Friday, December 29, 2017

De jure and de facto segregation

Here is an interview with the always compelling and lucid Nikole Hannah-Jones.  She lays out very clearly that much of the segregation we see today in schools in housing is not just an accident, or an unavoidable legacy of a racist past, but rather that there continue to be laws and actions promoted by lawmakers that maintain or advance segregation.

Beyond this though, I think it's time to get away from the debate about whether or not segregation is intentional.  Ms. Hannah-Jones says, "I have worked very hard to dispel the myth that somehow segregation that’s not required by law is less harmful, so we should be OK with it."  Often debates about systemic racism, which includes segregation, get bogged down in discussions about the personal character of specific people, usually white people.  But let's remember that the whole reasoning behind the Brown vs. Board decision that really pushed desegregation forward was not that segregation is only bad if it's done by mean people.  No, it was that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal", whether or not they are separate because of explicit meanspirited decisions.

Again, the author says it best:
Once again, we spend so much time trying to prove whether people are doing something racist or not. Can we get in the hearts and minds of how a parent is making a decision? We can’t do that. And really, it’s irrelevant. What we know is that whether people are explicitly racist or not, the patterns that we have seen since the founding of public schools remain the same. And that is: Not only are white parents taking an inordinate amount of public school resources, but segregated black schools are getting less of everything.
This continues to be relevant today, perhaps more than ever, because explicit segregation laws are illegal today nationwide, but at the same time segregation is as bad as it's ever bad, especially in the North.  Even within single school districts that are diverse overall, like in Chicago, we see segregation that reflects housing patterns and test-in school policy and a number of other factors.  Even if there were no ill will involved, it is clear that this arrangement is harmful to all involved; it produces some of the academically worst schools in the country for black and Latino students, and a handful of high-performing schools where "lucky" students succeed at the expense of their less fortunate neighbors.

The most powerful passage from this interview is something I've seen and cried about myself.  "You see these little black boys and black girls come in and they’re so excited to learn. They don’t know yet how little we value them. They don’t know yet that we’re going to shuttle them into inferior schools where they’re never going to have the opportunity to become someone like me. By middle school, you see that light is gone already. You see that they understand by the schools we built for them, just how little we think of them."

Here's the kicker, where the author draws together how racial fears and the commoditized vision we currently have of education, make this segregation so entrenched. 
And then you add into that the way we marketize the language of schools. To be a good parent you need to shop for every advantage for your child even within a public system, which is supposed to be about the common good. We’ve converted the idea of a public system to serving the individual needs of parents.
So you take this racialized history of education, you take all of the racial fears that white parents have about black children, and then you put on top of that this market-based idea of public schools. It creates a system that we have now.

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