Brown v. Board, 64 Years Later

New York

May 17, 2018

Brown v. Board, 64 Years Later


If you’ve been watching the news recently it’s hard to escape a growing number of complaints from Americans who are uncomfortable with blacks sharing spaces traditionally reserved for whites. In the last weeks we’ve seen  two black men forcibly removed from a Starbucks, a black woman reported for being in her dorm at Yale,  a black family reported for legally barbequing at a park, and a black man reported for “breaking into” his own apartment on the UWS when he was actually just moving in.

The parallels from these stories to a recent outcry from parents on the UWS are no coincidence. When a plan was introduced at a community meeting in April with an aim to integrate some of the higher-performing middle schools that have mostly white student populations, some parents argued that their children had earned spots at those schools over underperforming students of color who did not deserve to be there.

Sixty-four years after the civil rights catalyst case, Brown v. Board of Education was decided, public schools are still experiencing de facto segregation. In New York City, a student’s ability to read and do math on grade level is still largely correlated to race and income. High-performing schools have majority white and Asian student populations while lower-performing schools are almost exclusively black and Latino. It’s a data point we’ve heard for decades and it’s been the subject of conversations about the achievement gap, resource inequality, and housing segregation.

Many liberals and progressives scream that if there were only more money for poor kids, things would be better; that if we just increased funds for schools that the gaps would close. But this is the hard, unacknowledged truth in the conversation about school segregation – some wealthy white parents would rather keep the system of separate but “equal” alive. Fund poor schools so they don’t have to take spots reserved for my kids. If this sounds harsh, you should hear what UWS parents actually said at the town hall.

Data has shown us over and over again that poverty does not determine academic destiny, but people peddle this myth full-time to abscond themselves of the responsibility to educate black and Latino children. The excuses are endless: how can kids who grow up experiencing the challenges of poverty be expected to perform at the same levels? How can we hold teachers accountable for educating kids who don’t have home support systems? Yet proof points of poor, black children succeeding exist all over this city, state, and country that go unacknowledged because of the truths they reveal- that it is possible and that we have to make some hard changes in policy to achieve equity.

It’s a present-day ugly truth; one that’s very hard to acknowledge for our society. Separate but equal was struck down by the Supreme Court for a reason; it’s unfair and it’s never equal.  Black families are exercising school choice at the highest rate ever in NYC. They’re opting into schools outside of their neighborhoods and seeking options for their children in neighborhoods with high-performing schools largely reserved for white students. They’re sending their kids to charter schools that have shown that high academic performance and poverty can go hand in hand.

It’s been sixty-four years since Brown v. Board and black families belong at high-performing schools. They belong at Starbucks, at parks, in Ivy League dorms, and expensive apartment buildings. Our kids and our communities deserve true progress.