Why Talks Of Busing, Segregation And Jim Crow Opened The Door To Addressing Black America’s Educational Debt

"For centuries, the United States has remained morally broke in terms of education for people of color."

Herschel Barthelemy and sister Jalinh Vasquez walk home in the FEMA Diamond trailer park after getting dropped off by the school bus.
Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

| July 09 2019,

3:59 pm

Senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ heartfelt story of being bused to school as a little girl, during the process of integrating schools across the country, should encourage all local, state and federal officials to develop concrete solutions to the negative impact busing and segregation continue to have on public schools in marginalized communities of color.  

In 1973, a Gallup poll found that 9% of African Americans supported busing as a means to properly integrate schools. Their stance at that time seeming to be in agreement with former Vice President Joe Biden, who has been accused of attempting to keep schools segregated by not supporting and pushing for federal mandates to make busing mandatory. Regardless of whose side you're on, politically, it is apparent that busing in America led to increased segregation that is still evident today. In fact, a report by the Century Foundation found that public schools are now more racially segregated than they were in the '70s. As Black children were voluntarily bused to schools in white neighborhoods, white families began moving out of their neighborhoods in droves. Their departure is well known as "white flight."

African Americans who opposed busing did not do so with racist intentions, but because they realized the schools in their community would remain neglected, and they were more interested in having equal academic resources and funding. Integrating through busing did nothing to equalize public school education. Of course, the goal of busing was to diversify schools and ensure that young people who grew up thinking segregation was the way of the world would be able to assimilate in any environment, regardless of identity, and eradicate racism. Clearly, the latter has yet to be resolved. While intentions may have been good, children in low-income neighborhoods were left and remain abandoned today. 

Many advocates argue that schools in predominantly Black communities need more money to even out the scholastic playing field. Surprisingly, that is not necessarily the case. Education expenditure is comparatively equal regardless of zip code. Research from the Urban Institute found that many states have proactively applied policies to narrow the differences in spending. Perhaps the inequalities in our education have nothing to do with subsidy and are instead linked to the immoral practice of racism and discrimination.

Educational debt, a phrase developed by educational researcher Gloria Ladson-Billings, emphasizes how historical, economic, sociopolitical and moral components attributed to failing schools in Black communities. 

Billings notes that inequities in education are not merely linked to enslavement, but also the delay in Black students in the south not being offered a secondary education until 1968. In addition to the practice of racism in the United States, African Americans were not allowed to participate in legislative practices that impacted their lives and the academic opportunities for their children until 1965 with the passing of the Voting Rights Act. 

For centuries, the United States has remained morally broke in terms of education for people of color. African Americans are often told to take responsibility for their education and well-being. True, that advice applies to all races, but how can such demands be made upon people who were in bondage for hundreds of years only to be set free with no assistance in an environment that consistently finds ways to keep the gap of inequality open? Even today, the value of education typically depends on your zip code, leaving African American children, whose parents have yet to even achieve income equality, at an academic disadvantage.

As Biden attempts to defend his stance on busing and clarify his position on segregation, it is imperative that people of color use debates surrounding Civil Rights and accusations of racism as an opportunity to demand that elected leaders provide a detailed plan on how they intend to remedy the intentional bigoted education blocks inflicted on people of color. These historical reminders of the Black struggle cannot solely serve as emotional triggers to push us to the polls and support one candidate over the other, but instead, ensure that government officials finally address the educational debt that has led to the achievement gap still plaguing our communities.

Rochelle Ritchie is a former Congressional Press Secretary for House Democrats and political commentator on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN




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