The Myth of Racial Progress in America

A piece in last Sunday’s Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that “Magnet schools lose their racial balance” (subtitled “Choice now drives the city’s program”).  The writer brings up an important– perhaps easily overlooked– phenomenon emergent in public education, in which many K-12 schools are racially MORE segregated now than they were a decade go.  It highlights only one among many issues raised by grassroots organizing like Yinzercation, a Pittsburgh-based blog which advocates for sustainable and equitable public education for all Americans, in part by documenting how far from that goal we actually are.

For instance, the blog summarizes that:

“The forces that threaten our schools include corporate-style reformers seeking to impose an inappropriate and downright harmful agenda of privatization, competition, choice, and school closure. These self-styled reformers include a large swath of the political right and left in this country, and have been backed by some of the deepest pockets on the planet, both individuals and foundations. Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, this “reform” movement peddles a compelling narrative about “failing public schools” that has undermined the public’s confidence in one of the pillars of our democracy.”

The Post Gazette article and Yinzercation site both invoke “choice,” but the difference in usage helps expose a key problem in public discourse about race today.  Many Americans seem genuinely convinced that the nation is “post-racial” because the civil rights movement succeeded in its goals and everyone has the same opportunity.  According to this view, it is merely a matter of individual choice whether one gets a good education, lives in a safe neighborhood, or succeeds in achieving upward mobility.

Almost all empirical studies continue to disprove these assumptions, so why are we still talking about individual “choice” and touting our racial “progress”?  What will it take for the national conversation to shift away from debating, “Does racism still exist?,” to “Why and how is our country dismantling civil rights gains and becoming LESS racially equal?”

Writer:  anupama jain

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