Sunday, May 18, 2014

Brown v. Board of Education

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education, legally desegregating schools in the US.  Supposedly.  (Here's the Wikipedia article.)

We Are Respectable Negroes wrote yesterday asking if we're products of Brown v. Board of Education.

I suppose it's telling that I started thinking about Brown v. Board this morning when I heard an NPR conversation with a woman (I was half asleep and don't remember her name, sorry) about being a product of Brown v. Board.

As a white woman who grew up in the 60s, in Northern California, I wonder in what ways I'm a product of Brown v. Board. 

When I was starting elementary school, my school was torn down for earthquake issues, and we were bussed to a school in a slightly poorer neighborhood.  At the time, I remember one Black family in my neighborhood, on one side of a highway, and one other Black student in my class.  In the other school, on the other side of the highway, I don't remember more Black students. 

By third grade, the school in my neighborhood was built anew, in the latest school fashion, and we were all back there halfway through the school year, including the kids from the poorer neighborhood across the highway.  But still, I only remember one more Black student in my class.  I do remember about that time that I spent my reading group time "tutoring" a boy from El Salvador in reading.  (I feel so bad that I was assigned this task, and that he wasn't taught by someone who knew how to teach.  I suspect it had to do with the teacher not having other resources, and our school being unprepared to teach students for whom English is a second language.  I hope things turned out okay for him despite me.)  I don't remember many Asian students in my grammar school, either.

By the time I was in middle school, there were a lot more Asian and Black students; I remember seeing the Korean girls reading their comics in the lunch areas and not understanding.

But I was put in a special classroom, and I'm pretty sure just about all of us there were white, and most of us there were from the wealthier side of the highway and tracks.

In high school, I was in a much more diverse school, but most of my classes weren't diverse because as a white girl from the wealthier side of the highway and tracks, I was tracked into college prep classes (though not AP classes), while most of the Black and Hispanic kids were tracked into non-college prep.  The Asian kids and white kids from the poorer side of the highway and tracks were in both college prep and non-college prep classes, depending, I think, on their parents' advocacy and such.  For example, my high school had, I think, three or four Black teachers, two in English, one in athletics, and one, I think, in shop.   I remember that one of the Black teachers had to really advocate for her children to be in the college prep track, and if I was aware of it, it must have been a huge deal.

So how am I a product of Brown v. Board?

I'd guess the biggest thing was that most Black students in my area were tracked into non-college prep courses, and weren't given the same opportunities that more white students had. 

I wondered as a kid if the bussing I experienced was the same as the busing I vaguely heard about on the news where there was or had been newsworthy conflicts.  Was my school torn down and rebuilt as a way to integrate it further?  It had that effect somewhat, but mostly because the other school was closed and the grounds sold off for condo development.  But I think now that it was really about earthquake issues.

I guess the bussing was the one thing I learned at the time about Brown v. Board because it was on the news.

So, other USians, how are you a product of Brown v. Board?

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