The Color of Mind: Why the Origins of the Achievement Gap Matter for Justice

Collaborative Group

Professor Derrick Darby, Professor John L. Rury


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies


Eighteenth-century European natural scientists and philosophers classified human beings into races with different moral, behavioral, and cognitive endowments. Blacks were regarded as the most intellectually inferior race and whites as the most superior. Nineteenth-century Americans adapted this racial ideology and used it to deny blacks education, and later to offer it on separate and highly unequal terms. This project examines how linking the ideology of race and racial difference in antebellum philosophical and popular thought with the history of unequal schooling for blacks and whites offers novel evidence for appraising the contemporary racial achievement gap. Drawing on Derrick Darby’s expertise in the philosophy of race and racism, and John Rury’s expertise in the history of African American education, these scholars develop a conceptual framework for understanding the idea of equality in Aristotle, Hume, Kant, and in antebellum American thought. They then use this framework to understand the historical roots of racist ideology, how that ideology has shifted over time, how it has been used to rationalize racially separate and unequal schooling, and how it has, in turn, perpetuated the idea of a racial achievement gap. The project also considers how the ideology of black intellectual inferiority was thoroughly contested by African Americans both in theory and through their record of intellectual accomplishment. The study will result in a co-authored book, The Color of Mind, illuminating why the racial achievement gap endures, why it is unjust, and what must be done to mitigate it. Darby and Rury have previously collaborated on a panel at an international conference and used some of their research in a jointly authored essay on war, race, and education in the United States. Award period: August 1, 2015 through July 31, 2016