Sonia Nieto, in her chapter “Racism, Discrimination, and Expectations of Student Achievement,” validated my point of view. She offered the following definition of discrimination “negative or destructive behaviors that can result in denying some groups’ life necessities as well as the privileges, rights, and opportunities enjoyed by other groups” (p.42). This is a very useful working definition of discrimination as it allows people to focus on the behaviors of others and emphasizes that discrimination is destructive and is about rights and privilege.
Nieto goes on to emphasize that discrimination is more than just the overt biases of individuals; it is systemic, “above all an institutional practice” (p. 43). Discrimination is about reducing the power of the oppressed group and consolidating it in the group of oppressors. This goes beyond the individual and so we cannot just seek to eliminate overt prejudices. That individual overt prejudice does need to be eliminated, but it is also distracting. “The ruckus of individual racism and the silence of institutional racism are mutually supportive” (p.45). This means that individual prejudices will always flare back up if the institutional prejudices and discrimination are not also eliminated.
Schools are no bastion of equality and equity. They are another social institution that is infected with racial, class, religious, gender, sexuality, disabled discrimination. Nieto emphasizes this in specifically in terms of class. The common narrative is that schooling is supposed to help blur class boundaries, allowing poor students the opportunity to gain an economic advantage. This is likely not the reality of schools, “More often, schooling maintains and solidifies class divisions” (p. 50).
The institution that can most effectively address systemic prejudice in our culture is school. By forming our expectations of students based on who they are, not what they are, we can begin to break down those divisions and form bonds of equality that will then aid us in creating equity.
Nieto, S. & Bode, P. (2012). Affirming diversity : the sociopolitical context of multicultural education. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.