The other day I was browsing some alternative news media sites when I came across a piece about segregated schools. The author noted that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education which ruled that racially segregated schools are unconstitutional. The court ruled that schools must be desegregated “with all due deliberate speed.”
For a while schools became desegregated but in recent years America has been gradually heading in the opposite direction. The author points out that: “Schools are resegregating, legislation is being gutted, it’s getting harder to vote, large numbers are being deprived of their basic rights through incarceration, and the economic disparities between black and white are growing.”
A recent study by Propublica found that from 1993 to 2011 the number of black students in schools where were 90 percent or more of the student population are minorities went from 2.3 million to more than 2.9 million. The study gives as an example the New York City public school system were in dozens of schools 90 percent of the students are black.
The report gave the example of Tuscaloosa, Alabama where “nearly 1 in 3 black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened.”
Apartheid might be too strong a word to apply to schools and neighborhoods in America since most equate that word with the most extreme example, South Africa. However, when in most large urban areas most blacks attend schools where well over 80% are black and they live in similar neighborhoods, the term “apartheid” certainly applies. Jonathan Kozol has studied educational and social inequalities in the United States for 40 years and finds that urban schools and neighborhoods are more segregated than ever, as reflected in the subtitle of one of his books: Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. Kozol’s studies have found noteworthy differences in funding for schools based upon race.
As I have noted many times before, these are schools and neighborhoods where the “school to prison pipeline” begins and is perpetuated. They are places where gangs become a reasonable alternative since the dropout and expulsion rates are so high. And with the huge gap in unemployment rates between blacks and whites growing every day, we have what Michelle Alexander calls the “New Jim Crow,” represented by the huge arrest and sentencing differences between blacks and whites.
When it comes to wealth and income inequality the black-white gaps remain huge. The median net worth for white families is about 14 times greater than blacks or Hispanics. Black children are about three times more likely to live in poverty as white children. Blacks are about three times more likely than whites to live in poverty (27% vs. 10%), a ratio that is virtually the same as it was 40 or 50 years ago. Finally, according to the Pew Research Center since the mid-1950s black unemployment has been twice that for whites (10% v. 5% in 1954 and 12.6% v. 6.6% in 2013).
It is not too hard to see the connections among all these data. Yes, we’ve come a long way since the blatant segregation of 100 years ago and we certainly don’t look like South Africa’s apartheid system, but in many ways we’re not far off.