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READING: “THE CRISIS
IN BLACK EDUCATION”
FROM A POST-WHITE
By Marcus Croom
As a literacy scholar, I have spent a great deal of
time theorizing race in pursuit of practical ends—advancing
the literacy practices of Black children in US schools. This
themed volume focused on the “crisis in Black education”
caused me to reect on this question: What makes “Black
education” Black? Black as a category of race needs to be
explained rather than assumed.
In this article, I will argue that race can be theorized
either as common sense or as consequential D/discourse.1 I
will also offer contrasting views of what “crisis” may mean
according to each theory and conclude by suggesting that this
moment of “crisis” is thrusting upon us an opportunity to read
text and the world from a post-White orientation. By post-
White orientation, I mean a racial understanding and practice
characterized by (a) unequivocal regard for “non-White”
humanity, particularly “Black” humanity; (b) demotion
of “White” standing (i.e., position, status); (c) rejection
of post-racial notions; (d) non-hierarchical racialization;
and (e) anticipation of a post-White sociopolitical norm.
Racing on a Different Track
According to O’Connor, Lewis, and Mueller, race is
“undertheorized in research on the educational experiences
and outcomes of Blacks.”2 They explain that race has been
understood through two dominant perspectives: race as
variable and race as culture. These understandings of race
ignore or minimize heterogeneity, intersectionality, and the
institutional production of race and racial discrimination
where Black persons are concerned. Alternatively,
O’Connor, Lewis, and Mueller argue that race is produced
as a social category and urge that future research take an
orientation of race aligned with the following:
(a) theoretical attention to how race-related
resources shape educational outcomes,
(b) attention to the way race is a product
of educational settings as much as it is
something that students bring with them,
(c) a focus on how everyday interactions
and practices in schools affect educational
outcomes, and (d) examination of how
students make sense of their racialized
social locations in light of their schooling
Such studies will continue to uncover how schools
produce race as a social category. Research focused on
race production, then, will have implications for talking
and writing about race and how race impacts views on
education. The following framework conceptualizes race
as common sense and race as consequential D/discourse.
Race as Common Sense: The Wrong Train
Sociologist Celine-Marie Pascale nds that race is
widely understood as “common sense,” which she denes
as “a saturation of cultural knowledge that we cannot fail to
recognize and which, through its very obviousness, passes
without notice.”4 In other words, these are “
assumptions that we make about life and the things we accept
as natural. Common sense leads people to believe that we
simply see what is there to be seen. For example, common
sense leads us to believe that we simply ‘see’ different races.”5
She concluded that common-sense knowledge of race was
discussed in four ways: “as a matter of color, nationality,
culture, or blood.”6 What all of these ways have in common
is that race is understood uncritically: that is, in a manner that
does not question serious incoherencies and contradictions.
A deeper, more important point about race as common sense
is how it assumes racial White superiority.7 The racially
White superordinate assumption included in common-
BLACK HISTORY BULLETIN VOL. 79, NO. 2 | 19
sense notions of race is morally bankrupt and indefensible.
Race as Consequential D/discourse
Race as consequential D/discourse is dened as the
individual, collective, institutional, or global production of
race, through meaningful ways of being, languaging, and
symbolizing, and the effects of such race production (i.e.,
big “D” Discourse and little “d” discourse; see note 1). I
trace the beginning of this understanding of race to W. E. B.
Du Bois’s book The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois’s “study
of Black identity marks a turning point away from biology
and towards discursive interaction.”8 Thus, Du Bois must be
counted among foundational theorists when we historicize
the understanding that race is a D/discursive, socially
constructed, consequential human practice.
According to anthropologist Kevin Michael Foster,
the antecedents/roots of dening race as consequential D/
discourse can be found in the vindicationist tradition, a
tradition coined by W. E. B. Du Bois. Foster explains further,
According to [St. Clair] Drake, vindicationism
reects the work of scholars to “set straight the
oft-distorted record of the Black experience and
to ll in the lacunae resulting from the conscious
or unconscious omission of signicant facts
about Black people” (Drake 1987, vol. 1: xviii).
