“It was never about busing.”

OMG this Nikole Hannah-Jones essay in NYT magazine is just terrific.  You should so read it.  Especially if you think you don’t need to.  Some great parts:

Many pundits suggested it was unwise for Ms. Harris to dredge up the racial hurts of a decades-old “failed” policy at a time when the Trump administration is caging children along the border and when Democrats are seeking to retake the White House.

But tellingly, there was little discussion about busing’s efficacy, at least not with facts, or about whether or not busing served its purpose of breaking apart the educational caste system…That we even use the word “busing” to describe what was in fact court-ordered school desegregation, and that Americans of all stripes believe that the brief period in which we actually tried to desegregate our schools was a failure, speaks to one of the most successful propaganda campaigns of the last half century. Further, it explains how we have come to be largely silent — and accepting — of the fact that 65 years after the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, black children are as segregated from white students as they were in the mid-1970s when Mr. Biden was working with Southern white supremacist legislators to curtail court-ordered busing… [emphases mine]

The term “busing” is a race-neutral euphemism that allows people to pretend white opposition was not about integration but simply about a desire for their children to attend neighborhood schools…

Further, while it is true that close-by schools may be convenient, white Americans’ veneration of neighborhood schools has never outweighed their desire to maintain racially homogeneous environments for their children…

The school bus, treasured when it was serving as a tool of segregation, became reviled only when it transformed into a tool of integration…

Many white Northerners initially applauded the Brown ruling, believing it was about time the South behaved when it came to its black citizens. But that support hinged largely on the belief that Brown v. Board of Education did not apply to them and their communities. When black activists in cities such as Chicago, Detroit and Dayton, Ohio, pushed to dismantle the de jure segregation that existed in their cities, white support for the integration mandate of Brown faded…

Historically in this country, the removal of racist legal barriers has often come without any real effort to cure the inequality the now unconstitutional laws and policies had created. This was different. Led by Chief Justice Earl Warren’s Supreme Court, federal judges were mandating desegregation plans that did more than simply strike down segregation on paper the way past courts had. A series of rulings called for a fundamental destruction of caste schools in this country. Segregation had been forced, so integration would have to be forced as well.

To do so, the courts understood that desegregation required an arsenal of tools, the same arsenal that white families, school boards and politicians had deployed for a century and a half to segregate black children. They included assigning students and neighborhoods to schools based on race, selecting sites to build schools based on the racial makeup of neighborhoods, assigning teachers and administrators to schools based on race, allowing children to transfer into schools based on race and using buses to carry students to and from schools for integration…

Busing became the literal vehicle of integration because in most places black and white people did not live in the same neighborhoods. This was not incidental. The courts understood that in both the North and the South, a dragnet of federal, state, local and private policies and actions had protected white neighborhoods and penned black people into all-black areas, and that this made it impossible in most areas to create integrated schools by simply zoning nearby black and white children to the same buildings. To get integrated schools, courts had to overcome entrenched government-sanctioned residential segregation…

But to say busing — or really, mandated desegregation — failed is a lie.

It transformed the South from apartheid to the place where black children are now the most likely to sit in classrooms with white children. It led to increased resources being spent on black and low-income children.

And in conclusion:

The black students I talk to in schools that are as segregated as the ones their grandparents attended know it is like this because we do not think they deserve the same education as white children.

This is a choice we make.

The same people who claim they are not against integration, just busing as the means, cannot tell you what tactic they would support that would actually lead to wide-scale desegregation. So, it is an incredible sleight of hand to argue that mandatory school desegregation failed, while ignoring that the past three decades of reforms promising to make separate schools equal have produced dismal results for black children, and I would argue, for our democracy.

Powerful stuff.  We need to do better.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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