Supreme Court Justices Thinking from the White Frame: More School Segregation

The June 26, 2008 issue of the Integration Report (useful website here) has a disturbing, but predicable story on what is going on in Seattle public schools since our right-wing Supreme Court (in effect, an undemocratic legislature with no oversight) handed down its June 2007 Seattle/Louisville Supreme Court decision that makes it very difficult to use racial characteristics in student assignment plans aimed at reducing school segregation:

Today Seattle schools boast a diverse and multiracial student population. Black and Asian American students make up 22% of public school enrollment. The fastest growing group – Latino students – comprises 12% of the student population.12 However, nearly one-third of Seattle’s schools are considered racially imbalanced, with student populations that disproportionately reflect the district-wide racial/ethnic enrollment. Twenty schools are comprised of student populations that are over 90% nonwhite.

The reason is past and present racial discrimination:

These patterns reflect housing segregation fostered by restrictive covenants and discriminatory lending practices. The boundary lines of the Seattle school district yield a long, narrow geographic space dotted by several lakes and bordering a bay on the western side. Many of the predominately white schools are located in the northern and western portions of the district, while schools with majority nonwhite populations are clustered in eastern and downtown areas.

The price we pay for our still-apartheid, racialized society is great, and includes major racial isolation, as  social science data clearly indicate. I pointed to some of this research in a recent article (“Legacies of Brown: Success and Failure in Social Science Research on Racism,” in Commemorating Brown, edited by Glenn Adams et. al., American Psychological Association 2008):

Desegregated schools with large numbers of white children are more likely to have adequate media centers, computers, and other technology, as well as newer buildings, more classes for advanced students, and more teachers with substantial experience (Mickelson, 2003). When schools are desegregated, white officials typically spend more money on schools; when they resegregate, the opposite usually happens. In addition, children of color educated in desegregated settings generally have much better entrée into job and other important information networks (Orfield & Eaton, 1996). Black young people educated in desegregated public schools are more likely than similar students from segregated schools to attend desegregated colleges, work in desegregated employment settings, and acquire friends from other racial groups (Braddock & Eitle, n.d.).

The savvy Integration Report closes with this sad overview:

Seattle’s lack of policy response to resegregation trends in the district over the course of the past year is perhaps reflective of community ambivalence towards school integration. Busing ended in Seattle over 15 years ago, and school district leadership has failed to take a strong stand against resegregation patterns in the intervening time…. As we approach the one year anniversary of the Seattle/Louisville decision, the resegregation occurring in Seattle underscores the challenge of creating or maintaining integrated schools against the backdrop of residential segregation and judicially imposed limitations on attempts to combat school segregation.

Administrators and Supreme Court Justices now routinely, with little public questioning, operate out of the old white racial frame — and usually act to protect white group interests. Clearly, we need to do some major reform of our very undemocratic Supreme Court, the only one of its kind in the Western world. It now has several reactionary lawyers dictating both moral and political policies on racial remedy matters. In addition, a massive new civil rights movement in this country, one committed to real desegregation, is the only way out of this dilemma, in my opinion.