Segregation is not a binary cab express

Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America…racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America… The beneficiaries of slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration have produced racist ideas of Black people being best suited for or deserving of the confines of slavery, segregation, or the jail cell. (Kendi, 2016)

The story of segregation is far more complex than a deceptive single color binary cab express. I take the time here to briefly outline the segregationist and choice policies that explain why people of color are consistently found to earn less and live in poorer and less safe neighborhoods (Florida & Mellander, 2016; Jaret, Williams Reid, & Adelman, 2003) and are more likely to find themselves in lower quality schools than their White counterparts (Walters, 2001).  I do this because segregation continues to be a reality but is far more nuanced than the Black-White binary and includes many groups defined by their race, their class, their cultural capital, citizenship, (dis)ability, language, etc.

Today I look at segregation within education–focusing in particular on students of color but with an awareness that class politics are also at play.

Central to the history of marginalization and categorization lived by people of color and low-income individuals is slavery, sharecropping, and Jim Crow, a series of state and local de jure racial segregation laws enacted after the Reconstruction period that continued formally until 1965. Under slavery, anyone deemed to be a person of color was not allowed an education, out of fear that literacy would inspire rebellion and pose a threat to White plantation owners’ economic interests. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, citizens of color were allowed, for the first time, to receive some kind of education–although theirs was one separate and subpar to that of Whites[1]: “early state educational policies were designed–either implicitly or explicitly–to create racial inequality in education” (Walters, 2001, p. 38). There is a certain amount of debt that has been accrued by people of color because of the history they have been subjected to. This debt is multifaceted, comprising “historical, economic, sociopolitical, and moral components” (Ladson-Billings, 2006, p. 3).

Later, in the early and mid 1990s, inequalities in educational funding and opportunity were explicit policies throughout the United States (Walters, 2001). Today, people of color, who were once denied education as a form of control, or sovereign power, on the part of Whites, remain disadvantaged not only because of this historic legacy, but also because the current system of education is designed for the capitalist market; the principles of meritocracy drive competition. The neoliberal market conceives of education as a capitalist venture. As such, it does little to secure a better education environment for allowing students to fulfill their potential. Instead, contemporary choice policies, which include charter schools and school voucher programs, seem to be encouraging racial and socioeconomic segregation in schools (Bifulco & Ladd, 2007). Alongside the increased popularity of charter schools, desegregation policies that pushed forward school integration efforts in the 1960s through to the 1980s have been scaled back in the 21st century (Orfield & Lee, 2007).In 2014 Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan called addressing systemic inequality in schools “a moral imperative,” calling for the “re-segregation” of America’s schools (McCoy, 2014). Coupled with geographic segregation, data suggests that today’s students are more economically segregated than in 1990 and that Black-White segregation experienced most significant declines in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Reardon, 2011; Reardon & Owens, 2014).

[1] For more on the early education of Black in the United States: “After emancipation, we saw the development of freedmen’s schools whose purpose was the maintenance of a servant class. During the long period of legal apartheid, African Americans attended schools where they received cast-off textbooks and materials from White schools. In the South, the need for farm labor meant that the typical school year for rural Black students was about 4 months long. Indeed, Black students in the South did not experience universal secondary schooling until 1968” (Ladson-Billings, 2006, p. 5).


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