This paper aims to analyse the relationship between scholastic achievement and attitudes towards cultural difference, with a particular interest in sociological interpretations. It shows the relevant, although ambivalent, role school systems may play in either overcoming or reproducing negative attitudes towards those who are perceived as foreign and alien. A more articulated and informed debate on racism and racist attitudes is considered necessary especially in Italy. With reference to the Critical Race Theory, the paper argues that it is important to take racism seriously, without prejudicially negating its existence in the classrooms. A more effective and reliable intercultural pedagogy could be put into place by assuming a critical stance towards those everyday practices which reproduce - through a process of 'naturalisation' - structures of privilege for the powerful groups.