The Civil Rights movement within schools in New York City and Boston challenge the perception that the racial discrimination was localized to the Southern United States in the sense that one of the largest civil rights demonstrations took place in New York City on February 3rd, 1964 where nearly half a million teachers and students staged school walkouts in response to the refusal of the New York City Board of Education to create an adequate plan of desegregation of New York Schools (Theoharis, 2018). This massive walkout in the name of Civil Rights challenges the narrative often told in conventional histories of the Civil Rights Movement–that is, that racism and discrimination did not really exist in the North. We saw that within Northern cities, the same issues of school segregation, workplace discrimination, police brutality and many other issues were met with the large-scale use of civil rights tactics such as boycotts, protests, and meeting with city officials just as in the South (Theoharis, 2018). For example, after the decision of Brown v The Board of Education, New York Public schools were heavily opposed to the mandated desegregation of schools in New York. The school board responded to the supreme court decision by finding loopholes that allowed them to give the impression that they were committed to change without having to make any actual reforms. To elaborate, the New York City school board attempted to claim that due to the way schools were zoned (which was intentionally done to keep schools segregated without directly stating it) was outside of their control. At the same time there was an extensive use of coded-language in order to avoid accusations of racism in New York schools. For example, Superintendent of Schools William Jansen instructed his staff to avoid using the word “segregated” and instead use the euphemisms “racially imbalanced” or “separate” when discussing the intentional segregation of NYC schools (Theoharis, 2018). This usage of words besides “segregated” allows an individual to imply that any sort of disparity in racial demographics at schools is the result of factors outside the control of school leaders and as a result, no action is needed or possible. This use of coded language is extremely self-serving and allows the users of the euphemisms to keep their schools de-facto segregated, give the impression that they are actually in favor of desegregation, and allows them to brush off accusations of racism. This is best exemplified when, Jansen in response to allegations of institutionalized segregation asserted that any sort of segregation that did exist in NYC was a consequence of segregation in housing that already existed within New York and was not the responsibility of New York Schools to handle. There was an extensive use of the fallacious argument that segregation in New York was simply a natural by-product of people choosing to live with their own ethnic groups (Theoharis, 2018).
At the same time in Boston, Massachusetts, the city attempted to ignore the underlying causes of its deep seated segregation of public schools. To be specific, the same problems that were prevalent within the New York Public school system were also present in Boston’s public schools. To elaborate, within the Boston school system, there were discriminatory hiring practices that ensured that only half a percent of faculty in Boston schools were black. At the same time public schools in Boston were spending on average $340 per white student, while $240 was being spent on black students (Theoharis, 2018). The Boston Public School system attempted to respond to these accusations of discrimination by claiming that the reason less money was being spent on black students and why they had worse outcomes than white students was because, “We were told our kids were stupid and this was why they didn’t learn” and because “parents did not seem to care.” These extremely derogatory responses were used to rationalize the disparities between predominantly black and predominantly white schools and can be seen as an attempt to deny systemic racism. At the same time the phrase “busing” and or “forced busing” was used to describe the opposition that white families and neighborhoods had to Black students being bused into predominantly white schools. White families and Boston Public Schools claimed that the busing system interfered with the rights of “taxpaying families.” (Theoharis, 2018). These euphemisms should be seen as an underhanded way of saying that white families in presumably wealthier areas of Boston thought that black students being bused into white schools would damage the academic quality of these schools and that this process was somehow unfair as they paid taxes towards these public schools.
I was not at all surprised by this sad history as within my own experience in public schools I definitely sensed a de facto segregation. To be specific, in almost every public school I attended, that is schools around the Twin Cities area, nearly everyone in my school was white even though the Cities seem to have a sizable African-American community. At the same time it seemed that the mostly white schools that I went to appeared to have significantly better facilities and academic programs than the schools in North and Downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul where it appeared that many African-Americans families resided. In hindsight it definitely seems that there is a de facto segregation in Minnesota public schools. I would then argue that de facto segregation still exists in schools today and is a problem that seems to have been forgotten about but without a doubt needs to be addressed.
- Theoharis, Jeanne. A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History. Beacon Press, 2018.
One thought on “Blogpost #5”
I really enjoyed reading your discussion post, and I related to you when you discussed how your school was a predominately white school. My school was also very white, with my class being the most diverse with five students of color. In fact, my whole community is mainly comprised of a white middle class population. I also think that de-facto segregation still exists largely because of the way housing was during the 1960s. I feel when a family chooses an area to live in that future generations also tend to stay in that area.