Most Americans favor diversity. However, very few among us would endorse a policy wherein the local government determined where a citizen could live based on their race – even if such a policy was instituted for the intent of ensuring diversity. “Sorry Mr. Smith we have reached our limit of white families in this particular neighborhood.” “Too bad Mr. Jones. I realize your wife has her heart set on this house, but there are too many Black families in the precinct already.” Yet that was exactly the policy of the Seattle School District, at least according to the plaintiffs in Community Schools v Seattle School District Number 1.
In an effort to address a history of de facto school segregation due to residential patterns, the Seattle School system scrapped its neighborhood schools program and moved to a system of choice. Students are now allowed to attend any school in the district; however, when there are too many applicants for the available desks at a particular school, the district has resorted to using race as one criterion in deciding admission.
The Supreme Court recently decided correctly that the rights of individuals do not disappear because they make decisions that conflict with the social goals of government. The decision in Community Schools, as well as in Meredith v Jefferson County School District, gives us an opportunity to question why we wish to continue the use of race ratios, which actually reinforce the very stereotypes that prevent real diversity.
In support of the respondents in the Seattle case, The NAACP touted social science that purports to demonstrate that Black children perform better in integrated schools. One of the underpinnings of pluralism is that differences in race or ethnicity do not confer worth. This, however, seems to scream Black intellectual inferiority. Are we seriously staking out the position that the less Black kids are around other Black kids the better they do in school? Why then would anyone want to go to school with Black children? The truth is that many don’t, and I suspect that is what the school district is truly fearful of.
(Lest we fool ourselves into believing that objections to the use of race in admissions only rest with a handful of WWP’s (whiney white people) it is worth noting that one third of the plaintiffs in Community Schools were Black parents. In 1966 Black parents were prevented from sending their children to certain schools due to discrimination. Forty years later Black parents are prevented from sending their children to certain schools because of diversity. I am not sure this qualifies as progress. But I digress.)
It is likely that the schools are not nearly as concerned with diversity as they are fearful of “tipping” and their worry is not that some schools will become too white, but that some will become too black. That is not to say that the district is not operating in good faith. The school district is aware that too often perception can become reality and the perception — buttressed by arguments like those of the NAACP and the fact that there are so many terrible inner city schools — is that all-Black means all bad. In no time at all a school that tips will be a hotbed of low test scores, high drop out rates, decaying infrastructure and violence.
To be sure, there are predominately Black schools that do not become models of dysfunction. Unfortunately, race ratios never give us the answer as to why they are the exception and not the rule, why the school that tips Black will not compete academically with the white school from across town; why it will not excel in debate as well as basketball and why it will not routinely graduate students that will go on to the top universities in the nation.
The answers haven’t a thing to do with an imbalance of race ratios.
No doubt this decision by the Court will elicit much hand wringing and predictions of doom, but which is the greater danger? That through freedom of choice it is likely we will end up with a predominately Black school on the North side of town? Or that by limiting freedoms in order to achieve a noble end we end up reinforcing notions of Black inferiority thus undermining the very foundations of a truly pluralistic society?