Brandon MillerCritical Reading and WritingC.W. CannonDecember 9, 2017Final EssayRacism. The problem Pepsi surprisingly failed to solve.
More specifically I’m going to discuss school segregation. It turns out, it is still a big problem. Even though we’ve grown more diverse as a society, nearly 7,000 schools are still nearly as segregated as they were 40 years ago.
Now, if you’re in a city like New York, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, I don’t need to worry about this. I know exactly where this is going. A story vilifying the backwards and racist American south.
” Well hold on. There is something that you should probably know. According to the UCLA Civil Rights Project, the south is the least segregated region for African American students. In fact, New York state is now the most segregated system in America. For the most part, because of New York City.
This would obviously still be problematic even if these schools were anywhere close to being equivalent academically as that would still be a violation of the principal of Brown v. Board of Education that “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” But in practice, most are never really never anywhere near equal in any way. Black and Latino children are more likely to attend schools with a higher concentration of inexperienced teachers, which are then less likely to offer college-prep curriculum. On top of which, because race and class are inextricably linked, those students are two times as likely to be in high-poverty schools.
And while there are teachers and students are working incredibly hard in those places, they are doing so with fewer resources. So how is it possible that our Nation’s schools are, by some measures, more segregated now than they have been in more than four decades? Well it turns out, places like New York haven’t so much resegregated, as never really bothered integrating in the first place. Because the 1964 Civil Rights Act was very carefully crafted by northern lawmakers.
It targeted the kind of segregation that existed in the south so you couldn’t have a school that was officially designated whites only, but it exempted the “racial imbalance” of northern schools. So if a New York school was all white only because it was drawing from an predominantly white area, even if that area had been kept that way due to racist housing policies, that was somehow acceptable by law. Malcolm X was pointing this out at the time. Being quoted as saying, “You don’t have to go to Mississippi to find a segregated school system. We have it right here in New York City. It shows that the problems that the white liberals have been pointing the finger at, the southern segregationists and condemning them for, exist right here in New York City.” For what it’s worth, when on rare occasions northern cities were forced to desegregate, things got just as ugly as they did down south.
One Boston man recalled his memories of being sent to school in a white neighborhood while interviewed in “Desegregated, Yet Unequal” in 2014, “So my first day of school was, when we got off the school bus it was right on the steps in white paint, ‘Niggers go back home to Africa.’ You got all these whites out there, you know, signs, calling us Niggers, go back home. And then, some of these same kids you would see in class. So what’s up with that?” Yea.
He’s got a good point there. They shout “go home to Africa” and then sit beside you in class. I do hope that the kids that heard that had the opportunity to go “Oh you wanted to borrow a pencil? Well I’m sorry. I must have left mine in Kenya this morning.” And that’s just a taste of the general paranoia surrounding this issue back then. Even though the path to integration was rough, and the burden often fell disproportionately on African American communities, there were still clear benefits. Because bringing in white children also brought in resources.
To an almost comical extent. In the documentary “The Battle For Busing” from 2013 Arthur Griffin was quoted as saying, “Immediately when the decision was made that white kids would now be bussed into West Charlotte, it was like a community joke. Overnight the gravel parking lot was paved, the athletic facilities in terms of the football stadiums and basketball gymnasiums were upgraded.
It was like overnight someone had written a check for a million dollars.” That mans school was in Charlotte, North Carolina. A city that became a model for how desegregation could be effective. By the end of the 1980’s just one percent of Latino children and 3% of African American children were attending schools that were “racially isolated”, that is, ninety percent or more minority.
And this was such a point of pride that when President Reagan visited and tried to talk down on Charlotte’s system, it didn’t go down too well. In fact, many took great offense to his viewpoint. Now unfortunately, what happened next in Charlotte is basically the story of desegregation in a nutshell.
Because in 1997 a white parent got upset when his daughter lost out in a lottery for a magnet school which had reserved some seats for African American children. And even though she was still assigned to one of the top ten elementary schools in the state, he filed a lawsuit. From PBS’s Newshour in 1998 he was quoted saying, “I really believe my daughter’s constitutional rights were violated and as a concerned parent, and a responsible one I hope, I believed it was my job to look after her well being.” Okay, sure. But, she was already in a top ten school.
And I do get making sure your child gets the best education possible is one of the most important things a parent can do. But that man’s selfishness had a huge impact. A federal judge ruled in his favor, vacating the district’s desegregation plan and basically blowing up the whole thing. And tragically, Charlotte then experienced resegregation. Because by 2010, those one and three percent figures for Latino and African American students had grown to 44 and 47 percent.