Today, even where vindicationism is not the
explicit goal of Black scholars, the inuence of
this tradition is often apparent. Vindicationism
may not be the dening characteristic for the
work of African-descended scholars, but it is a
recurrent feature (Baker 1994, Franklin 1989).9
The vindicationist tradition sustains and advances us as
persons raced as Black. More specically, the vindicationist
tradition and Du Bois’s work are critically important today as
they were at their origins because “race emerged in language,
and it survives in language.”10 But not only this: race is also
produced in ways that have grave consequences for human
beings. For example, rhetoric scholar Kelly E. Happe
uncovered that genes are made into artifacts of race and,
in fact, do not corroborate race as the biological, common-
sense view of race alleges. Race, then, should be interrogated
and denaturalized as a self-evident feature of the human
body, even at the subcellular level. This stance contradicts
those who, whether unlettered or lettered, promote genes,
skin, or other claims about the human body as corroboration
of race as common sense.11 Again, race is consequential D/
discourse. Whenever race occurs, it does not occur naturally;
rather, race occurs because humans create and consume
race for human ends. Each of these ways of understanding
race—as common sense or as consequential D/discourse—
may inuence how race and “Black education” are viewed.
Race and “Black Education”
When we understand race as common sense,
“Black education” may mean the realm of education that
is a subset of, or is even apart from, “White education.”
Said another way, “Black education” is education from
Black people’s perspective, on Black people’s terms, and
in Black people’s experience. From this orientation, “Black
education” is a self-explanatory label that marks the largely
homogenous “Black” experience of education in the US
according to those who are themselves actually “Black.”
The “crisis” in “Black education,” when race is
understood as common sense, is a crisis in at least two ways.
First, Black education is assumed to be subordinate to White
education. Second, Black education primarily or exclusively
involves Black people and places—Black people and places
assumed to be subordinate to White people and places.
Accordingly, the question becomes, what can be done about
those inferior “Black children” and their inferior “Black
education”? To be clear, this is not my own view; rather, I am
articulating the common sense view of race where education
and crisis are concerned. According to this meaning of
crisis, within the “Black” boundary there is catastrophe, and
beyond the “Black” boundary, all is well or is at least better.
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When we understand race as consequential D/discourse, “Black education” may mean the social partitioning of
access to some aspect(s) of accumulated human knowledge, according to the racial hierarchy of “White” over “Black.” In
other words, education itself is not racialized unless persons socially produce education as such through, for example, talk,
text, or some other practice. Importantly, I hasten to add, education can be racialized for both ethical and unethical reasons. A
“crisis” in “Black education,” when race is understood as consequential D/discourse, is a crisis in terms of thought, practice,
systems, and institutions, whether local or global. Therefore, the question becomes, what patterns and barriers are hostile to the
humanity of persons raced as “Black”? I believe that this question begins to approach the essence of the vindicationist tradition
of Carter G. Woodson along with many others like Du Bois.12 From the consequential D/discursive understanding of race, we
who are raced as “Black” are always already fully human, and thus legitimate inheritors of all accumulated human knowledge,
but our legitimacy as inheritors of all human knowledge and our intersectional, heterogeneous humanity are not always
adequately honored and regarded. Such dishonor and disregard toward our human inheritance and plentitude is evidenced
by historic and current thought and practice, including the processes of education (whether in school or out-of-school).
With this second perspective of “Black education crisis” in mind, it becomes obvious why, yet again, we are
faced with the need to exclaim, “Black lives matter!” It should come as no surprise that the organization of schools and
classrooms, the instructional practices therein, and the resources and materials apportioned to places raced as “Black”
would produce pipelines to prison and poverty.13 Given the innumerable artifacts, institutions, and ideologies derived from
Western Europeans’ invention and exploitation of race,14 we who are raced as “Black” fully expect to ght philosophically,
epistemologically, theologically, theoretically, hermeneutically, linguistically, economically, politically, interpersonally,
intrapersonally, and with our own colored, clenched hands to protect our humanity, the humanity of our children, our loved
ones, and our communities. For many persons raced as “Black” in the US, this is the American way.
Our present times have shown us again that we have a choice to make: will we choose to orient ourselves to race as
common sense, reading the written word and the unwritten world only according to White superordinate, Western European
design? Or, will we choose the post-White orientation, wherein we are critically aware of the consequential D/discourse that
metaphorically, and quite literally, writes the codes of the racialized matrix in which (and according to which) we live (and die)?
