Posted on | April 20, 2014 | 41 Comments
It was Dick Gregory, I believe, who defined “integration” as the period of time between when the first black family moves into a neighborhood and the last white family moves out. The recent report that New York City’s schools are the most segregated in the country might be seen as confirmation of that cynical jest.
Are we to assume that the enlightened and sophisticated white liberals of New York are secretly more racist — “RAAAAACIST!” — than they would have us believe? Our suspicion of pharisaical hypocrisy on their part may explain why liberals are always able to hear those coded racist “dog whistles” that nobody else can hear. Perpetual outrage at the alleged racism of Republicans functions as a means by which white liberals soothe their guilty consciences and tune out the cognitive dissonance that results from the unbridgeable chasm between their professed egalitarian beliefs and their inevitably elitist lifestyles.
There may be no better example of the ongoing scandal of school segregation than the New York City public-school system, which a recent report by the Civil Rights Project at U.C.L.A. found to be one of the most segregated in the country. Black and Latino students in New York have become more likely to attend schools with minimal white enrollment, and a majority of them go to schools defined by concentrated poverty. . . . New York is simultaneously the most diverse city in the United States and the most glaring indicator of integration’s failures.
Perhaps the question we should ask is not “Why has integration failed?” Rather we might ask, “Why did anyone ever imagine integration could succeed?” Meanwhile, Jelani Cobb confirms Dick Gregory’s cynical observation:
When I graduated from Jamaica High School, in Queens, in 1987, the school was recognized for both its high academic performance and its diverse student body, which mirrored the polyglot neighborhood that surrounded it. (In 1985, it was honored by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the nation’s “outstanding” public secondary schools.) Among my four closest African-American friends from high school — only one of whom had college-educated parents — two went on to get Ph.D.s, and the other two have M.B.A.s. By 2009, however, the graduation rate had slumped below fifty per cent, and the school was slated for closure by the city, owing to its poor academic achievement and high levels of violence. It had already long ceased having the mélange of ethnicities that I remembered. But the reversion toward segregation was not the cause of the school’s academic decline: both were symptoms of the concentration of poverty that has come to define public schools across most of New York City.
Over a period of roughly 20 years, then, this district in Queens went from being “diverse . . . polyglot” in its “mélange of ethnicities” to being overwhelmingly black. And during the same period, Jamaica High went from being an “outstanding” school to being a place of “poor academic achievement and high levels of violence,” where more than half of students drop out before graduation, a phenomenon attributed by Cobb to “the concentration of poverty.”
Well, what happened? And why did it happen? Was the change in demographics — and the correspondent “academic decline” described by Cobb — a result of intransigent white racism? Was any particular public policy implicated in this decline? The Wikipedia article about Jamaica, Queens, describes the population as 48% black, 22% Hispanic, 20% white and 10% Asian. The article also describes immigration as a major factor in the changing demographics of the community.
Is it possible that, rather than bemoaning white racism — which certainly has not increased as a factor in the past 20 years — those who desire more integrated schools should instead focus their attention on the ways in which our nation’s immigration policies contribute to increased segregation? Many who have studied this phenomenon have pointed out that an influx of impoverished immigrants, whatever its impact on the nation as a whole, has a profoundly negative influence on the prospects of low-income groups, who are forced into economic competition with the new arrivals. But if Jelani Cobb paid too much attention to such research, he might begin to have doubts about liberal proposals to grant amnesty to illegal aliens and, if he ever took a strong public stand against amnesty, then white liberals would call him a racist, too.
Welcome to 2014, Mr. Cobb. We’re all racists now.