Sam McKenzie Jr has worked for the federal government and nonprofits to facilitate school renovations and community service. He lives in Baltimore, MD, and writes about racism and politics on Medium, you can follow and support his work on Patreon.
The decision in Brown v. Board of Education handed down by the Supreme Court on May 17, 1954, was the right one. However, 65 years later, schools remain segregated. Experts who say the focus today should be on desegregation and integration are misguided. Instead, the focus today should be to end inequalities.
There’s no doubt segregated schools can be a way to hoard resources or deprive schools of resources. Even so, the solution isn’t necessarily integration; the solution is always resources.
At the time of the Supreme Court ruling, some Black people weren’t interested to integrate schools. They wanted educational equality. Among them was Zora Neale Hurston. She considered the ruling to desegregate schools an insult.
“If there are not adequate Negro schools in Florida, and there is some residual, some inherent and unchangeable quality in white schools, impossible to duplicate anywhere else, then I am the first to insist that Negro children of Florida be allowed to share this boon. But if there are adequate Negro schools and prepared instructors and instructions, then there is nothing different except the presence of white people…The Supreme Court would have pleased me more if they had concerned themselves about enforcing the compulsory education provisions for Negroes in the South as is done for white children…”
Her comments are reasoned and they aren’t out of time. In 2004, the lawyer, professor, and activist Derrick Bell went so far to say that Black children would have been better off if the court had enforced the equal part of the separate but equal doctrine in schools.
In 1954, people in power should have listened to Zora Neale Hurston and others. But they didn’t.
Thurgood Marshall and his colleagues initially attacked educational inequalities, but they shifted their strategy to attack school segregation itself. The historian James T. Patterson has a book which details the efforts and the impact of the decisions, and it provides insights.
In hindsight, the strategy to challenge school segregation rather than educational inequalities created tokens in Black students when the real need was cash for Black students.
And that’s where we are today: Schools primarily of Black or Brown students receive less funding than white schools. A recent report shows the funding gap in state and local funds is $23 Billion.
The lack of funding between schools comes from America’s racism. As such, the states and local municipalities have a responsibility. America loves states’ rights, but responsibilities must come with states’ rights too. The states need to accept and perform their responsibilities.
That’s why with reparations, state and local governments have work to do too. Since they’re guilty too, there’s no need to wait for the federal government to work on reparations now.
Some states have strategies to narrow the funding gap but every state should. Plus, the federal government needs to close tax loopholes and invest in schools that are primarily Black and Brown. Across the board, schools with primarily Black and Brown students should receive as much, or more funding, as white schools to account for the lasting effects of racism.
Truthfully, since white America’s wealth came from oppression and privilege, the funding standard for schools should be what the most elite private schools receive. The best education doesn’t necessarily happen in private schools but privilege shouldn’t make the best education more likely. The states and the federal government have to keep up with what they allow capitalism to do.
When the Supreme Court gave its ruling in 1954, it said separate is unequal. The assumption was that it’s impossible for schools to be separate and equal. To be clear, “separate but equal” was a racist rationale for racists. The emphasis was on separate. And the translation for equal was equal to being servile.
But the existence of Historically Black Colleges and Universities proves segregated schools aren’t inherently unequal or inferior. The issue is funding. The issue is being racist and stingy.
The point is not to bolster segregation; it’s being critical of integration. It’s being critical of any attempt to avoid direct investment in Black and Brown students where they are now.
In truth, white America isn’t interested in desegregation, integration, or funding equity. It’s been 65 years of white flight, white defiance, school district secessions, court rulings, federal inaction and adverse actions, and apathy. The coaxing isn’t effective or convincing.
In contrast, the Movement for Black Lives demands an investment in education. There are no words in the platform about desegregating schools. There are no words about integration. There are no words in the platform about school choice, magnet schools, or charter schools. None. It’s about investment. With investment, the Movement for Black Lives also calls for a constitutional amendment to guarantee education as a right and to fund education fully.
Recently, the House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing to discuss Brown v. Board of Education with a panel of experts. Not one person from the Movement for Black Lives was there. It’s doubtful that was an oversight by Congress. If so, it’s a glaring oversight in oversight.
When we talk about schools, America needs to heel, hear, and heed the voices from the Black-activist community too. That is a lesson to learn.
Segregation still separates America’s schools. The money need not be the same. Today, the issue isn’t a matter of joining; it’s about enjoining the states and the federal government to end educational inequalities. It’s still about what it’s always been about — getting what’s owed. Interest is accruing.