I have not argued that there is no such thing as race or racism. Neither have I argued that persons raced as Black
should renounce the racial descriptor “Black.” Further, I reject post-racialism in all its forms.15 To the contrary, I have argued
above that race and racism are produced by human thought and practice for human ends. Most of these human ends for
race production are patently White superordinate (obviously including racism), but thankfully some human ends for race
production are post-White oriented and human nurturing for persons categorized as “Black” (i.e., vindicationist). The issue
is not the label “Black” per se; the issue is whether one is “Black” on racially subordinate terms or on human-peer terms.16 As
this suggests, post-racialism fails to hit the point. The point is race production and whether the race production in question is
ethical or unethical. Rather than post-racialism, we should pursue the development of racial literacies—the critical, human
cultural toolkit supporting human well-being amid the thought and practice of race. This article and the following lesson
are designed to support the development of racial literacies among teachers and students across all racial categories. To give
post-racialism full consideration—even if one day, racialization should come to an end, we still must nurture and protect
human beings (particularly “Black” human beings) right now and until that post-racial day arrives (again, if it would).
BLACK HISTORY BULLETIN VOL. 79, NO. 2 | 21
Whatever the current (raced as) Black education crisis may be, we should face it on human terms, rather than on
racially White superordinate terms—terms that make Whiteness normative. Perhaps the “crisis in Black education” is the
recurring, practical repercussions of not yet realizing, together, what it means for persons, raced as Black, to be human.17
1. Throughout, I use the big “D” and little “d” distinction offered by Gee, Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology
in Discourses. “Discourse” is meaningful ways of being in the world, and “discourse” is meaningful ways of using
language or symbols in the world; for example, talk or texts are “discourse” employed in the “Discourse” of Black,
White, Latino, Asian, Native American, etc.
2. Carla O’Connor, Amanda Lewis, and Jennifer Mueller, “Researching ‘Black’ Educational Experiences and
Outcomes: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations,” Educational Researcher 36, no. 9 (2007): 541,
3. Ibid., 546.
4. Celine-Marie Pascale, “Talking about Race: Shifting the Analytical Paradigm,” Qualitative Inquiry 14, no. 5 (2008):
6. Ibid., 726.
7. Charles Wade Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997); Dante A. Puzzo, “Racism and
the Western Tradition,” Journal of the History of Ideas 25, no. 4 (1964): 579–86.
8. Kirt H. Wilson, “Towards a Discursive Theory of Racial Identity: The Souls of Black Folk as a Response to Nineteenth-
Century Biological Determinism,” Western Journal of Communication 63, no. 2 (1999): 194.
9. Kevin Michael Foster, “Vindicationalist Politics: A Foundation and Point of Departure for an African Diaspora Studies
Program,” Transforming Anthropology 6, no. 1–2 (1997): 2.
10. Kelly E. Happe, “The Body of Race: Toward a Rhetorical Understanding of Racial Ideology,” Quarterly Journal of
Speech 99, no. 2 (2013): 135, doi:10.1080/00335630601076326.
11. Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New
York: Free Press, 1996).
12. St. Clair Drake, Black Folk Here and There: An Essay on History and Anthropology (Los Angeles: University of
California Center for Afro-American Studies, 1990); Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro.
13. Gloria Ladson-Billings, “From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S.
Schools,” Educational Researcher 35, no. 7 (2006): 3–12, doi:10.3102/0013189X035007003.
22 | BLACK HISTORY BULLETIN VOL. 79, NO. 2
14. Siep Stuurman, “Francois Bernier and the Invention of Racial Classication,” History Workshop Journal 50 (2000):
1–21; Michael Banton, “The Classication of Races in Europe and North America: 1700-1850,” International Social
Science Journal 39, no. 1 (February 1987): 45–60.
15. Including post-racialism as argued by Leonardo, Race Frameworks: A Multidimensional Theory of Racism and
16. Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro (San Diego: Book Tree, 1933/2006), 199–202.
17. Sylvia Wynter, “On How We Mistook the Map for the Territory, and Re-Imprisoned Ourselves in Our Unbearable
Wrongness of Being, of Desetre: Black Studies toward the Human Project,” in Not Only the Master’s Tools: African
American Studies in Theory and Practice, (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2006).
