Approach.” It turned out to be one of the most worthwhile workshops that I have attended and I am really glad that I participated.
Examples of research given during the workshop clearly showed that in several distinct systems a person’s race often correlates with outcomes in disturbing ways. When compared with other racial groups, African Americans have poorer outcomes in child welfare, health care, juvenile justice, education and economic development. They are more likely to die from diabetes, have a higher infant death rate, are suspended from school more often, have a higher rate of incarceration, have more children in foster care, have higher rates of unemployment, and more.
The studies presented to us showed that when you compare people of the same socio-economic class but different racial groups, these same disparities occur. I have always thought that a socio-economic disaggregation would show that race is not the main factor in these outcomes, but my preconceptions proved wrong again and again. For example, a white woman without a high school diploma or GED has the same chance of losing an infant in childbirth as an African American woman with a master’s degree. This is startling!
To me, this information points to obvious systemic issues that even some of the most enlightened people fail to see or acknowledge. What made the presentation so powerful is that it did not place blame or dictate what anyone should do going forward. It was a presentation of facts and studies that make a compelling case for the need for more open conversations about equity.
Another eye opener concerned economic development opportunities and wealth attainment for African Americans. For example, when a job seeker’s name on his or her resumé has a white-sounding name, that person has a far better chance to be selected for an interview than someone with an African American-sounding name.
This type of discrimination is compounded by the fact that African Americans had little chance to build any wealth before the 1950s. The workshop presented an excellent example using the study “When the Rules Are Fair, but the Game Isn’t” (Jost, Whitfield, and Jost, 2005). Basically, if a group of people have opportunities to advance over a longer period of time, they are more likely to have something tangible to show for it. Imagine starting a 100-yard dash five seconds after the other runners, and you don’t have shoes. For me, this study validated how uneven the playing field is.
I believe if more people are open to participate in this kind of training, then we have a better chance to have meaningful conversations about taking action to find solutions. Leaders from both the city of Cleveland Heights and the school district are committed to improving our community. This type of information, followed by open and honest dialogue, might be the key toward a better understanding of what we are all up against. The first step to solving a problem is recognizing that the problem exists.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.