segregation Archives - The Jose Vilson


Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall

Today, ProPublica released a special report on their website dedicated to the re-segregation of America’s public schools. With the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision on May 17th approaching, ProPublica has focused this special section on Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where three separate and equally devastating stories will be told as case studies to highlight the effects of “letting” dreams of integration die on their own.

Unfortunately, progress never just dies on its own, and in this case, it’s not completely unintentional.

In fact, I also believe we’ve made the race problem in our public schools far too distant from us to truly to see it as a local as well as a national problem. For instance, if you took a guess as to which states had the highest rates of segregation in the country, you might assume it would be somewhere in the Southeast. The stigma about the Southeast works for both liberals and conservatives alike, who can point to our country’s history with slavery and eventual secessions during the US Civil War and say, “Well, that’s just the way it is over there.”

The problem is: it’s not just there. New York, Illinois, and Michigan that round out the top 3 states with the highest rate of school segregation (defined in this study as “the number of black students in schools where 90 percent or more of the student population are minorities”), all three blue states as per the 2012 election.

Therefore, it’s safe to assume that this isn’t just a “liberal” or “conservative” problem, but an “all public schools” problem. The Supreme Court, ruling in favor of Oliver Brown, et. al., said, in part:

Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system…

These days, people say things like “Well, not every child appreciates a good education” or “We should privatize the entire public school system, separate from the jurisdiction of government.” Yet, as we’ve seen in history, even the whiff of equity scares folks in power. School closures, redlining, and the advent of public schools forced the US government’s hand on promoting integration.

One only needs to read Linda Darling-Hammond’s The Flat World and Education to see how integration decreases the achievement gap AND the opportunity gap. Even if you’re not inclined to do so, please note: integration makes it so that all schools would have to be funded appropriately because all types of kids are in that building. Because kids of color are already seen as inferior, especially by people of color who’ve ingested the “white is better” doctrine, they tend to get a certain type of education that wouldn’t be acceptable in more affluent and whiter neighborhoods. Studies after rigorous studies endorse this.

But if you’re still not convinced, that’s OK. Just know that our current segregated system moonwalks us back to a point where “separate and unequal” wasn’t just de facto, but de jure. All of our students deserve better.



You’re a firm believer that we as a country has made tremendous progress since the Jim Crow laws. We have a Black president whose education policy advances the last white one’s education’s policy. Black people are all over TV, and Black man can kiss White women on TV without much ado. This country gets closer to a tipping point where people of color as a whole eclipse the dominant culture in population. Oh yeah, and the Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954 desegregated schools and our public schools only have divisions in class, not race.

Except it does, and anyone with a finger on the pulse of these schools sees the segregation loud and clear.

A combination of school defunding for busing and magnet programs and redlining, a practice that limits certain services from reaching specific areas of a district, have made our schools more segregated than pre-Brown, but you didn’t have to tell me that. Most of my friends understood that, and have lived with the separate and unequal schema of schools for some time. Thus, when we teach at schools, we come in having seen the “other side” and knowing that experience as the antithesis of what we experience in low-income schools.

Yet, people from middle- to upper-income schools come with mouths agape when entering into these schools. These people come into environments where they don’t get to hang out in the hallways too often. The students in these environments can’t just jump into song in the lunchrooms and hallways, or talk to adults a certain way without a hostile response even if it’s an honest question. They can’t always afford cheerleading or soccer, and they don’t always prioritize classical just because the teacher says that’s cool.

They have a different culture, and for that, they either have two options: they either get induced into a whitewashing process or they have adults tell them, “Well, that’s just the way it is.”

I should know. As someone who’s been through public and private (Catholic) schooling, I saw firsthand the difference when parents have different incomes. Phrases like “My Dad got it,” or “It’s OK, we can get another one” doesn’t come easily to a person who knows they’re poor. The students who goofed around in the back of the classroom in my low-incoming school did so because they had already given up on the process of schooling. By contrast, the students who goofed around in the back of the classroom in my mid-to-high-incoming school did so because they felt safe, and by safe, I mean privileged.

In theory, I should have felt safe, too, and to a certain extent, I did. However, I couldn’t help but feel odd when codewords like “urban” and “rap” became indicators for people to stare directly at me in college classes, or when I sat in an honors class as one of two children of color knowing I had to make the grade only to find out my “English” wasn’t good enough to get that 90. Ever. Or when I’m in the middle of a professional development conference or other education conversation, and people gawk when I speak about pedagogy from a nuanced perspective … because they assumed that the pedagogy for teaching children of color doesn’t matter.

But I know what you’re thinking: what does any of this have to do with school integration? Simple. Because integration isn’t just a school of education, but a school of thought, a belief system in which we need to invest. If we don’t believe children of color can have an education that gives them as many options as the next child, then we ought to rip up the one little lesson plan on Martin Luther King Jr. for Black History Month and toss it in the recycle bin. We as a country have to care enough to integrate our schools, and thus, our collective consciousness.

Jose, who just got to thinking …


Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., The First Meeting (Melvin Hale)

Jose: First off, you and I both know I don’t even like the word “minority” because, in the words of Piri Thomas, there’s nothing minor about me.

Mr. Vilson: Whoa, buddy! HAHA!

Jose: You know what I mean. There’s just no way we’re ever going to get respect in this country if we keep using that word on a daily basis about us!

Mr. Vilson: OK, fair enough, but I want to get to the question because it’s a fair question. I’m of the opinion that if everyone benefits from having people of different races and cultures in the classroom. It might not be the same thing for sex, though you know going to an all-boys school has its side effects in the relationship area …

Jose: Yeah, but what happens when kids from different background go to a school that’s supposedly diverse (meaning, there’s more than one color) but it’s overwhelmingly White and middle class? How does that environment support the few who’ve experienced the culture shock there?

Mr. Vilson: I’m not sure. In some schools, I’m sure it helps to have understanding faculty and colored staff that those individuals can lean on, and if not then …

Jose: YES! They fall by the wayside. All I’m saying is this: in history, there was a time when having all-Black schools was fine because Black teachers and staff made sure that kids had the skills to deal with the outside world. They learned their own histories and empowered each other in ways that can’t happen when culture is driven out of you by the dominant culture. When we read history books, it’s the same story. When we watch films, it’s the same story. When we listen to “good” music, it’s the same story.

Mr. Vilson: And that’s great, but you also know the struggle in this country to find equitable education for others. Separate and equal often meant separate and unequal. They didn’t get the same quality of books, the same facilities, or the same treatment when they tried to move on to high schools and colleges. I can’t imagine that people like Martin Luther King Jr. or anyone from that generation fought for nothing. How could you even think of perpetuating segregation when all that did was continue the deplorable socioeconomic treatment of our people?

Jose: Well, let’s ask then: did they? Look at how schools look now. Studies have shown that schools are more segregated than they were in MLK’s time, and that’s with MORE cultures in this country. Look at the situation in Arizona where only the curricula with heavy Mexican concentration in places where there’s a heavy Chicano influence have gotten bullied by local government officials. Now look at what’s happening all across the South where some districts have found ways to desegregate school districts …

Mr. Vilson: And government officials there are trying to fight it? So we’re going to give up desegregating because this country’s officials have found a way to tie race and economy in a way that creates a virtual caste system on too many levels? No way. We need to push for re-desegregation, because the only way our kids are going to get out of their little cocoons is to go out there and see what others are doing.

Jose: At the cost of their culture?

Mr. Vilson: It’s a risk they may have to take.

Jose: Well, we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

Mr. Vilson: Whatever that means.

Jose, who has these discussions with Mr. Vilson all the time …