Despite decades of protests, marches, boycotts, and votes, racism remains a persistent problem across industries, including business and education. What's the situation and what can you do to help?
Despite marches and protests in the streets, the road to racial equality will require years of effort in many different domains.
There are ways to help stop racism and promote racial equity through education, regardless of your chosen field. This list explores several popular fields, their existing disparities, and how to do anti-racist work within them to build a more equitable future.
Degrees That Fight Racism
A degree in business can help you climb the ladder to high-level positions, foster inclusivity, and level the playing field. Underrepresentation in top business positions remains a persistent problem.
White men overwhelmingly occupy high-level roles in large corporations. Meanwhile, representation for people of color is disproportionately small when compared to the total population.
In particular, Black Americans have significantly less representation at the highest levels in business. As of 2020, there are only four Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies: Marvin Ellison of Lowe's, Roger Ferguson of TIAA, Jide Zeitlin of Tapestry, and Kenneth Frazier of Merch.
Building a safer, more inclusive workplace benefits companies. A greater emphasis on racial and ethnic diversity strengthens a company's ability to adapt, grow, and increase innovation.
Educators are responsible for guiding the next generation of Americans. They can also play a critical role in the push for progress.
Teachers can help stop the spread of ignorance, create new allies, and combat ideologies of racism. School administrators can enact change through district-wide policies that address systemic racism.
The disparity between white and Black students in K-12 education is apparent when it comes to punishment. Across the country, Black male students make up 8% of K-12 enrollment but 25% of out-of-school suspensions, while white male students make up 25% of enrollment and 24% of suspensions.
There are also issues with funding. Non-white school districts receive $23 billion less in funding than predominantly white school districts, according to a report by EdBuild.
Educators can push back against punitive policies and intervene on behalf of Black students; resist white supremacy and anti-blackness; and advocate against police presence in schools.
Racism, fear, and violence persist when we ignore lessons from the past. If we do not want to repeat the mistakes of our forebears, we must study and learn from them.
Pursuing a degree in history allows you to do just that. But history majors don't just focus on the past; they try to understand how events relate to the present and anticipate the future.
By studying history, you can learn to identify patterns that define racist behaviors. You can see how racist rhetoric and actions have shifted or evolved and how they continue today, and use that knowledge to educate others and counter false narratives.
A degree in history offers the chance to research, write, teach, and share your knowledge. You can also pursue a degree in law or enter politics.
There has long been a need for influential investigative journalism. Today, there is even more doubt about the biases of the news media, creating a deeper need for objective reporting.
Journalists provide critical information about issues that matter to the general public, including politics, public health, and civil unrest. They use television, newspapers, radio, websites, and other mediums to tell their stories.
Racial disparity, inequality, and discrimination are becoming increasingly prevalent topics. New York Times journalist Wesley Lowery wrote in an op-ed that there's a demand for a paradigm shift in how newsrooms cover Black communities.
"The failure of the mainstream press to accurately cover black communities is intrinsically linked with its failure to employ, retain, and listen to black people," he wrote.
Past studies also point to a lack of balance in the workforce. A 2017 study from Pew Research Center found that newsrooms only have 7% Black workers, while white workers make up 64% of the newsforce.
Lowery believes journalists should report with moral clarity, rather than neutral objectivity, to avoid hiding behind euphemisms that hide plain truths about discrimination.
"Ideally, the group of journalists given the power to decide what and who to give a platform in this moment would both understand this era's gravity and reflect the diversity of the country," he wrote. "Unfortunately, too often that is not the case."
Legal professionals interpret and uphold the law. It's up to them to be informed on issues of racism in the law, hold police accountable, and address systemic racism.
A law degree offers many ways to fight racism through civil rights law, immigration law, criminal defense, and other fields. Lawyers can use prosecutorial discretion to help people of color, file civil cases that challenge racist precedents, and work with incarcerated individuals to help them navigate the appeals process or file suit against inhumane living conditions.
