21 May 2014

Brown v. Board was never going to desegregate schools...and they knew it

I sit here, 60 years after the passage of Brown v. Board of Education, which made it actually illegal to have separate schools for blacks and whites in America. And while I think the implications of Brown v. Board are widespread and prevalent throughout of society, I do feel that, with regard to education, it was doomed to fail from the beginning.

And it's all tied to White Flight.

Segregation Academies. When Brown was made into law, it was clear that it would apply to public schools only. This meant that if you were white, the only way you could maintain a world where your children didn't have to share a classroom with a black child was to pull them out of public school and send them to private schools. But here was the problem: rich white people already sent their kids to private schools, and there wasn't enough space in the good, high caliber private schools to fill the void. But the awesome thing about capitalism: when there is a insatiable demand for something, there will be, without question, an unwavering supply of that item provided. Once it was obvious there was a demand for new private schools, those schools started popping up all over the country- more so in the deep south than in other parts of the country. Gerald Rosenberg in his book, The Hallow Hope, that between 1961 and 1970 that there was a 242% increase in non-sectarian private schools in the southeast- a numerical implication always makes things easier to conceptualize. This is not to say these schools didn't exist in other locations, but they thrived in the south, where the hostility to a claim that blacks and whites are equal will still find some hostile to this idea.

What is the basis of a segregation academy? It is tied to the premise that blacks, as inferiors, can only bring down the achievement of the surrounding whites. It presumes that in order to have excellence, you didn't just need to have whiteness present, but you also need the absence of blackness was also necessary. And although I am describing the time of Brown, I could just as easily be describing what times we're in right now. In the south, schools are more representative than they were in the days immediately following Brown, but in most of the country, in big cities collectively, in the Northeast, schools are more segregated now than they were in 1954. This isn't because there are physical barriers to keep kids from going to school (nobody standing at school doors with a gun) but there are many structural barriers to prevent it from happening (cost of neighborhoods, schools being determined by your physical address) independently of a set of codified laws preventing those interactions. And when it's all said and done, the parents pulled their kids out of public school, where based on how many people went to public school, was more than an adequate means of an education, to put them in private schools, which in some cases were vastly inferior to the public schools they are replacing. White Flight: from the public institutions to the private ones...

The Suburbs or How we kept the Blacks out: After Brown passed and it became illegal to discriminate based on race, it became necessary to discriminate by class, which based on our history, means it has a tendency to follow racial lines. The 400 years of providing slave labor, the 100 years of second class citizenry don't offset the 60 years of "equality" I'm sorry to say. When blacks could go to school where they wanted to to and live where they wanted to live, it seemed that whites were looking for a way to get out. Enter Levitttowns. What these pre-fabricated, cookie cutter communities lacked in originality they made up for in other areas. When the originators of the town started, they were infused by a ton of money in no-interest loans for GI's retuning from the war, a ton of money infused into interstate highways, which allowed people easy freeway access from their work to their jobs, and last but not least, a culture and maybe even an actual policy, of not letting blacks into their neighborhoods. So it seems the federal government was subsidizing, at the transportation end as well as the housing end, the flight of whites to the suburbs. Because the way cities are structured, when a ton of people leave the city, that means the city no longer gets any taxes from them- their property taxes are at use in the city they live in, and they end up taking more from the city than they give. Also, because it's Standard Operating Procedure to give tax breaks to businesses so they can locate in a city, it means that the businesses that are there aren't really contributing, the people who used to live there are gone, and it leaves only those who can't afford to leave: the poorest of the poor, who is a terrible group to rely on to for a tax base. The fact that they live in the areas indicates a lack of mobility we need to recognize. As Chris Rock, nobody wants to live in The Ghetto. This means the people who need the services most are the most hurt. This is generally how things work themselves out- the poor and marginalized are the hurt the most...Let's start with those no-interest loans...there were a ton of returning GI's coming back from the war and getting their lives started- and they were going to need a place to stay, so they started building new houses on the outskirts of cities, where the houses would all look and be built similar. As an incentive, the government offered returning soldiers no-interest loans to motivate people to make the move. There were a lot of black GI's who also just got back from the war and wanting to start their lives. They also were beginning to notice the inconsistency between what they were doing in the war (fighting against a kind of insidious prejudice and hate that spurred the killing of 6 million Jews) and coming home and not being able to eat at a table with whites or use the same restrooms. Blacks coming back from the war also wanted a piece of the American Pie, and to live in these no-interest loan homes. There was a problem- the banks and companies wouldn't sell to them. They wanted to keep their neighborhoods white. Or at least not black, because as they "knew" anything black automatically taints it.

