Wednesday Reading List: Let's Talk About Segregation

The Blavity team is following the story of a predominantly-white Alabama community that wants to secede from its school district:

According to the Washington Post, a federal judge ruled that the white city could do so; however, NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyers are appealing this decision. While Gardendale officials believe that their students would benefit from a smaller school system, the black lawyers argue — on behalf of Alabama's black schoolchildren — that this decision would undermine their students’ civil rights. The Gardendale seccession will leave the district with a much smaller and much poorer tax base, meaning less money for the remaining public schools.

I have been following this story for a year, and the historical context is important. Here's Emma Brown of The Washington Post, describing the county in which Gardendale is located:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that school districts should not be allowed to splinter away from larger districts when such a move would get in the way of court-ordered desegregation efforts. And yet federal courts have continued to allow such splintering. Jefferson County has struggled to desegregate its schools for more than half a century, in part because one after another predominantly white cities have formed their own independent districts, leaving the county with a growing proportion of black and low-income students — and a smaller tax base to draw on.

If you're tempted to turn up your nose at this particular community, please save your judgment, lest you want to invite said judgment upon your own community. For example,hHere's Christina Veiga of Chalkbeat today, discussing segregation in New York City, which I also have documented:

New York City schools are among the most segregated in the country, a fact that was thrust into national headlines by a 2014 report by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. About half of all city schools are “intensely segregated,” with at least 90 percent of students belonging to a minority group, according to the report ... Some integrated neighborhoods offer opportunities to break that pattern. But when the city has proposed changes that would decrease segregation (as a byproduct of tackling overcrowding), resistance has been fierce ... Backlash was swift, well-organized, and persistent. Parents opposed to the plans for P.S. 199 and P.S. 452 packed public hearings. They sent letters from lawyers, calling the process “contrary to law.” Many affluent parents said they’d move, rather than send their children to a lower-performing school. “There’s a serious problem in white liberalism in New York City,” said Emmaia Gelman, a white parent in District 3 who has advocated for integration policies. “Put to the test, it doesn’t hold up. People don’t want to give stuff up.”

Let's be 100% clear about something: threatening to move rather than send your children to schools with non-white children is NOT THAT DIFFERENT from trying to secede from a school district. Both the Alabama and NYC campaigns constitute collective political action among a group of privileged white people to preserve relative racial homogeneity in their schools. 

If you remember your American legal history, segregation in this country relies on two separate, interrelated phenomena: de facto segregation and de jure segregation. Richard Rothstein has written extensively on the topic, in both historical and contemporary terms.

The distinction matters not just because the legal standards for how to remedy the disparate types of segregation are different, but also because the contextual factors leading to the two types of segregation differ as well. Depending on how segregation manifests in different communities, in pursuit of "desegregation" after the Brown v. Board decision, some school systems changed boundaries to achieve greater racial balance, while others engaged in intra- and inter-district busing programs.

Integration is a goal, while desegregation is a process, and there is no magic wand for either. While "desegregation" efforts temporarily improved the racial balance in American schools until the late 1980s, those policies did not achieve permanent racial integration. As we can see in the articles above, even in ostensibly liberal New York City, parents resist modest integration efforts. (See also: Boston in the 1970s.)

People are doing a LOT of talking about this issue right now. But I don't see many (any?) politicians or leaders with the courage or inclination to so something about it.

I'm BEGGING to be proven wrong.

Have a great day ...