The Normalcy of School Segregation [It Matters If You’re Black Or White]

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose5 Comments

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 …

Comments 5

  1. Even as a child I never paid much attention to who was in my schools but I did notice none of the teachers who taught in my schools never had their own children attending the schools in which they worked. To me this subtle fact was the most glaring indictment of the education system. getting into this whole segregation thing would take a lot more patience and writing skill than I currently have. Despite my deficiency I will say that I think this is a lot bigger than busing and redlining because good schools will always follow wealth in this country because a good portion of school budgets are funded by local real estate taxes. this is not to say that there aren’t good public schools. A lot of studies like to say that dollars don’t make that much of a difference but I will be the first to say that resources do matter.

    there is a lot more that can be said but its getting late and i cannot be blogging in the comment box.. piece and blessings.

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  2. Jose,

    You bring a lot of experiences to this issue and are able to reveal the multitude of layers, from the institutional arrangements of *where* kids spend their time to the uncomfortable interactions that happen when minimal integration happens and you get to stand in for a whole category of people (rap star? athlete? –> look at Jose).

    This post pains me because I *see* how true it is when I spend time in schools. It pains me because I believe enough in the idea of America to think we can do better.

    Interestingly, my 11 y.o. will be starting a new school next year where she will be one of the few white kids in a predominantly black school. We really like the school’s curriculum and approach. When I asked her how she would feel being in the minority, she said, “Mom, no matter where I go I am going to be different.” (We’re Jewish.)

    I will be interested to see what her experience ends up being…

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      Being Jewish in an all-Black school will be OK. I mean, the Beastie Boys did it and they turned out OK, right?

      All jokes aside, it’s definitely weird being the odd man or woman out in environments. One thing we need to remember is that diversity can smooth out the kinks in our humanity. Growing up in the environments I did made me more well-rounded and socially deft in places others might not have been. It’s a beautiful thing.

  3. I’ve always tended to believe that when people say race really doesn’t matter anymore they’re not paying attention to what’s going on. Look at North Carolina, where they’re looking at going back to segregated schools because they’ve somehow determined that children will perform better with those who are more like them, even though we all know that won’t work because it’s never worked in the past.

    If race was no longer an issue then the inner city school grades would be on par with the grades of students living in the suburbs. People are just missing it; unfortunately, time and history has shown us that there’s no easy fix either.

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