I was inspired to write this blog based on story titled “Segregation Now...” that I read in the May 2014 Atlantic magazine. “Segregation Now...” is an investigative report by Pro-Publica's Nicole Hannah-Jones about slow resegregation of poor black students into schools of their own in Tuscaloosa, Alabama after judicial oversight established by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education requiring integration was deemed by the courts as no longer needed. The Supreme Court held that required integration was a temporary measure geared towards...and suspended any court supervised requirements towards integration. Unfortunately, the state and local governments don't have a set of standards to ensure that all children receive the same level of educational excellence. Poor children receive a substandard education while the wealthier children are provided with the best money can buy.
This article highlights the success of Central High School, which was the result of a 1979 order by a federal judge to integrate two largely segregated schools into one. The article points out how Central became a high school powerhouse, winning National Merit Scholarships, math competitions and received numerous trophies in football, track and golf. James Dent's daughter Melissa was a product of that integration --- graduating in 1988 and become the first member of her family to graduate college. Unfortunately for Melissa's daughter D'Leisha, in 2000 another federal judge released Tuscaloosa from desegregation requirements and abolishing federal judicial oversight --- resulting in the white neighborhoods adjacent to Central High School being gerrymandered into other school zones where the student body is dominantly white.
As a result, many of the white families slowly and quietly separated their kids from schools that were integrated with poorer black students, moving them to schools that were redistricted. The deleterious effects of the abolishing federal oversight and the gerrymandering of school districts had a profoundly negative impact on D'Leisha, who would not have the benefit and strength of diversity that empowered her mother towards a college education. D'Leisha will have a tougher road to hoe but not an impossible one.
I would surmise that white parents may be implicitly teaching their children that they don't want to associate with the poor black students or the underprivileged. I understand that every parent, Black, White, Hispanic or other, wants to give their kids the very best education they can. But they must realize that the best education is accomplished through diversity as Central High School proved. While segregation is not at the levels in the 1960's, Hannah-Jones points out that 1 in 3 black students in Tuscaloosa attend what is becoming known as “apartheid schools” --- meaning that schools whose white population is 1% or less. Desegregation orders from the federal courts have created similar problems from Mississippi to Virginia.
Every white parent needs to do a very thorough and honest introspection to see if they harbor some unconscious racial and/or socio-economic prejudice and are mentally conditioning their children with negative stereotypes of their poor black neighbors and/or the economically disadvantaged. Likewise, black parents need to perform some introspection to see if they are unfairly labeling their white neighbors as having racist attitudes when in fact they don't. Some parents are just trying to provide the best environment for their children. I believe more parents across of all racial ethnicities need to instill a sense of compassion for those who are economically disadvantaged. Melissa's daughter, D'Leisha became a victim of re-segregation. D'Leisha has retaken the ACT college entrance exam three times, and stated: “They knew things we didn't know. They had done things we hadn't done.” D'Leisha ACT scores may have been higher if she had been subjected to more diverse experiences, knowledge, education and lexicon that comes with a diverse student body and likewise other students could have benefitted from that same diversity. D'Leisha should not give up. Stay strong, attend a junior college, increase her knowledge and then transfer to another university of choice until she accomplishes her goal. In the end, she will be stronger as a result of it and can help another teen facing the same type of challenges she did.
Schools serve as communities for children of all ages. Student's from advantaged backgrounds who possess a positive attitude and outlook on life and education can have a profoundly positive impact and uplift their fellow students who come from poverty-stricken neighborhoods where the environment is more negative. Just daily social interaction in a diverse school community can make a world of difference in the mind of a child. Every one of us, including our children, has the ability to make a difference in our neighbor's life and that should be instilled in our children. We are our brother's keeper and we need to have more compassion on those who are less fortunate. America has lost their sense of community and what it means to be a neighbor. We are all in this world together and should always be mindful of how our actions affect others around us.
I believe the slow re-segregation in Tuscaloosa and the withdrawal of white students from integrated school contradicts many American's strong sentiment that we are living in a completely post-racial era by virtue of electing a Black President in Barack Obama and have a black Attorney General in Eric Holder. Many in our society still secretly and sometimes unconsciously stigmatize and judge our neighbors based not only on race but also on their socio-economic status. Diversity makes us a better nation, so it is wise to be careful not to ostracize those who are less fortunate. We are our brother's and our neighbor's keeper. Think about it.