And it is completely reasonable to be angry at that one parent because, believe it or not, before the verdict even came down, he moved his family to California. But to be fair, this wasn’t an isolated incident. All over the country desegregation plans were struck down, thanks in part, due to supreme court rulings essentially making it easier to challenge them. The prevailing narrative has become that desegregation imposes too high of a cost on students for a benefit that is no longer necessary. It’s an attitude that’s best summed up by former Louisiana state senator Bodi White, “Do you think that you have to bus children a long distance so that you can say you sit in a seat next to someone diverse or different from yourself? The justice department achieved their goal. Now, who can say we’re not desegregated.
We’ve got an African American President, we have an African American Mayor here in Baton Rouge with a majority white in the parish. We’ve been through all that.” And there it is. The idea that,because President Obama was elected, systemic racism was pretty much solved. Which is absolutely absurd because racism isn’t one of those things that just disappears on it’s own in due time. It’s not like chicken pox.
So the only solution here is to be proactive because, remember, if you just assign kids to their neighborhood schools, and their neighbourhoods are segregated, you will have a segregated school. Clearly there are some parents who it seems would resist just about anything that would result in integration. Because even if for a moment you give all parents the benefit of the doubt and you assume that all complaints about bus schedule or class sizes are actually just about buses or class sizes, the hard truth is, you don’t have to be intentionally racist to do things that have racist effects. In the 60’s if you had insisted on separate lunches counters, not because you hated black people but just because you loved your son so much you wanted him to get his lunch faster, the result would be exactly the same. And while I get the impulse to seize every available opportunity for your kid, segregated schools cause devastating harm to actual children. And that is heartbreaking. Because classrooms should teach children about the importance of self esteem, not rip it from them. Because that is what prom is for.
And there can be lasting positive impacts to integration. Not because the mere action of having a white classmate is somehow magic. It’s not. But getting to attend a good middle class school can be transformative. Berkley professor Rucker Johnson studied black siblings where one went to a desegregated school and one went to an integrated school. And not only did those exposed to more years of desegregation fare better but their kids did too. And that’s not all. Professor Johnson’s study also found that such students were more likely to graduate and 22 percent less likely to be incarcerated as adults.
What is more Johnson found, that the narrowing of the achievement gap and the increased success of African Americans had no negative effect on white children at any level. And while you can absolutely teach kids about racism in the abstract, if your school is overwhelmingly white, important nuances can get lost. So the benefits of truly diverse schools are obvious, the problem is often our willingness to do it at all. And to their credit school districts, including Charlotte, are now looking for ways to fix things and there are models small and large around the country for what can work. Boston has long had a voluntary program to send kids from the city to schools in the suburbs.
It’s tiny but it’s wildly popular, and Louisville has created a complicated school assignment formula that has resulted in more integrated schools. It is not perfect and they’ve had to tweak it a lot but, it is worth knowing that under that program 90 percent of kindergarten families still received their first choices of schools which is impressive. And everyone should be So in conclusion when it comes to the topic of school segregation we need to stop feeling awkward talking about it and acting like it’s not there, we need to have logical discussions about what we can do better. There are plenty of solutions to this, big and small. Talk to your children about the importance of accepting those that are of a different ethnicity, talk to your politicians about looking into ways to work towards the system Charlotte had. If we don’t fix the way things are currently being accepted there will be long term effects for our children and then their children.
invested in those sorts of solutions because while this always gets framed as an issue about parents and their children, it’s actually and everybody. Because kids those little doctors, soldiers and police officers that asked you for candy this past Halloween might be actual doctors, soldiers and police officers when they grow up. And there are massive and multiple benefits for all of us if they interacted a lot more from an early age. The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. www.bing.
1.”Brown v. Board of Education.” LII / Legal Information Institute, www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/347/483.
“Welcome to the Civil Rights Digital Library.” Civil Rights Digital Library, crdl.usg.
edu/export/html/ugabma/wsbn/crdl_ugabma_wsbn_36337.html?Welcome.Heller, Chris. “Desegregated, But Unequal.
” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, www.theatlantic.com/video/index/384347/desegregated-but-unequal/.Report, Retro. “The Battle for Busing.” The New York Times, The New York Times, www.nytimes.
com/video/us/100000002427912/the-battle-for-busing.html.Holmes, Steven A. “Whites’ Bias Lawsuit Could Upset Desegregation Efforts.
” The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 Apr. 1999, www.nytimes.com/1999/04/25/us/whites-bias-lawsuit-could-upset-desegregation-efforts.html.
“Separate and Unequal.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/separate-and-unequal/.Johnson, Rucker C. “Long-Run Impacts of School Desegregation & School Quality on Adult Attainments.” NBER, www.nber.org/papers/w16664.