Marcus Croom is a doctoral candidate in Literacy, Language, and Culture at the University of
Illinois at Chicago, where he is also a research assistant with the Early Literacy Impact Project. He
is a graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (Bachelor of Science
in Music Education), Shaw University (Master of Divinity), and North Carolina Central University
(Master of School Administration). After completing undergraduate studies in 2001, he taught
K-12 music. His research examines literacies and race in education using vindicationist philosophy.
BLACK HISTORY BULLETIN VOL. 79, NO. 2 | 23
READING: “THE CRISIS IN BLACK EDUCATION” FROM A POST-WHITE ORIENTATION
By: Marcus Croom
1. Connections to Middle School and/or High School
Children are socialized into the thought and practice of race as common sense by the time they enter kindergarten (see E. P.
Apfelbaum, M. I. Norton, and S. R. Sommers, “Racial Color Blindness: Emergence, Practice, and Implications,” Current
Directions in Psychological Science 21, no. 3 (2012): 205–9, doi:10.1177/0963721411434980). By middle school and high
school, children have had very sophisticated experiences with race, but typically have not been adequately supported as they
navigate both normative human development and race production in their lives. This double task can be especially challenging
for children “raced” as Black in American society and in American schooling (see Peter C. Murrell, Jr., “Identity, Agency,
and Culture: Black Achievement and Educational Attainment,” in The Sage Handbook of African American Education, ed.
Linda C. Tillman (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2009), 89–105. The instructional aim, with middle and high school teachers
and students, is simply to begin by dening race and then offering teachers and students an opportunity to (re)dene
themselves in light of their own better understanding of race. Teachers will prepare to facilitate this beginning by engaging
in this activity and then assessing their own work.
2. Goals of Lesson Plan
Teachers and students will understand race as consequential D/discourse and how it contrasts with a common-sense
understanding of race, and use dialogue and writing to (re)dene themselves in light of a richer understanding of race.
• Teachers and students will create a safe setting for demystifying race as a human cultural practice.
• Teachers and students will conceptualize and discuss the denition of race provided (race is consequential D/discourse).
• Teachers and students will create, discuss, and argue a point of view of race.
• Teachers and students will use focused free writing to create a shared or unshared Race Reection.
4. National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) Standards: US History Teacher Expectations
• Enable learners to develop historical understanding through the avenues of social, political, economic, and cultural
history and the history of science and technology.
Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
• Help learners analyze group and institutional inuences on people, events, and elements of culture in both historical
and contemporary settings;
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• Assist learners in identifying and analyzing examples of tensions between expressions of individuality and efforts
used to promote social conformity by groups and institutions;
• Enable learners to describe and examine belief systems basic to specic traditions and laws in contemporary and
• Assist learners as they explain and apply ideas and modes of inquiry drawn from behavioral science and social theory
in the examination of persistent social issues and problems.
Culture and Cultural Diversity
• Assist learners to apply an understanding of culture as an integrated whole that explains the functions and interactions
of language, literature, the arts, traditions, beliefs and values, and behavior patterns;
• Have learners interpret patterns of behavior reecting values and attitudes that contribute or pose obstacles to cross-
6. Warm-Up (Anticipatory Set)
Teacher will launch instruction by saying: “Today, we are going to distinguish between two ways of understanding race. The
rst way is nothing new. In fact, we’ll call it the common-sense view of race. The second way is one you’ll quickly catch on
to. We do it all the time, but you probably haven’t thought about race this way; we’ll call the second way the consequential
D/discourse view of race.” To support all students, the teacher will syllabicate and dene the following words on the (smart)
board before having the class choral read each word aloud:
dis/course: talk or writing; also things done to be identiable in our world (“D”)
con/se/quen/tial: has an effect following a related cause
i/den/ti//able: something that can be known, recognized, or pointed out
This vocabulary preview should take less than two minutes. Also, these terms should remain posted during the lesson. If this
lesson is extended, this preview can be repeated or other terms may be previewed using the same approach.
Applying the article above to instruction, the teacher will discuss and complete a T-chart as described below.
5-10 minutes: The teacher will pose this question and discuss: “Who are your people and what makes each of you
members of the same group?” Although directed to the whole class, this question is really an individual query. The whole
class is not assumed to be members of the same group. Individual students should have an opportunity to respond to and
dialogue about the question. The teacher should engage in the discussion, revealing their own personal view, but also
silently noting instances when students (or when teachers themselves) offer common-sense notions of race to identify
BLACK HISTORY BULLETIN VOL. 79, NO. 2 | 25
themselves or the group with which they identify.
