Segregation is Legal… Again.

It has been reiterated in class time and time again that the current social structure was purposely constructed to be the way it is today. (For example, where blacks have a tendency to live compared to where whites tend to live.) For my group’s research paper I was looking up the history of African American and black education in the United States. It is common knowledge that segregation of public schools became technically illegal in 1954 with the decision in Brown v. Board. However, I stumbled across a decision that took place from 1994-1999 that shocked me: federal court orders release public school districts from having to continue to implement their desegregation plans (Jackson 2001, 55-56). Segregation is legal.

First, I’m shocked because this happened so recently. Our class was already born when the federal government started issuing orders that released the schools from implementing their desegregation plans. Second, I’m shocked because this was very clearly a shift from viewing segregation as a forced, intentional act to viewing segregation that still exists as a social norm that “just happened”. Less than 50 years after segregation was ruled to be illegal it was once again overturned. Yet segregation does still happen and it is because of events in history that things became the way that they are today! This frustrates me to no avail. In fact, schools were more racially segregated in the 1980’s than they were in the 1950’s due to “white flight” (Jackson 2001, 55). “White flight” is the movement of whites from the city to other areas to avoid black neighbors and school desegregation (Jackson 2001, 55). Therefore, whites helped ensure that segregation still took place. A mass movement of people from one place to another is quite intentional. Yet somehow city schools with all black students and suburbs with white students are the choice of the citizens… This baffles me.

How would I overcome this? I’m not sure. Likely something along the lines of racial quotas for public schools, even if that means having to bus students further, but that obviously is not realistic in all cases. I would love to hear other thoughts on this!

Citation: Jackson, Cynthia L. African American Education: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2001.

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2 thoughts on “Segregation is Legal… Again.

  1. Isn’t this a bummer? There was a recent documentary on Little Rock 50 years later (here’s an interview with the directors shortly after its release: http://www.documentary.org/feature/50-years-later-renaud-brothers-revisit-legacy-little-rock) that follows one of the women who integrated Central High in Little Rock. The school is now failing in a major way, and the city itself continues to be massively segregated. And you’re right! The state has now said that because that seems to be persistent/natural, that we can’t force people to integrate, which basically leaves segregation undisturbed.

    It’s a great question: What can we do? If you have a chance, you might want to go look at this post (https://racelawatdenison2015.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/brown-v-board-in-the-modern-society/) and the comments following to see some of the important questions raised by other members of the class.

    I’m not sure what we can do, but we have to do something: whether it’s asking our friends and ourselves hard questions, choosing to work and live in integrated spaces, choosing to teach in diverse communities, supporting grassroots organizations with our dollars and time, protesting alongside those who experience the full brunt of police brutality and putting our bodies on the line…there are many ways to be an ally even if you are the one who experiences privilege. I’d love to hear more thoughts from people about what YOU can do to be an agent of change…

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  2. We have discussed this in class before, but the only way that anything will change is if white citizens also take up the cause to create a world of equality for all races, SESs, etc. However, the cynic in me says that it will take a lot for this to ever happen. Yes, there are people who understand the importance of equality and are willing to do what it takes to help others achieve that. Yet whiteness has been constructed to be a trait of privilege and opportunity, even for white citizens of lower SES. It is going to take some event or movement removing that privilege and creating inequalities for white citizens in order for a good portion of the white population to realize that something needs to be done. I comment this, and yet people still wonder why the media only publicizes the “riots” taking place in Baltimore when a peaceful protest had been going on for days prior. The peaceful protests are of no threat to the common white citizen. Destroying of businesses, physical property, and even lives DOES threaten white citizens, and it is something that they are not able to ignore as easily.

    Personally, one way I would create change is via communication. Holding workplace seminars and discussions that allow the topic of race to be brought about in a way that facilitates understanding could help employees understand racial issues as they relate to the job market as well as make managers and other hiring authorities aware of the institutionalized biases that are working against minority populations. Facilitating dialogue is key.

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