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Ras Baraka’s stance on institutional racism in Newark’s public schools paved the way for his election as the city’s new mayor on this Tuesday, May 14. Solid Ground, an anti-poverty non-profit based in Seattle, defines the term institutional racism as, “the systemic distribution of resources, power and opportunity in our society to the benefit of people who are white and the exclusion of people of color.” Baraka’s anti-racist campaign focused on initiatives that revealed the systemic discrimination inherent in Newark’s educational system, and raised awareness about the cause of socioeconomic inequality in America.
Before Baraka was elected, school board officials began to reform Newark’s public school system with the One Newark plan. During the election, Baraka was very vocal about not supporting One Newark implemented by Cami Anderson, Newark Schools Superintendent. According to the One Newark website, equity is one of its goals, “Our students with the greatest challenges – from the poorest homes, with disabilities, English language learners and those involved with the court system – will be served with excellent schools first, not last.”
Baraka’s decision to address racism in his campaign encapsulated the overall complaints Newark parents directed towards Anderson at school board meetings leading up to the election. Huffington Post covered Newark school board meetings earlier in the year. One news article explains why One Newark’s opponents believe the plan will not create equal opportunities for everyone. Education activists challenged Anderson’s intentions and focused on her parental commitment to her biracial child. Natasha Allen asked Anderson, “Do you not want for our brown babies what you want for your brown baby?”
Baraka never agreed to One Newark’s terms despite the plan’s objective to create a school system where all students have equal access to a quality education. The Huffington Post quotes Baraka as wanting to stall One Newark in a moratorium, “It’s a one-person plan not a ‘One Newark’ plan.” Baraka’s comments support his dissatisfaction with Anderson’s effort to privatize Newark’s schools through charters. Ras Baraka’s stance against institutionalized racism in Newark’s public schools aligns him with the interests of Newark parents who distrust One Newark’s legitimacy.
Baraka is committed to reforming the failing Newark school system, but his approach includes connecting the school system’s failure to racism. Baraka’s experience as Newark’s Central High School’s principal informs his perspective on the city’s educational system. Baraka’s educational policy stresses how an anti-racist approach will guide his term in office, “If all of our children are going to succeed in school we must leverage every resource to uproot the pattern of racial inequality that continue to harm all of our residents, particularly families and children.”
Vincent Intondi is a history professor at Montgomery College who affirms the idea that racism continues to influence American education. He describes how the economic gap in the educational system is defined by racial identity. In his blog post about Obama’s social program, My Brother’s Keeper, Intondi points out many white students on average, “…attend schools that are equipped with the best technology available and teachers who are paid 80k a year.” White students have historically had more access to the tools and resources necessary for educational success while, “On the other side are students, most of whom are black and brown, who rely on the free lunch at school as their only meal for the day, walk to school fearing they may be shot, have no computers, and attend a school in which the textbooks are five years old, mold is growing on the walls, and faculty earn 25k a year.”
Ras Baraka’s win supports the idea that more politicians are willing to have public conversations about the intersection of race and educational reform in America. His strong stance against One Newark gives visibility to institutional racism in the American public school system. Americans must wait to judge the viability of Baraka’s bold anti-racist approach to reforming Newark’s educational system.
By Reivin Johnson