US Schools Still Separate and Unequal

Asa Hilliard III

“Segregation,” “desegregation,” “integration” and “assimilation” are key words that have served as lenses through which racial inequity and oppression through schooling have been viewed and understood. This language is not a compatible fit with the real world of schools, teaching and learning, nor does it reflect an understanding of the full dimensions of the problem.

Before Brown, Carter Woodson and W.E.B. Du Bois were among the few who grasped the robustness of the white supremacy social order, and its manifestation in the structure and function of the schools. Segregation was not merely the coerced separation of the “races” in schools. It was a total structure of domination, which included the uses of all major societal institutions–law, mass media, criminal justice, religion, science, school curriculum, spectator sports, art, music, etc.

These agencies provided the propaganda and legitimacy that resulted not only in coerced physical segregation but in a false school curriculum; the control over African schooling by segregationists; the defamation of African culture; the disruption of African institutions of family, ethnic group identity and solidarity; prevention of wealth accumulation; blocked access to communication; the teaching of white supremacy and African inferiority; and more. The Brown decision addressed mainly two things: physical segregation and financial inequalities in school funding. While Brown was a major challenge to the structure of racial domination by heroic advocates and activists, the decision fell far short of addressing the totality of the school problem, which continues to lie in the larger domination structure. “Integrating” the schools did not eliminate the ideology of white supremacy from which “segregation” derived.

In the absence of a real understanding of the structure of domination, some of the worst elements of segregation have returned, in new guises.

Jonathan Kozol

Although the subject is seldom talked about in public-policy debate, I believe the goal of educational desegregation is as relevant today as it has ever been. Virtual apartheid is a fact of life in almost every urban school I visit nowadays. “During the 1990s,” as the Harvard Civil Rights Project has observed, “the proportion of black students in majority white schools” decreased “to a lower level than in any year since 1968.” In most of the schools I visit, black and Hispanic students make up more than 95 percent of the population.

There is, moreover, little pretense any longer that these schools, while obviously separate, are somehow of equal quality to those attended by the children of the mainstream of society. Despite a number of hard-won legal victories that, in principle at least, compel a state to offer what is known as “adequate provision” to the children of a segregated district, grave inequities persist.

Leave a Reply

To prove that you're not a bot, enter this code
Anti-Spam Image