Another good discussion w/ Nikole Hannah-Jones who was just named one of the 2017 MacArthur Fellows. If you haven’t read/heard everything she’s said, please do! But you can start with this Adam Ruins Everything podcast interview. A worthwhile way to spend an hour.
NHJ: “For white Americans, diversity is a bonus. It’s nice to have but not necessary…. I’ve talked with so many white parents who say ‘I really, really wanted a diverse school for my kid but in the end, I ended up putting them in an nearly all-white school because it had all the other things I wanted.’… So, they’re almost always going to trade [diversity] off because it is just not a necessity…”
We talked about this last month in response to the PDK poll results showing that “70% of parents also said they would prefer to send their child to a racially diverse school, all else equal, and 61% of parents said the same about an economically diverse school.”
ALL ELSE EQUAL. Whenthe👏🏾hellhas👏🏾separateever👏🏾beenequal? (I seem to recall there might’ve been some big court case about this…?) ALL ELSE EQUAL. “Sure! I love diversity. Diversity is the best. But yeah, not going to give anything up for that. Not going to ‘risk’ the things I think are More Important Than Diversity.” If we truly deeply believe that integration matters, we have to prioritize it.
NHJ: “[America] gave up on desegregation so quickly. We wanted it to be easy and painless and I think we still do. And it’s not going to be. We have a long history in this country, we put a tremendous amount of effort into building segregation and inequality… But often, everyone getting along means that people of color have to assimilate and have to adapt the ways of white Americans for integration to work … It’s often going to messy, it’s going to be challenging. People are going to want to give up… We always need to be working on how we are going to become a fair, just, truly multiracial country.”
Assimilation ≠ Integration and, for that matter, Desegregation ≠ Integration. Meaningful integration requires being a member of a community which requires a deep and honest belief that we enter this community as equals. For many of us, we are entering spaces that we may have little experience in. Any community can be challenging (oh, the stories we’ve heard of PTAs in privilege-segregated schools!); people are wonderful, people are difficult, people are people. When we add in racial, socioeconomic, and linguistic differences, things can get even more complicated. But when we feel entitled to comfort and ease (whose privilege is that?!?), when we expect kumbaya, that usually means that we aren’t working to build it.
NHJ: “You can’t want equality AND advantage for your own child. Those two are in conflict with each other. Equality means that some people will have to give up that advantage for everyone else to be in the same place. … It is very hard to actually live those values.”
Here is where we get a little stuck. The first part of this quote – that you can’t want equality AND advantage for your own child, is clear. They don’t co-exist. However… is this an issue of sacrifice? Because it might also be seen as an issue of priorities. We’ve had many Integrated Schools conversations on this (I see you SB, AL, VV, KB, VW, JM, PP!). Certainly, when we send our children to integrating schools, we may be giving up some of what we traditionally associate with privilege-segregated schools: more progressive curriculum, more stable teaching staff, more ‘extras’. We must also acknowledge that this isn’t always the case; many schools serving minority-majority students are quite wonderful (more on the “Hidden Gem” trope another time…). Even if it doesn’t have all the privilege-segregated school offerings, though, what your kid might get at this school may be *different* but not necessarily a sacrifice. You might trade-off things for the experience of integration. And that means something. Priorities.
NHJ: “But when we are talking about public education, we are talking about a public good… No matter where you come from, no matter what advantages or disadvantages you may have personally have, we will all go into the schoolhouse together and receive the same education. We know that that’s not the case. So when you have parents who are very proud public school parents who are able to get their kids into advantaged public schools and they are fighting for their kids public schools to have more than other kids’ public schools, that is fundamentally unfair and fundamentally undemocratic.”… “Inequality is both individual and systemic”
Yep, it’s hard to fight the system when we make individual choices that sustain it.