Graduates with a law degree can also work toward helping immigrant communities. Many immigrants in the U.S. are unable to defend themselves in court or secure legal counsel because of limited English-speaking skills, as well as limited monetary resources.
Racial issues often intersect with political issues. Historically, this has happened with slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, and the civil rights movement. The problems continue today with racial profiling, voter suppression, and the prison industrial complex.
Political science programs study political activity and behavior in systems of government. A political science degree will help you understand the role racism plays in these systems and why it persists, and you can share your findings as a professor, author, and researcher.
Political scientists also work in government. There, you can push for reforms that fight against racism or help nonprofits navigate policy by guiding them through regulation and application processes.
Some graduates go on to pursue a law degree or pursue a career in politics, which desperately needs more diversity. Latinos make up 18% of the U.S. population, but only 0.6% of federally-elected officials and 5.1% of state-elected officials, according to recent findings by NALEO. In addition, only one in five members of Congress are not white.
Ethnic studies primarily focus on the differences between race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, and gender across cultures, examining how they all fit into society.
Pursuing a degree in ethnic studies will give you insight into the experiences, triumphs, and struggles of different ethnic groups in America. These studies focus on a culture's growth and development and its shifting relationship with the majority population and government.
Ethnic studies also explore cultural elements like art, music, literature, philosophy, and critical theories. Understanding these different areas can help you figure out how to support social progress while ensuring minority voices are heard and represented.
Ethnic studies programs are not limited to members of their ethnic groups. However, it's sometimes frowned upon when experts in ethnic studies do not belong to the ethnicity they're studying. If you're pursuing studies in a culture that isn't your own, be mindful that you're not talking over or taking resources from actual members of that culture. Instead, follow their lead.
According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), racism is a barrier to health equity. People of color are more exposed to a host of problems, including poverty, malnutrition, obesity, lack of essential medical services, and addiction.
A degree in public health offers the chance to address injustices caused by racism by helping citizen access different levels of support. You could work at a clinic that offers low-cost medical services or make policy changes as a public health official at the state or federal level.
Public health experts also have the power to challenge negative stereotypes leveled at people of color, as explained in the 2018 article, "Uprooting Institutionalized Racism as Public Health Practice," by Mary Bassett and Jasmine Graves.
Bassett and Graves wrote that white victims of the opioid epidemic receive less scrutiny than Black Americans with heroin and crack cocaine addictions because of how they are perceived. For example, there are lingering perceptions that white people are casualties of difficult life circumstances, but Black Americans are criminals. It's up to public health officials to push back against these stereotypes to ensure all Americans can access health resources.
Social workers can fight racism by helping affected populations at individual and community levels. A degree in social work offers many opportunities for specialization.
Unfortunately, social work has systemic flaws. For example, child protective services have a racist history of disproportionately affecting minority families.
Similarly, welfare systems have given inequitable treatment to Black Americans through personal, institutional, and cultural racism in social work policy and practice, according to Lena Dominelli's article, "An uncaring profession? An examination of racism in social work."
It is important to keep these systemic problems in mind and actively work against them, within yourself and within the field of social work, as you pursue this career. For example, social workers who prefer to work with kids can help underprivileged and at-risk youth stay in school, participate in extracurricular programs, or receive vocational training, and help their families access resources.
They also work as counselors and therapists at agencies, schools, or treatment facilities, and connect young people with the resources they need to work through trauma, address mental health issues, or find stable housing.
There are also many options for social workers who want to work with adults. Social workers often assist ex-convicts as they reintegrate with society, helping them get training, employment, and affordable housing.
On a larger scale, a social work degree can lead to the management of assistance programs for underprivileged communities victimized by systemic racism. Or, you could be a community organizer who works with the local government to fund and promote assistance programs.
Marches and protests aren't the only ways to fight for racial equity. The battle must be fought on an individual level, across industries. College students can help end racism at the individual, community, and nationwide level by fighting it in their chosen fields.