For our final project for Contemporary Racism, we were placed into groups, asked to pick an interesting topic concerning race, do individual research, and record a podcast with our group. My group chose to look at racial disparities in the American foster care system, a subject about which I had no prior knowledge.
At first, I was uneasy about choosing a topic that I knew nothing about, feeling as if my unfamiliarity would provide me with some sort of handicap. However, in retrospect, the experience was a very appropriate way to conclude my time in Contemporary Racism; it allowed me to use what I’ve learned in class to think critically about a subject that I had never thought to closely evaluate.
My experience in Contemporary Racism this semester has been an eye-opening one, to say the least. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow showed me the way that the American social hierarchy has been deliberately constructed to keep people of color, specifically Black people, at the bottom and white people at the top. The racial caste system, as Alexander refers to it, started with slavery and Jim Crow laws, but has evolved into the War on Drugs and mass incarceration. James Lassiter’s “Whiteness in the Psychological Imagination” article provided me with another example of the way that White people have been placed at the epicenter of humanness in the field of psychology and the implications of this for both White people and people of color. One of the most powerful and disturbing patterns that we’ve identified in all of this literature is that Black people are altogether dehumanized at every stage of their lives and must be resilient to constant racist forces in order to push forward in their lives.
The final project allowed me to use all of this information that I’ve learned to research the foster care system in America, an institution that happens to operate in extremely racist and unjust ways. Black children enter foster care at twice the rate of White children and stay in care 32% more. It also costs less to adopt a Black child because they are less desirable, further illustrating what we already know about Black people being dehumanized. Although the foster care system in America runs on the ideology of helping children in need, it actually works to the disadvantage of families of color. For me, researching the child welfare system in America allowed me to get a better sense of the invisible and racialized ways in which American institutions operate. This class has not only provided me with a framework to understand and think independently about issues regarding racism, it has also inspired me to seek out these issues because they are meant to go unnoticed. Once educated, how does one go about making changes in the way that these racist systems operate?