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Education Policy And Racial Inequality As An Act Of White Supremacy In The Education System

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Vanquishing new worlds, victors from the West acquired more than just land and subjects--they also gained sumptuous avowal of their creed of superiority, reinforced by the sight of foreign coloured people whom they perceive to be the object of their hegemonic motives. Securing their victory did not cost them more and more artillery. It was only a matter of influencing the ideology of the conquered people--a strategically optimised scheme of maintaining their dominance. The battles and the arm struggles may have ceased or diminished but the war of ideology versus ideology perpetuated. White supremacy, a racist ideology, was the conqueror's secret weapon that struck its victim unwary. It is a system of belief that places the white race above all the other races.

First, to describe white supremacy, a critical distinction between "whiteness" and "white people" needs to be addressed. By detaching the belief from the believer, we clarify that white supremacy is not necessarily congruent with "white people." This ideology of racism is nothing more but a social construct which spawned to secure some sort of competitive advantage in society. In the words of Noel Ignatiev, author of the book "How the Irish Became White":

Just as the capitalist system is not a capitalist plot, so [is] racial oppression not the work of "racists." It is maintained by the principal institutions of society, including the schools (which define "excellence")....The simple fact is that the public schools...are doing more harm to black children than all "racist" groups combined (Ignatiev, 1997: p. 2).

Ivory Coast, a fertile land in the African continent, caught the economic interest of French traders in the 19th century. At first the relation between the French and the Africans of the Ivory Coast was merely trade until eventually France realised that it would gain more if it had control over the entire land. The Ivoirian Africans fought to defend their territory by retaliation of the advancing French usurpers. But France's relatively advanced technology ultimately decided the outcome. Ivory Coast finally became a French colony when the all the native opposition forces were subdued and nullified. By gaining Ivory Coast as a new colony, France's ultimate agenda was to stimulate the production of cash crops: coffee, cocoa and palm oil. A forced-labour system was implemented to buttress the economy. Money taxes were implemented to coerce Africans to grow the export crops or go out to work.

French colonial policy integrated two concepts: assimilation and association. The policy of assimilation was predicated on the assumption that French culture is superior. Following France's mission civilsatrice, when confronted by people it considers "barbaric," it was the duty of France to civilise and turn these people into Frenchmen. While this implied a vague notion of equality (that Africans can possibly become Frenchmen), it also relegated African culture as extant or at least valueless. African society was perceived as devoid of history or civilisation, largely in a state of internal war among different tribes.

Under the policy of association, the Africans of Ivory Coast were permitted to maintain their own customs as long they were attuned with French interests. Hence, African ways are allowed to coexist with French "civilisation" along with the idea of cooperation between the rulers and the ruled. Association was supposed to respect the cultural values as well as the institutions of the indigenous Africans. However, in practice, implementation of this policy was superficial. The French government installed African traditional authorities to mediate policies between colonial rulers and the African people. As an effect, a dual legal system was established--French law for Whites; justice indigene for Blacks. Nevertheless, French administrators dole out civil and criminal justice presumably according to African law, but mostly depending on what the White official decided, in an arbitrary manner, was African law.

The colonial government paid very little importance to formal education in the Ivory Coast. French education was mainly controlled by Christian missions. Since the economy of the Ivory Coast relied primarily on agriculture, enrolment in schools was deliberately kept low because the French government required only unskilled labour from the Africans in Ivory Coast. The French curriculum, which accentuated agriculture, downgraded emphasis on professions such as engineering, teaching, sales and civil service. The textbooks used in schools were exactly the same as in France. One famous history textbook began "Our ancestors the Gauls..." Thus the policy of assimilation lingered on.

Under the assimilation policy, the French government initially wanted to turn Africans into Frenchmen. In 1917, the French administration decreed that education in the Ivory Coast must be in French and that all instructional materials must be printed in French as well (Bassey, 1999). Because of such resolution, only those who had acquired a high level of proficiency in the French language could benefit education. Thus the French education system was elitist.

This educational strategy implemented by the French colonial government propagated their ideology of white supremacy. Education as an institution is characterised by Althusser as an ideological state apparatus (1971)--a tool that paves way for the proliferation of the ideology of the ruling class (the French)--the ideology of racism or white supremacy--among the youth of the ruled class (the Africans) who would carry it to the next generation until eventually the customs and values of the ruled class serve to establish the legitimacy of white supremacy.

Ideological State Apparatuses: Weapon of Dominance

Althusser addressed the role of institutions such as schools, churches, and families in the reproduction of capitalist societies. Since France's utmost interest was the revenue it could generate from the resources and labour of the Ivory Coast, the education system was tailored to train labourers. The education promotes the idea that the French colonial government is benevolent enough to render education to the indigenous Africans--or to "civilise" them with French ways. This strategy ensures that the majority of the African population considers the government and the economic system as legitimate. Functioning predominantly by inculcation of ideology, the ideological state apparatus ascertains the reproduction of labour power and the social relations crucial to maintain dominance, serves as a medium to put into normalcy, or naturalise, the existing status quo. The ideological state apparatus works side-by-side with another type known



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