Glen Allen High School in Virginia, like many other schools, used the brilliant “Structural Discrimination: The Unequal Opportunity Race” video as a part of their curriculum for students during Black History Month. Parents complained and got the video pulled, denying their children the truth about America’s racial history.
The four-minute short film makes clear the lesson on systemic racism. Runners of different races and genders begin the race together in 1492, but the two runners of color, one male and one female, are prevented from participating in the race at all by things like segregation, the Dred Scott decision, and genocide. The two white runners, one male and one female, easily lap the two runners of color.
As the white male continues the race through history, he builds wealth as his relay baton becomes money. The runner ages and passes that baton of money to his son, another white male.
In the late 1800s, wealth disparity causes the two runners of color to be held up even longer before beginning the race. As soon as they do, a rain cloud that represents discrimination slows them down considerably while the white runners continue on. Boulders representing poor schooling appear, slowing the two runners down even more. The female runner of color falls into a gaping hole representing underemployment, while the male runner of color doubles back to help pull her out.
For the male runner of color, the race ends when a jail cell falls and closes him in, pulling him out of the race altogether. The female runner tries to continue, but the brick wall of a shortened life span experienced by people of color ends her run, as well.
A fast-track conveyor belt representing connections, wealth, and privilege are provided to the white male runner. He passes his white female counterpart easily, winning the race. The end photos show the white male winning with all of his opponents left far behind facing barriers due to their lack of privilege.
Parents at Glen Allen High School complained that the video was simply a product of “white guilt.” School board chair Mickey Ogburn responded to their concerns.
“The Henrico School Board and administration consider this to be a matter of grave concern. We are making every effort to respond to our community. It is our goal to prevent the recurrence of this type of event. School leaders have been instructed not to use the video in our schools.
In addition, steps are being taken to prevent the use of racially divisive materials in the future. We do apologize to those who were offended and for the unintended impact on our community.”
The parents who complained about showing their high schoolers a video about historic racial disparity because it is a product of “white guilt” do not seem to understand, and now their white children are denied the opportunity to understand, that the video does not ask anyone to feel guilty. The video does not blame white people who are alive today for enslaving African Americans for centuries, nor does it accuse them of consciously closing their businesses to people of color, such as in the days of Jim Crow, because that isn’t what matters now. It doesn’t matter if white people alive today have never actively participated in racial discrimination.
What matters, and what the video brilliantly pointed out, is that white people still benefit from our history of racial discrimination and the current structure of systemic racism that works by doing things like incarcerating men of color at a substantially higher rate than white males. What matters is that we benefit from having a history of better education, housing opportunities, and the accumulated wealth of our white forefathers exclusively.
Children in Henrico County, Virginia, will never learn that lesson, because too many of us are unable to face the truth. The ability to ignore that history and its effects in modern times exemplifies white privilege: we can ignore it because we’ve never had to face its consequences on our lives and the lives of our children.
Featured image screenshot via YouTube