Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Segregation Forever?

(Two black youths being turned away from trying to integrate a Southern school during the Civil Rights Era)

The New York Times had an interesting article in it's April 14th issue about an effort in Nebraska to create separate school districts based on race. The opening paragraphs are included below:

OMAHA, April 14 — Ernie Chambers is Nebraska's only African-American state senator, a man who has fought for causes including the abolition of capital punishment and the end of apartheid in South Africa. A magazine writer once described him as the "angriest black man in Nebraska."

Ernie Chambers, the only African-American in the Nebraska Legislature, was a major force behind a law enacted this week that calls for dividing the Omaha school district into three districts defined largely by race.

He was also a driving force behind a measure passed by the Legislature on Thursday and signed into law by the governor that calls for dividing the Omaha public schools into three racially identifiable districts, one largely black, one white and one mostly Hispanic (Read the whole thing here)

A Harvard study by the Civil Rights Project called, "Resegregation In America's Schools" provides some of the following data on what appears to be an unfortunate trend:

  • Rapidly Increasing Segregation in the South
    The region of the country that is resegregating at the fastest rate is the South, which has achieved the highest levels of racially integrated schools in the country for 25 years. The percentage of black students in majority white schools in the South fell from a peak of 43.5% in 1988 to 34.7% in 1996.
  • Increasing Segregation in States with Substantial Black Enrollment
    Virtually all states with substantial black enrollments increased integration during the 1970’s, but showed a rise in segregation between 1980 and 1996. The largest increases in segregation occurred in Rhode Island (20%), Wisconsin (13%), Florida (12%), Oklahoma (12%), Maryland (9%), Delaware (9%), and Massachusetts (9%).
  • Severest Segregation Occurring in Latino Communities
    Latinos, who are fast becoming the largest minority group in the country, attend the most severely segregated schools. Latino segregation has been increasing ever since data was first collected in the 1960s but the issue has not received much attention since the great increase occurred after the civil rights era. Data from 1996-1997 shows that 74.8% of Latinos attend schools with over 50% minority student population, an increase from 64.3% in 1968-1969; 35.4% of Latinos attend schools with over 90% minority student population, an increase from 23.1% from 1968 to 1969. The Northeast continues to be the most segregated region for Latinos, with 78.2% of Latinos attending schools with over 50% minority student population, and 46% attending schools with over 90% minority population. The West, where Latinos are the dominant minority group, has a substantial increase in segregation and now has 77% of Latino children in predominantly minority schools.
  • Substantial Link Between Segregation by Race and Poverty
    Segregation by race is very strongly related to segregation by class and income. Racially segregated schools—for all groups except whites—are almost always schools with high concentrations of poverty. Almost nine-tenths of segregated African American and Latino schools experience concentrated poverty. Students in segregated minority schools were 11 times more likely to be in schools with concentrated poverty than their peers in predominantly white schools. Black and Latino students on average attend schools with more than twice as many poor classmates as white students. Data from 1996-1997 shows that in schools attended by the average black and Latino students, 42.7% and 46% of the students are poor, respectively. In schools attended by the average white student, 18.7% of the students are poor. Poverty levels are strongly related to school test score averages and many kinds of educational inequality.
  • Growing Segregation Among Blacks and Latinos in Suburban Schools
    While large numbers of Latinos and blacks are moving into the suburbs, they remain heavily isolated in segregated schools within these communities, particularly in metropolitan areas. Data from 1996-1997 shows that blacks and Latinos living in these areas attend schools that have an average nonwhite enrollment of between 60% and 64%.
  • Isolation of Whites
    Whites remain most isolated from all other racial groups and are the only racial group that attend schools where the overwhelming majority of students are from their own race. Data from 1996-1997 shows that on average, white students attend schools with classmates who are 81% white.

I am reminded of the famous quote by four term governor of Alabama, George Wallace, during the 1960's, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Could it be that he was right after all? Is America in a backward crawl towards the bad old days? The essence of the segregation problem is captured in a powerful statement of Baha'u'llah:

Say: no man can attain his true station except through his justice. No power can exist except through unity. No welfare and no well-being can be attained except through consultation.
(From a Tablet - translated from the Arabic)

The continued segregation of American schools demonstrates a lack of real commitment to the pursuit of racial justice that so many "leaders" preach about every year on Dr. King's birthday. The paralysis of will to deal with the problem comes from focusing on the tiresome struggle for power we call American politics, rather than focusing on the power of unity. The struggle for power is a logical consequence of the absence of consultative approaches to decision making in which the narrow agendas of individuals and special interests are subordinated to the well-being of humanity as a whole. Ultimately, the challenges involved require something that legislation, court orders and political compromise can never provide: love.

"...there is need of a superior power to overcome human prejudices, a power which nothing in the world of mankind can withstand and which will overshadow the effect of all other forces at work in human conditions. That irresistible power is the love of God."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 68)