Recently, I read an article entitled When White Parents Won’t Integrate Public Schools by Mimi Kirk. It is a thoughtful, honest, relevant piece praising the benefits of integrated schools, particularly for Black and Brown students. It has the voice of someone who is most certainly working for what’s best for children. And I was left with a nagging question. Why do Black and Brown students need to sit next to White students in order to receive the high quality education they deserve whether a White kid sits next to them or not?
Kirk presented stark realities about the racial makeup of our schools. Brown vs. Board of Ed., the hallmark of racial progress in our country that undoubtedly marked a necessary and hugely significant step forward for our country, has done less than hoped to actually integrate schools.
As Kirk points out, “In many U.S. cities, enrollment in urban public schools is dominated by kids from lower-income households, often black and Latino. More affluent white urbanites who’ve moved to gentrifying city neighborhoods often send their children to private or charter schools, because of fears about underperforming local public schools—and the predominantly non-white kids who attend them.”
This is entirely accurate and, if we White folks are honest with ourselves, likely strongly reminiscent of our own individual choices, mine included.
Kirk goes on to say “The benefits of an integrated student body are very clear for kids of color: Test scores and graduation rates increase, and as adults they earn more and enjoy better health.”
This made me squirm.
Why do schools that serve predominantly Black and Brown communities need White people in order to be successful? Why does a school need White kids to be safe, warm, demanding, fully resourced, and beautiful? Why do Black and Brown students need a White student next to them to receive the high quality education that is their right?
This article brought to mind a story I heard recently of one of my school’s alumna speaking at an education panel facilitated by former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Among the questions being discussed was what students in predominantly Black and Brown communities, many of them in poverty, need in order to be successful? There were answers galore. When our alumna stood up, she spoke her truth. “We don’t need anything. Just get out of the way.”
Exactly. Black and Brown Students don’t necessarily need help; they need the removal of barriers to access. Their schools don’t need saving by White families. They need equity. They need justice.
A school shouldn’t need to have White students for there to be highly effective educators present in all classrooms, armed with 21st century technologies, serving classes that aren’t overcrowded. A school shouldn’t need to have White students to have nurses, counselors, electives, arts, music, libraries, and pristine athletic facilities. To insist upon integration in this way calls to mind the unsavory and unhelpful specter of White folks swooping in to save poor Black and Brown communities.
Kirk concludes by urging White parents to integrate. “We need white parents to want integration for the sake of integration, to really value it as an end in itself—and not just in a magnet school situation where they’re being offered incentives to integrate.”
I agree. And I’m not holding my breath.
I understand and empathize with the idealized image schools that are fully integrated, with students of all complexions, races, religions, and classes. I want that reality too. But no Black or Brown student should have to wait around for us White folk to want to integrate for them to receive a quality education.