Thursday, July 22, 2010


For those of you out there who are up to here with Mel Gibson ad Lindsay Lohan , let’s talk North Carolina and its contemporary version of racial segregation. Oh, what’s that you say? You thought that was all taken care of 40-some years ago. Well, think again. North Carolina is quietly taking steps to re-segregate its public schools.

Here’s the short version: Wake County, county seat of Raleigh, NC, has a long standing policy of promoting diversity by balancing percentages of low-income students in area schools. Wake County originally bused children to keep schools racially balanced, starting in the 1970s. In 2000, the schools began using family income as the basis for diversity. Today, there is a movement afoot to go back (way back) to a system of neighborhood schools, in which students would attend the school closest to their homes. Critics of the proposed revamp point out that this policy will result in some schools being grossly overcrowded, and others half empty. But the bigger issue has to do with race – is Wake County hatching a clandestine plan to keep whites together in some schools and blacks in others? It would appear that way.

I’m from the sixties. People in my generation know from segregation. Until high school, I cannot remember ever talking to or interacting with a black person. In high school, out of a student body of about 1500, roughly 300 were black. The first time a black kid said something about his “crib,” I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Sitting behind a black kid in English class was culture shock. After a racial uprising in the cafeteria one day, my driver’s ed teacher said in class that the problem was that “negroes” didn’t “understand their place.” When black students occupied and took over a building on campus one day in protest of something or other, we were all put on school buses and taken home. As we frantically boarded the buses, the driver told us to all lean forward with our head between our knees, apparently to keep us from getting shot or something. The day after Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered, there was not a black face to be seen on the sprawling campus. The football coach was heard to say, “Enjoy this while you can, kids.”

So, as Wake County endeavors to turn the calendar back to 1968, consider this: Do we really want to dismantle the hard fought for progress that at least minimally homogenized our previously separatist society? Do we want new scenes of white men pulling black kids off of school buses? Do we want our kids to have my limited mid-20th century experience? It is highly unlikely that diversity in the American workplace will be slowed or cancelled. If a white kid grows up with kids who all look just like him or her, what happens when he or she goes to work for a black woman, or ends up competing for a promotion with a Hispanic guy? And, in this planned, segregated society, will our kids grow up to create segregated communities like the ones their misguided elders forced upon them?

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC school system dismantled its diversity policy way back in 1999, favoring a neighborhood school system, instead. The result? The NC Department of Education reports test scores in Charlotte-Mecklenburg have consistently been lower than diversified Wake County. Are Wake County separatists about to create an under-performing student body?

Having lived through those sixties, I have to wonder what this is really all about. The cynic in me reluctantly believes that legislation does not a harmonious society make. So, even though landmark law was enacted in the 60s, racial intolerance is still rampant. Racism, in some ways, is bigger and “badder” than it was 40 years ago. Exhibit A, of course is President Obama, whose every move is scrutinized for racial bias. Exhibit B? Arizona. Enough said there. Know this: Wake County is not an enigma in an otherwise racially balanced 21st century America. Other cities, (such as Chicago) seem to be clandestinely moving toward re-segregation. Keep an eye on this…like everything else that happens among us, it is about you.

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