Hartford Courant (Sunday)
Fighting racism more than just protesting
I am a white woman. A Stacy. A Karen. A Becky.
I grew up in a majority white Connecticut town. I graduated from a majority white Connecticut university. I purchased a home in a majority white Connecticut community. My white children attend highly rated, majority white Connecticut public schools. Last June, when I attended my first local Black Lives Matter rally, I wasn’t surprised to find that the protesters, gathered in the shade on a grassy corner of our picturesque town, were also majority white. Across Connecticut, communities like mine have continued weekly, monthly, and even daily rallies to protest racism against Blacks. Without action, however, these protests do little to change the ugly truth about segregation in Connecticut.
Connecticut ranks 36th in racial integration and has one of the largest educational achievement gaps in the country. Across the state, our schools remain segregated and efforts to create a more equitable, diverse public education system have met with tough opposition, primarily from majority white communities. If Black lives really do matter in Connecticut, then we , the Stacys, Karens and Beckys, need to acknowledge that segregation in Connecticut’s schools perpetuates racism against Blacks and negatively impacts all of Connecticut’s children.
School desegregation efforts are not new to Connecticut.
Over 30 years ago, Sheff v O’Neill resulted in integration requirements in Hartford that have yet to be fulfilled. In 2019 a poorly designed Senate Bill 874 introduced redistricting dressed up as a cost savings measure. Public hearings for 874, attended mostly by white residents from Connecticut’s suburbs, revealed beliefs that integration would reduce property values, damage the Connecticut economy and reduce local control; arguments that are rooted in racist housing policy and white privilege. More recently, legislators passed watered-down affordable housing legislation that is unlikely to have a meaningful impact on desegregation.
The truth is that school integration is beneficial to all of our children. Students in desegregated schools are less likely to drop out and more likely to attend college. They have higher test scores and academic outcomes and are better critical thinkers. Desegregated schools reduce bias and improve tolerance, resulting in students who are more likely to live in diverse communities and engage in civic activities as adults. Generation Z is projected to become majority nonwhite by 2026. As a result, our children will enter a workforce that is more diverse than ever. The homogeny in Connecticut’s schools means they will be ill-prepared to do so.
Despite concerns to the contrary, desegregated schools have a positive economic impact. Research conducted by The Century Foundation found that reducing socioeconomic school segregation by half would produce a return on investment of between three and five times the cost of programs; making school desegregation more cost-effective than less controversial initiatives such as school vouchers, decreased class sizes, and improved teacher quality. Nationwide, a 2014 study from the Center for American Progress found that closing the achievement gap, as occurs in desegregated schools, would increase federal revenue by $118 billion, and state revenue by $88 billion, annually. In addition, contributions to Social Security and Medicaid would increase $877 billion and $265 billion by 2050. The economics are clear. School desegregation improves economic outcomes, not only for students, but for other generations as well. Given Connecticut’s never-ending budget woes, and the country’s ever-growing national debt, it would seem we can’t afford NOT to invest in school desegregation.
Change is hard. Fear is natural. Racism is real. Connecticut’s white majority can no longer, as Dr. Ibram X. Kendi writes, “embrace racist ideas and policies and then deny that their ideas and policies are racist.” We need to acknowledge the hypocrisy of attending our town’s BLM protest, while simultaneously decrying changes to racist zoning policies that would allow us to begin desegregating our schools and communities. We need to stop preaching that hard work and sacrifice are the gatekeepers to our communities, and acknowledge that whiteness is the true cost of entry. We need to recognize our biases and acknowledge our privilege. We need to pick up our lattes, put down our iPhones and use our power to dismantle systemic racism. We need to come together to desegregate Connecticut’s public schools. The work is uncomfortable. The time is now.