Commentary: The Tremendous Whiteness of Title IX

A program long thought to help stamp out inequality is now being shown to be tremendously unequal itself.

Posted: 06/14/2012 09:44 AM EDT
Filed Under Sports News

Commentary: The tremendous whiteness of Title IX

Forty years ago this month, when President Nixon signed into law Title IX of the Education Amendments, it was thought that he was instilling a piece of policy that would help promote greater equality in America. "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance," read Title IX. And in the years since its introduction, it’s been heralded as a huge step for women’s rights, allowing thousands of them access to education and athletics in previously unprecedented ways. But now many are asking exactly what kind of women Title IX actually helped?

According to a growing swell of criticism, for all the good Title IX did for American women, it’s also been wildly racially exclusionary. In a new New York Times piece called “Black and White Women Far From Equal Under Title IX,” sports writer William C. Rhoden details just how poorly Black women — and other non-white women — have fared under the act:

According to a 2007 report by the United States Department of Education, among high school sophomores, white girls had a 51 percent participation rate in sports, compared with 40 percent for Black girls. The percentages were lower for Asian/Pacific Islanders (34 percent) and Hispanics (32 percent). 

The lack of access to sports at youth levels becomes manifest at the intercollegiate level, where African-American women are underrepresented in all but two sports: Division I basketball, where Black women represent 50.6 percent of athletes, and indoor and outdoor track and field, where they represent 28.2 and 27.5 percent. They are all but missing in lacrosse (2.2 percent), swimming (2.0), soccer (5.3) and softball (8.2). They are an underrepresented rising presence in volleyball (11.6).

Nobody is saying, of course, that many, many Black women haven’t benefited greatly from Title IX, getting scholarships to college and, occasionally, going on to stellar athletic careers or coaching positions. That said, with the racial disparities so pronounced, it’s clear that Title IX is not the silver bullet many had expected. The lesson here isn’t that Title IX should be scrapped — why throw the baby out with the bathwater? — but that not everything thought to be beneficial to inequality actually is. Title IX, like a lot of well-meaning things, is a good start — but we’ve got a lot of work left to do.


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