The remnants of those actions are still present today. My wife and I were looking for a place to live last summer, and while my wife was in Boston, I was given the task of trying to find a place to live. So I go through the newspaper like my life depends on it (i guess it does, I'm not hard enough to make it on the streets anymore) and find a variety of houses. This was the process: I call about the house, the owner and I talk, we have a good rapport, I tell him about myself and my wife, that we're teachers, long term employed and that we have cats. They hear all of this and want to meet me. More than once I'm told to bring my checkbook, because if I like it, they're going to rent it to us. I get excited (well, I did the first couple of times), get in my car and drive over to the location. I'm always the first one there, as i have a fear that someone who isn't me will beat me there and they'll rent to them and not me. So I sit in my car and wait for the owner to arrive, which he (I'm not using gender neutral because in every instance I'm describing it was a guy) always does. I get out of my car and approach the owner. The owner, without fail, does one of these things: 1) looks at me and wonders what I'm doing there, 2) fails to recognize me as the person they spoke to on the phone, or 3) just has the color leave their face as they figure out I'm the person they talked to on the phone (all three say something about their personality that would give me pause renting from them). But as they figure out that the person in front of them (the black man) is the same person they told to bring a checkbook because they saw themselves renting to me, they try to figure out ways out of the situation. It not only clear they don't want to rent to me, it's also clear they know what they're about to do is messed up, but it NEVER stops them from doing it. This is the kind of subtle racism that Eric Holder and Michelle Obama have been talking about in their speeches in the last week, and the subtle, insidious racism I've been talking about for years.  Outside of specific portions of the county, you can be racist but it's can't be your public mantra. You can't say you don't like niggers, nobody will allow you to say that. But you can say I'd not be OK with my daughter/sister/mother letting some black dude marry her. And you can say it's because "she can do better" and nobody blinks an eye- even though "do better" is code for "find white"and everyone knows it but nobody is brave enough to say it.

Interstate Highways or On the road again: for most of our existence, where you lived and where you worked were connected: you worked in your neighborhood and you lived near where you worked. This meant if you work in the city, you live in the city, and if you work on a farm, you'd live in the country. In 1954 when Brown passes, if you live in the city and you work in the city, you're kind of trapped there. And if you don't want have your kids go to school with black kids, you have to send them to private schools. But with the growth of the suburbs, a white enclave outside of the city, there were options, but the means of getting to work was still problematic, as there weren't high quality roads to get people to and from work. The Federal Highway Act of 1956 established there would be interstate highways to connect all major cities (really, 1956 was when we figured out that would be smart?) but it also set up a variety of roads to facilitate access to the city: spur routes to take you from the outside of the city to the center, as well as loop routes, which went around the outside of the cities, which ironically is where the suburbs were- so now there was a set of roads that facilitated a worker getting their grind on in  the city and traveling to the suburbs, their white (because they didn't allow blacks) oasis, free from the problems caused by all those people we left in the city. In addition to just providing an easy route to and from the city, it also allowed the city planners to set up physical barriers with these interstates, which further divide these cities- in cities like Chicago, Interstate 94 is almost literally a color line, with rich whites on one side, and poor blacks on the other- a new version of  "wrong side of the tracks" except you put the tracks in after the neighborhoods were set up specifically to divide those areas.

These things in concert have led to a world where white people can just leave the areas where they would have to interact with blacks in any meaningful way- and by that i mean they could keep their kids away from blacks. The things I'm discussing above happened in almost immediate proximity to the passage of Brown, and I think it's folly to believe they're not related.

Inevitably, what did you think they meant in Brown when they said "With all deliberate speed?"

1 comment:

  1. Since becoming a fair housing advocate, and learning about how this country structures affordable housing, I've had a theory about how affordable housing perpetuates housing, and and thus school, segregation. It was confirmed last week.

    I was speaking to an affordable housing developer when he explained that they get the last pick of real estate. The "good" and "desirable" real estate is snatched up by big investors because they can pay the big bucks. These housing non-profits end up only able to afford land in poorer neighborhoods, and neighborhoods without amenities and good transportation. They also end up with the land that they have to spend a ton of money cleaning up because of poor soil quality/environmental contamination. From the start, this means that affordable housing complexes are always almost built in a particular area of town. And, as we all know, the less "desirable" area of town is almost always the area that is most prominently occupied by persons of color.

    This jives with my theory that affordable housing perpetuates segregation based on complex placement. But it also jives with my theory that underfunding these developments and allowing them to be concentrated in one part of town contributes to segregation on another level. If you look at the demographics, affordable housing complexes (at least in Silicon Valley, but probably elsewhere, too) tend to occupied by persons of color, multi-generational immigrant families, and disabled individuals. The system is essentially saying "We'll give you a cheap place to leave, but we're going to stick all of you undesirables all over here."

    We get the same sort of housing, and thus school, segregation with respect to the Section 8 voucher program. Because California does not require landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers, voucher holders tend to congregate in certain buildings and in already low-income areas, which more frequently boast shitty landlords and a mostly non-white population. Who most often receives Section 8 vouchers? Persons of color, the disabled and the elderly. Again, the program just perpetuates the segregation that already exists.

    In other words, I think restructuring how we think of affordable housing would probably help, at least a little bit, desegregate communities and schools.