Reflections on Segregation, 60 Years After Brown v. Board of Education
Reflections on the progress of American desegregation following the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling that school segregation is unlawful and unconstitutional. The challenge continues in our education system as well as our justice system.
The elusive goal of desegregation60 years ago today the US Supreme court ruled unanimously (9-0) that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." As a result, de jure racial segregation was outlawed, and this paved the way for desegregation in other areas of life. It was certainly a legal victory for civil rights advocates, but the ruling did little to change the hearts and minds of those hell bent on discriminating against blacks or other minorities. Rather than succumbing to the perceived evils of desegregation, many white families simply moved to suburban areas where their children would not attend school with black students. In Pasadena where I live, it was not until 1970 that local schools were finally desegregated by a court order which required "busing" to enforce desegregation. At that time, a very significant portion of white families in Pasadena pulled their children from public schools and enrolled them in local private schools. Until this day, Pasadena has one of the highest concentrations of private schools in the country. The consequence is that our public schools in the city are majority black and latino, and the education, graduation rates and resources available to those public school students reflects a lasting disparity between most white and minority students in the city. Segregation is still our reality. In a report published by the Economic Policy Institute, researchers found that today African American students are more isolated than they were 40 years ago, meaning today there are less white students attending school with black students than there were in the 1970's. (www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/08/29/report-public-schools-more-segregated-now-than-40-years-ago) While the law is on the side of racial equality, the march to desegregate our schools continues.
Segregation in the justice systemAlthough segregation is unlawful, de facto segregation thrives where communities are separated by race due mostly to economic circumstance. Minority families who may be struggling financially are forced to live in lower priced neighborhoods, and to send their kids to local public schools with higher drop out rates, lower standardized test scores, and less access to certain resources. Police departments invest more time in "policing" these lower income neighborhoods and inevitably people of color tend to fill our prisons in much higher numbers. According to the Sentencing Project, 1 in 10 black males in their 30's are incarcerated, and more than 60% of inmates in America are minorities. (http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/page.cfm?id=122) This disparity in convicting minorities effectively perpetuates the cycle of segregation in America. The billions of dollars spent on our prison system could be invested into communities of color to promote education, opportunity and positive alternatives before our youth get trapped in the web of injustice. That decision to invest in incarceration over education reflects a continuing attitude of de facto segregation. We have 34 state prisons in California and 33 state universities. Education and professional opportunities must be viewed as an alternative to incarceration. We need to appreciate the value of investing in desegregation through education. It may be 60 years since Brown v. Board, but we still have a long way to go in the fight to end segregation and discrimination.