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What’s Race Got To Do With It?

How Current School Reform Policy Maintains Racial and Economic Inequality


Edited By Bree Picower and Edwin Mayorga

Within critical discussions of school reform, researchers and activists are often of two camps. Some focus their analyses on neoliberal economic agendas, while others center on racial inequality. These analyses often happen in isolation, continuing to divide those concerned with educational justice into «It’s race!» vs. «It’s class!» camps. What’s Race Got To Do With It? brings together these frameworks to investigate the role that race plays in hallmark policies of neoliberal school reforms such as school closings, high-stakes testing, and charter school proliferation. The group of scholar activist authors in this volume were selected because of their cutting-edge racial economic analysis, understanding of corporate reform, and involvement in grassroots social movements. Each author applies a racial economic framework to inform and complicate our analysis of how market-based reforms collectively increase wealth inequality and maintain White supremacy. In accessible language, contributors trace the historical context of a single reform, examine how that reform maintains and expands racial and economic inequality, and share grassroots stories of resistance to these reforms. By analyzing current reforms through this dual lens, those concerned with social justice are better equipped to struggle against this constellation of reforms in ways that unite rather than divide.

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7. Philanthrocapitalism: Race, Political Spectacle, and the Marketplace of Beneficence in a New York City School


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7. Philanthrocapitalism: Race, Political Spectacle, and the Marketplace of Beneficence1 in a New York City School


The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and the poor in harmonious relationship.

—Andrew Carnegie (1889) in The Gospel of Wealth

I can conceive of no greater mistake, more disastrous in the end to religion if not to society, than that of trying to make charity do the work of justice.

—William Jewett Tucker, liberal theologian in response to Carnegie2


In a meeting held in June 2013, the head of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) reported that the organization would be updating its slogan from “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste” to “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste but a Wonderful Thing to Invest In” (Demby, 2013). Each ad would include the new tagline, “Invest in Better Futures.” Several undergraduates spoke at the meeting, each ending their story with the phrase, “I am your dividend.” The journalist who wrote the story points out that the change represents a clear shift from language grounded in community activism to one situated in markets, investment, and economic value creation. What are the implications of profiling Black students as “dividends” that are needy and deserving of charity only if they are able to demonstrate the ability...

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