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(Re)emerging Racial and Class Inequalities: The Neoliberal Project in Education


Extensive research has been dedicated to documenting the long history of racial tension and discrimination of African Americans within the U.S. educational system. Much less is known about the strategies that have emerged from school districts and the African American families they serve, to grapple with this legacy of racial mistreatment. Using five years of ethnographic data, collected from a middle-school in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), this dissertation argues that for African American parents the racial and class inequalities they experience in the broader society are reproduced and exacerbated in public schools by inadequate school policies and insufficient school funding as they participate in their children’s educational experience. First, I find that African American parents develop a racialized dual disposition to meet these challenges. African American parents dual disposition consists of two opposing stances, a desire to work with teachers on behalf of their child and needing to develop racial monitoring strategies to guard against their children’s racial mistreatment at school. Next, I find that the school districts’ adherence to a racially colorblind ideology, renders much of these parents’ participation invisible and their involvement is seen as insufficient. In addition, the colorblind ideology constrains what teachers can communicate to African American parents. Therefore, at district-wide school events geared towards providing Black families tools to navigate the academic landscape issues such as racial discrimination are left unaddressed and unspoken. Teachers and school officials replace discussing these racial inequalities by prioritizing individual -Black parent- responsibility and by extension endorsing the individual deficit model. Finally, I find that the drastic defunding of public education creates what I refer to as a resource deficiency within schools. Instead of an individual deficit among parents, I argue that teachers and school officials lack the necessary resources within schools to address the needs of the diverse families they serve. This study demonstrates how the racial and class inequalities found in the broader society are reproduced and exacerbated in public schools as Black parents participate in their children’s educational experience. These findings have important implications for understanding the, at times, tense relationship between Black families and schools.

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