Angry White parents gripping picket signs. People making death threats and a piece of hate mail reading “Blacks destroy school systems.” Community panic about school desegregation orders. But this wasn’t archival footage of White Southerners from the 1960s. This took place last year in Howard County, Maryland, a suburban community that prides itself on racial integration. It was there that progressive White parents mobilized with other groups to try to stop a school integration plan that would bus poor students, who were mostly Black and brown, to more affluent, whiter schools. Willie Flowers, the father of two eighth-grade boys in Howard County schools, was stunned by the ferocity of the resistance. He says it was a flashback to the type of racism he encountered attending schools with Whites in the South. “I’m from Alabama and I thought I was escaping that type of nonsense,” says Flowers, who is president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference. “There have been cases of Confederate flags at high school football games, racial epitaphs.”
When it comes to this issue, history doesn’t inspire much confidence. That’s why much hasn’t changed for what one scholar calls “ground zero” for racial equality: schools and homes. Black Lives Matter signs are showing up on more White people’s lawns today. But statistics suggest that these lives don’t matter as much if more Black people start sending their children to school with White kids.
Public schools in America remain highly segregated, not just in South but in many blue states and progressive communities.
“But Black-White segregation remains strikingly high,” says Richard D. Kahlenberg, an authority on housing segregation, in a recent article co-written with Kimberly Quick, a scholar and contributor to the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. Both cited two “astonishing facts” about housing segregation: “Middle-class Blacks live in neighborhoods with higher poverty rates than low-income Whites; and African American households headed by an individual with a bachelor’s degree have less wealth, on average, than White households headed by an individual who lacks a high school degree.” So how does housing segregation persist decades after such laws as the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which outlawed the renting, buying and financing of homes based on race, religion, national origin or gender? Two words: zoning laws. Political leaders can still prevent Black and brown people from moving into Whiter, more affluent communities by using exclusionary zoning laws that prevent the building of low-income housing or apartments, scholars and activists say.
But why should I “sacrifice” my child?