February 15, 2012

An old solution for new hope: neo-segregation

I sometimes feel like Mike Tyson in jail. Mike talked about how tough it was being incarcerated with the “baddest man on the planet” label affixed to him. Every tough guy and wannabe tough guy in the pokey wanted to give Tyson a run. The reason was obvious. As Rick Flair famously said, “To be the Man, you gotta beat the Man.” Mike was the Man.

Well, in some circles, I’m the political Man. It’s not that I’m that much smarter than most people. I just read, work harder and pay attention to politics. (Well, actually, that’s a lie — I’m a hell of a lot smarter than most people! As Rush says, “I’ve got talent on loan from God.”) Come on — lighten up. I’m kidding … a little.

Whether I’m the smartest guy in the room or not, a lot of people in this city find it necessary to debate me whenever given the chance. For some time now, some Louisvillians of this ilk have approached me (and others) with what they think is the solution to black folks’ cultural, social, political, economic and especially educational suffering: segregation. Seriously! I know this is ironic considering this is Black History Month and a time to celebrate the defeat of things like slavery and segregation, but it’s real. More ironically, many of these “Neo-Segregationists” are black.

As fervor over busing and the ever-changing Jefferson County Public Schools diversity and school assignment plans rages on, some black people really believe black kids would be better off if we returned to “a time when we had our own.” They believe busing should cease, and, if black kids again attended all-black schools, the achievement gap and other educational ills would disappear. In their minds, black kids would necessarily excel when every other kid and teacher looks like them. This theory posits that the majority of black teachers are racially and historically enlightened, superior to their white counterparts, and care more about black kids than “whitey” ever could. Really?

This narrow, romanticized view of segregated Black America was on display some years ago when Central High School alums and supporters challenged JCPS’s race-based, diversity-driven student assignment plan. They say they did so because the plan disadvantaged Central (in their minds, maybe intentionally). Even when told that if they were successful it may help Central but adversely impact the maintenance of diversity in JCPS, they responded, “We don’t care.” This story is well known. The Central dilettantes hired legal hitman Teddy Gordon to champion their cause. He was successful. Central was granted an exception.

After setting legal precedent in the matter, Gordon returned the very next year to successfully challenge the entire student assignment plan before the U.S. Supreme Court. When JCPS altered its plan to de-emphasize race, Gordon filed suit again, arguing the new plan still relied too heavily on that factor. JCPS’s new plan considered the income and education level of a student’s family as well as race. In other words, JCPS began to rely more heavily on class. Once assignments were determined by supposedly considering class instead of race, the student distribution looked very much like it did before. Of course, this is because there is still a powerful link between race and class in America. Attention to both issues is still sorely needed.

Then-JCPS Superintendent Sheldon Berman said at the time that maintaining a student assignment plan was critical because “it preserves diversity in our community and values that have been seen as important here for more than 30 years.” Berman was right. Unfortunately, many Kentuckians across lines of race don’t want diversity.

There is certainly a percentage of whites who haven’t gotten the message that the South lost the Civil War. They would just like black people to go away. Insanely, after all our gains, some blacks would like to oblige them. Both groups are seemingly comfortable with returning to a time when everybody in any particular space looked alike and came from the same place. This archaic mentality needs to cease or Kentucky will continue to lag. Schools are ground zero in this fight. We can’t allow these backward people, black or white, who are stuck in the past, to get a hold of our kids — or anyone else.

Remember, until next time — have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do justice, and do not leave the people in the hands of fools. MAINTAIN!!!!