7. Activity (Instruction Input)
25-30 minutes: Teacher will post a T-chart to facilitate a whole-class comparison of the common-sense perspective of race
and the consequentially D/discursive perspective of race. Dene the “Race Is Common Sense View” as the perspective
wherein race is a human feature that is self-evident and identiable. Dene the “Race Is Consequential D/discourse View”
as the perspective wherein humans create and consume race for human ends. Students will provide examples of how race
is commonly understood as “self-evident and identiable” on the left side of the T-chart (e.g., skin, bone, blood, hair,
name, language, culture, etc.). On the right side of the T-chart, students will provide examples of how humans “create and
consume” race (labeling, ranking, storying, symbolizing, social-classing, boundary-making, etc.).
Once the T-chart is completed, the teacher will provide students with a copy of the article about Rachel Dolezal (https://
Option 1: Students will form groups of three or four, jigsaw-read the article (each member will select a portion to read and
report back to the entire group), and discuss the entire article.
Option 2: The teacher will select an excerpt from the article, and student groups will read and discuss the excerpt (e.g.,
begin reading at “Rachel and her college friends describe Belhaven as predominantly white” and end reading after “Finally,
she says, she could live an authentic life”). Student groups will prepare to orally argue whether the “Common Sense View”
or the “Consequential D/discourse View” of race best explains the racial identity of Rachel Dolezal. Students will respond to
the following: “Does Rachel Dolezal have racial identity? If so, which one(s) and why (i.e.. according to “Common Sense”
or “Consequential D/discourse”)? If not, why not (i.e.. according to “Common Sense” or “Consequential D/discourse”)?”
The teacher will engage with the arguments offered by each group without suggesting which argument is right or wrong. The
point is for the teacher to invite a reasoned oral argument from all groups (teachers may provide and model a common oral
argument structure to support the development of a reasoned oral argument; a structure may also be provided and modeled
in the following written assessment).
15-20 minutes: Using free writing with a focus, students will write a Race Reection using the following focus prompt:
“Do you have racial identity? If so, who are your racial people and what makes each of you members of the same group? If
not, why not?” Teacher may share their own Race Reection with the whole class and even invite willing students to share
their Race Reection with the whole class or within groups. However, sharing Race Reections requires the teacher to be
comfortable managing, with credibility and sensitivity, the possibility of unexpected or unpopular viewpoints. Above all,
the classroom must be a safe space for developing racial literacies, a process that includes missteps, misunderstandings, and
missed opportunities. Close the lesson by saying the following: “Race means many things to people in our world. Today
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we have explored a two-category framework that allows us to question our assumptions about race. Today was not about
answering our questions, but beginning to ask questions. Whatever we ultimately conclude after wrestling with our race
questions, we should not allow race to be harmful to our own humanity or the humanity of others.”
The teacher will collect and review each Race Reection to determine if the student has a reasoned reection (reasoning
appropriate for a focused free write, not a publishable text). Beyond reasoning, teachers are looking for evidence that
students understand the difference between the “Common Sense View” and the “Consequential D/discourse View” of race.
Because this is a focused free write, teachers will not evaluate student writing for use of writing mechanics or conventions.
Overall, I suggest that teachers use this work as an ungraded assignment. If teachers nd Race Reections that derogate self
or others, this should be appropriately discussed with the individual student. Importantly, students are not required to adopt
one view of race or the other; they may be inconclusive. Again, this entire lesson is only a beginning effort to develop a
richer understanding of race as a human cultural practice.
This writing assignment can be extended by providing a model of a publishable text, offering opportunities for student-led
research, and offering teacher-led writing support to students (across multiple drafts). This extended writing process should
result in a publishable text, including appropriate use of writing mechanics or conventions.
9. Teacher Resources
• The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson (1933), especially chapter four, “Education Under Outside
• Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real about Race in School, edited by Mica Pollock (2008), especially section A, “Race
Categories: We Are All the Same, but Our Lives Are Different,” and section B, “How Opportunities Are Provided and
Denied Inside Schools”
• “In Rachel Dolezal’s Skin” by Mitchell Sunderland (2015): https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/rachel-dolezal-