The landmark Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954, called for equal opportunity in education through the desegregation of schools. I learned about this case in school quite awhile back, and though I remembered the significance of it and what it established, I found the Smithsonian’s website to be great for refreshing my memory of the history of the case. It was very interesting and informative.
One thing I noted was that the segregationists argued (in addition to their other arguments) that “inequality persisted because African Americans still needed time to overcome the effects of slavery.” A click or two later, the idea is expanded as: “because black children were still living with the effects of slavery, it would take some time before they were able to compete with white children in the same classroom.” What does that even mean? And as it was 85 years after the abolition of slavery, I have to wonder what kind of time frame they had in mind.
I also noted that the integrationists argued that effects of segregation on children were harmful both socially and psychologically. In Bob Herbert’s article “Separate and Unequal,” he explains that schools are no longer legally segregated, and yet they still are segregated because of residential patterns, housing discrimination, economic disparities and custom. In acknowledging that, it is arguable that students today in low-income school districts are still suffering these social and psychological effects.
Herbert points out that the resistance to integrating students from low-income areas into affluent schools is because it would also mean racial and ethnic integration, and that the election of Barack Obama has not made the idea easier for those who resist it. This ties in to what Tim Wise is talking about in his radio interview, because he says that racism is what’s real in America still. We’re nowhere near post-racial America just because of Obama’s election. “It would have been a front page story if racism was no longer a problem.”
The radio interview with Tim Wise also made me think of our class readings. He talks about the notion of enlightened exceptionalism exemplified by Barack Obama’s transcending race as the “acceptable limiting archetype.” The radio show host points out that it means being truly exceptional to break the glass ceiling, to which Wise says that, “proof of racial equity will be the day that people of color can be as mediocre as white folks.” As McIntosh says, “I can swear, or dress in second-hand clothes, or not answer letters without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.” Like Wise says, if Obama had had anything like what Bush and McCain had on their track records, then as an African American man, he would not have been able to get as far as they got. But because he is an exceptional example of an African American man, he broke through the glass ceiling.
Wise also points out that even though overt racial bias has diminished in the years since Brown v. Board, denial about the problem of white privilege hasn’t changed. He says that you “can be a good person, a decent person, and remain oblivious and that’s where white folks have been for a long time.” This is just like Johnson’s assertion that, “the ease of not being aware of privilege is an aspect of privilege itself, what some call ‘the luxury of obliviousness.’”