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?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is so interesting to think about! I started writing a response and then realized there is much I don't know--my parents always told us, when we were young, that they had moved out to the redneck town outside the big city with a large black population where they'd grown up because they didn't want to raise us in the exclusively Jewish neighborhood where they'd both grown up, but I swear that not until this very moment did it occur to me that the unspoken part of that was probably something like this: "so our choices were the black neighborhoods, the Italian neighborhoods, and some other neighborhoods that were changing in unpredictable, possibly racially charged ways--or moving out to the redneck town, which would eventually become a fairly diverse suburb"--but they couldn't have known that last part, could they?

    Anyway, they never sent us to the public schools in the redneck town (which were pretty much all white then—and probably too far away for the very limited busing that happened). We went to mostly white private schools in mostly white neighborhoods where being Jewish made us unusual--until I was in fifth grade, when we started attending a somewhat more racially diverse private school that was known for being more accepting of Jewish students than some of the old-money schools.

    Because that school--which had been all white--began accepting and recruiting nonwhite students a few years after Brown, I suppose this is the way in which my educational life began to be influenced by the decision: from fifth grade to graduation, I got to attend a college-preparatory school and be indoctrinated with the late seventies/early eighties idea that we were living in a post-civil-rights-era, functionally race-blind meritocracy. (I know, ha ha.) There were good parts and bad parts to this, of course. I got to become friends and classmates with an interesting assortment of people and to learn to take for granted that diversity is a desirable quality in an institution. (Socioeconomic diversity, too, since that was part of the school’s mission from the beginning.) However, it took longer to see past the self-congratulatory visible diversity to the very real ways in which the institution replicated the racism and inequalities of the rest of the world. And even longer to develop skepticism about the idea of the meritocracy in the first place. And then I went to college and started interacting with all the other people who had grown up in the same era…

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