‘It’s not testing, it’s racism, stupid!’

JAMES C. MCINTOSH, M.D. | 8/8/2019, 3:43 p.m.
Racism, not testing, is the No. 1 issue affecting the education and mis-education of Black children in NYC.
Classroom/education Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

By JAMES C. MCINTOSH, M.D.

Racism, not testing, is the No. 1 issue affecting the education and mis-education of Black children in NYC.  NYC Housing is segregated; NYC jails are segregated; NYC employment is segregated. Is it any wonder that the schools are segregated? Yet even segregation, like testing, is just a tactic of racism and not necessarily the real problem. 

Not all, but many Blacks would have no problem if the education in NYC was separate but academically equal.   However, following the pattern of housing, employment and criminal justice, whites in the educational system get the best and Blacks get the worst.  Stuyvesant High School, which uses an admissions test, recently made the news because only 7 students out of a total of 895 students admitted this year were Black. However, in 1971 Stuyvesant’s Black enrollment was over 10 percent while using the same type of admissions test.  Testing is a tactic not the issue.  If testing were the issue those elite schools of New York that do not have testing would not be as equally segregated and racist as Stuyvesant is, but they are.  

Eleanor Roosevelt on the East Side of Manhattan and Townsend Harris High School in Flushing are prime examples of elite schools with no admissions test but racially restrictive admissions practices.  Academically Roosevelt HS is rated No. 16 among high schools in New York City and Townsend Harris is rated No. 1.  By comparison Stuyvesant, which has testing, is rated No. 2. All three schools—the two with no testing and the one with testing—are highly segregated and also highly racist. Eleanor Roosevelt HS admits to having only 3 percent enrollment of Black students and attendees say that even this number is an exaggeration on the high side. Townsend HS claims a 5 percent Black enrollment. Yet Blacks make up 26 percent of the population of New York City.

The Black enrollment disparity is the result of racism not testing.  Not surprisingly a Jim Crow climate has been exposed in each of these schools in separate incidents only related to each other by the white racism they exemplify. Back in 2011 at Stuyvesant HS a racist rap was produced featuring four white male Stuyvesant students uttering lines such as “Your f------g dad is gone, you don’t even know where he’s at yo.... you don’t know about that cuz you’re Black,”…  “You Black and you so f—– grimy. … What’cha gonna do? Call your black squad nigger?” In the video the white students are shown laughing and high-fiving each other over their racism.

At Townsend High School, the principal, Brian Condon, in May of this year, had to write a statement to the whole school addressing  “behaviors” that he claimed were “contrary to [the school’s] values.” He acknowledged that “disrespectful, insensitive and bigoted materials [had] been circulating on social media among some members [of his school’s] community.” He said this material involved the “N word” and was “especially harmful to [the school’s] African-American students.” What Condon did not say is that the racism of the students simply mirrors the racism exemplified by the admissions practices of these elite schools.  

Perhaps the most egregious racial incident occurred recently at Eleanor Roosevelt High School where in March of this year a white student and a, so called, “middle eastern” student gave a Black student a feminine hygiene pad with the words “Niggers do not have rights” inscribed on it.

The principal, Dimitri Saliani, circulated a letter around the school about the incident and reportedly suspended the two students involved as well as one staff or faculty member. Yet at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, both the faculty and student population remain overwhelmingly white in a city where 53 percent of the population is either Black and or Latino. Saliani, a phenotypically white man who possesses a master’s degree in Caribbean Studies and an undergraduate minor in Black Studies, still manages to restrict Black admissions at his school to 3 percent without using an admissions test.

Testing is not the issue; it’s racism.   

James McIntosh, M.D. is the co-chair of CEMOTAP, The Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People.