Still the problem we live with

Look at Will Counts’ iconic photo of a white mob taunting Elizabeth Eckford, a black teenager who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Then listen to audio of the white parents expressing their alarm about black students coming to their local school in 2013, included in Nicole Hannah-Jones’ remarkable piece on school segregation that aired last week on “This American Life.”

Not much difference, is there?

The hour-long radio story tells what happened when the mostly black, mostly poor Normandy School District lost its accreditation. Under Missouri Law, Normandy students could transfer to the high-achieving Francis Howell district across town.

About one-fourth of the Normandy students opted to move, surprising school officials who thought the inconvenience would deter them. But the Francis Howell parents had no say in the matter, and they aired their displeasure at a town hall meeting. (The audio starts at 23:20 on the broadcast).

These are middle-class suburbanites in 2013, not poor Southerners in 1957. They don’t use the N-word, and they insist their concerns aren’t about race. But the coded language they use – and the boisterous cheers that greet the most over-the-top statements – belie that claim.

“My question is, when a child who is coming from an underperforming school comes into a math class at Francis Howell, how will they possibly cope?” one parent asks. “Once Normandy comes here, will that lower our accreditation?”

Another wonders why Francis Howell parents won’t get to vote down accepting Normandy students like residents were able to reject an expansion of public transit. And yet another insists Francis Howell will need metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs to protect her children from the Normandy invaders.

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