Reporter speaks about school segregation
FAYETTEVILLE — Segregation in schools can be traced back to the earliest ideas of public education in America and continues today despite harm to all children, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones said Thursday in a talk at the University of Arkansas.
“Segregation denies black children their full citizenship,” said Hannah-Jones, a reporter who writes about racial injustice for The New York Times and is also a 2017 MacArthur Fellow.
Lofty goals for public education in America included the belief “schools can be the great equalizers,” Hannah-Jones said, citing Horace Mann, a 19th century advocate for publicly funded schools.
Yet there was a “compromise” Mann made in trying get people to support his ideas, Hannah-Jones said, recounting the history.
“In order to get white support, or their tax dollars to pay for these schools, black children will not be allowed to attend,” Hannah-Jones said.
Today in the south, one in three black children attend an “intensely racially segregated school” with a greater than 90 percent enrollment of black and Latino students, Hannah-Jones said.
She said segregation waned — after much-delayed enforcement of desegregation laws — up until 1988.
Before segregation trended upwards, gaps narrowed between black and white students in areas such as reading test scores, Hannah-Jones said.
But once schools became more segregated, those gaps started to increase, she said.
White parents look up the racial make-up of schools in deciding where to live or send their children to school, she said.
This type of sentiment can cause a racial split in schooling even in places where well-integrated schools are successful, Hannah-Jones said, citing changes creating predominantly white schools in Tuscaloosa, Ala., as an example.
Hannah-Jones said she has yet to find predominantly black schools with the same resources — such as access to technology, facilities and college prep courses, or the numbers of teachers with certifications — as schools with mostly white students.
“There is nothing about white kids that makes black kids smart. But what getting black kids in white schools does, is it ensures that black kids will get the resources that white kids are guaranteed,” Hannah-Jones said. She explained while there are schools with mostly white students lacking resources, data shows they’re still better off than any nearby mostly black school.
“Integration is good for white kids, too,” Hannah-Jones said, adding desegregation is “not about charity.”
Hannah-Jones, who said she’s the daughter of a black father and a white mother, described taking a bus as a child to attend a school with a large population of white students.
Going to school and being exposed to other students from different backgrounds is helpful because society atlarge is a “multi-racial democracy,” Hannah-Jones said.
Talking about her own past, “the children that got the benefit of sitting in the classroom with me got as much as I got out of sitting in the classroom with them,” Hannah-Jones said.
Individual choices contribute to re-segregation, Hannah-Jones said.
“We need to be honest about our own hypocrisy, about whether we actually believe in equality or not,” Hannah-Jones said. “Because the segregation we see now, just like the segregation we saw 30 years ago and 50 years ago and 100 years ago is not incidental nor accidental. It is something that people who have power and who have money, choose it to be. And so we can choose for it not to be.”
The talk by Hannah-Jones was presented by UA’s African and African American Studies Program.
She was to be paid a $10,000 speaker’s fee, UA spokesman Steve Voorhies said last week.