Brown vs. Board vs. But what about My Baby?

Linda Brown has died, the woman who was a little girl when her father sued for the right to sent her to the school just five blocks away, instead of to the school 20 blocks away has passed on from this world. Her name became a lightning rod for school de-segregation. The little girl who showed up as the only, she has died as an old woman, and I wonder what kind of progress we have made.

The NPR story I was listening to tells me that since 1988 we have seen a decline in school integration and we are currently at the levels of segregation present in 1968. We are not going forward. We are not making progress. We are not moving forward. We are re-segregating ourselves and we are doing it with the false cry “but what about my baby?”

As our nation pours more and more money into charter schools, touting school choice as the answer to all of our educational woes, despite the fact that the long term research shows that charter schools preform at level or worse than public schools even though they tend to operate with bigger budgets and less kids with special needs. As our cities experience a resurgence in people and property values and push our poorest neighbors into places they have no community assets to rely on, still our schools stay segregated and our communities, while now next door to each other, mostly remain unchanged.

White people, this is on us. We do this. The re-segregation of our schools is on purpose and we are to blame. People claim that what they want is a diverse school, what they mean is they want a white school where kids of color attend. When they say they want their children to have immersion experiences in other cultures they mean ones they approve of as appropriately educational. We want our kids to be stretched, but in a way that is comfortable for us. We glaze all that over with “but what about my baby?”

What about your baby? What if you believed your baby could and would thrive, despite your discomfort, despite your nervousness, despite your understanding that the white way to do everything is always the way it should be done.

Every white person I know thinks Linda Brown and her father are heroes. Every white person I know will tell you that they would LOVE for their child to be in a multi-racial school. Most white people I know have a long list of reasons their kids simply cannot go to the neighborhood school. The ratings are bad, they know one person one time who had a bad experience, their kid is extra sensitive, or extra gifted, and simply need a different school, they don’t want their kid to be the only, they don’t know anyone else who goes to that school.

And what I hear, when I hear all of that is “I think my child is better and deserves better then the other children in my neighborhood. I think my child is smarter or more special, more in need of protection. I think the people I socialize are better than the people I live next to, and I want to do what they are doing.”

I hear “while the neighborhood may be good enough for us, the school is not because we are better than our neighbors.” and “I am willing to sacrifice the good of the whole of our community for the comfort of myself and my family.”

I don’t know what to say to that, except it isn’t the neighborhood school that needs saving, it is your moral compass. 

We have been in our “failing” neighborhood school for the past four years. Both of our girls go there and we still really love it. As my neighborhood gets whiter and more affluent slowly, slowly, the school is changing. In fact when a neighbor toured it and expressed a positive opinion someone on the local Facebook group replied “I would not even send my dog there.” The vested interest of people who have not set foot in the building in years to make sure everyone thinks that the school is terrible is bordering on pathological. I called her and we talked about it and she has happily sent her kid to the school since December.

I see my white liberal friends moving into neighborhoods like mine, ringing their hands over segregated schools, then jumping through hoops to make sure their kid goes to a majority white school. If we believe in de-segregation WE have to de-segregate. If we really believe what we say we believe, if Black Lives Matter, then black kids and black schools matter enough for us to go to them, to invest in them, to learn to not have it our way all the time.

If white people want our kids to live in a truly diversified experience then we need to purposely place our children in communities that do not center whiteness. We live in a world that centers whiteness and it took me almost thirty years to really notice. My kids already notice and think it is weird. We need to want to de-segregate because the white community desperately needs it, not because it fits our liberal ideals.

And we will only put our children where our mouth is when we really and truly believe that Black Lives Matter on their own accord, and not just when they are sprinkled into white schools.

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