Normalizing Segregation

George Wallace, the former Governor of Alabama,  is most remembered for his defiant opposition to school integration, and his statement “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

Reading about his efforts today, we tend to assign him to the wrong side of history and dismiss him, but I’m beginning to worry  that his statement was more predictive than defiant.

A few days ago, I blogged about some illuminating, if troubling, research into the effects of geography on social attitudes. I’m only a few chapters into The Space Between Us, but it has already confirmed what most of thoughtful people realize: the more physically segregated different populations are, the more wary and distrustful of each other they are likely to be.

And let’s face it; America remains segregated. Especially when it comes to blacks and whites, we worship separately, we live in different city neighborhoods, and sixty-four years after Brown v. Board of Education, our children still attend different schools. The institutional arrangements may have changed, but in far too many cases, the results have not.

A recent Brookings Institution report describes how the charter school movement–despite its best intentions–is accommodating itself to racial segregation.

Charter schools didn’t create segregation, but the charter school movement isn’t helping to end it either.

When Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must never adjust ourselves to racial segregation,” he wasn’t suggesting that black kids need white kids and teachers in the classroom with them to learn. King was acutely aware that segregation sustains racial inequality in schools and other institutions. Education reform without an explicit attempt to dismantle the sources of inequality isn’t a moon shot toward justice; it is simply a maladjustment to injustice.

Figures available for the 2014-2015 school year disclose that over a thousand of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent.

In the all-charter district of New Orleans… virtually no (less than one percent) white students attend schools that have earned a “D” or “F” performance rating. But 77 percent of white students are enrolled in “A-” and “B-” rated schools, according to a new report by non-profit advocacy group Urban League of Louisiana. It is unthinkable that this situation would be tolerated if the students’ races were reversed. It is clear that segregation, and who gets a quality choice, matters.

In all fairness, the charters are simply replicating–rather than remedying–the separate but definitely not equal status of most public systems.

The average public school is 2.6 percent less white, 1.8 percent more black, 0.9 percent more Hispanic, and 0.3 percent more Asian than its surrounding neighborhood,” according to the study. No surprise there.

The segregated state of our schools helps maintain the inequitable funding that determines families’ educational options. When the government-backed Home Owner’s Loan Corporation developed color-coded maps to sort out who could receive mortgage lending, blacks who lived in the red sections of the map were not given loans. And of course, the most well-resourced schools just happen to be located in the most expensive neighborhoods.

Proponents of charter schools argue that they are actually disrupting school districts that were created to be discriminatory, and that their availability improves poor parents’ options. As the Brookings report concedes, providing children who live in segregated neighborhoods a quality education is an excellent goal (although as the research continues to show, it’s a goal as elusive for most charters as it is for too many public schools–charters offer no magic bullet).

Real reform will require us to pay attention to the sources of educational inequity–and that means addressing social ills like poverty and residential segregation. As the Brookings report put it,

In many cases, school district lines are the more potent Confederate monuments that we still need to take down.


  1. While racial segregation remains a terrible problem; there is another kind of segregation that has been growing and dividing us. That kind of segregation is religious segregation. The growth in the number of religious schools and the propping up of Catholic schools via our tax dollars has done more to separate the population than we are willing to admit. It isn’t just race that now divides us; it is religious ideology that is doing great damage to society.

  2. When you consider Milton Friedman was a major advocate of “school choice” AND “trickle-down economics”, you better understand the true goal of charters and having funding follow the student.

    In Delaware County, all the county schools are filled up with white students. In the urban center, the less mobile brown kids remain. Furthermore, when you look at test scores of the brown kids vs white kids, we also see a major disparity.

    Legally, segregation was forbidden. They found a way around it and charters is just one aspect. The funding formula for schools also allows parents “choice”. When schools with low minority counts also score better, it feeds the whole problem.

    The entire goal behind “choice” is to place distance between the haves and have-nots and privatize the public school system. Everything else is propaganda. As we’re learning, everything coming from the far-right is heavily propagandized because if they told people the truth, nobody would support it.

  3. Nothing will change until each of us, individually, make the decision to live in racially-integrated neighborhoods and enroll our children in racially integrated schools. Very few of us make that decision and those of us who have made that decision have had to listen to our self-professed “open-minded” friends declare that their children were not a “social experiment.” Several decades later, to those friends, I reply, the “social experiment” worked quite well.

  4. “Normalizing Segregation” or “Legalizing Segregation”? It was years before I understood why the Catholic families in my neighborhood did not allow their sainted children to play with other children and conversing was quickly halted by parents. I understood that they attended Catholic churches and schools; there were no Catholic churches in the area, their Catholic school and church was located in a primarily Black area miles away. They segregated themselves at home from other religious believers of the white race and further segregated themselves at church and school from the Black race. While I am not an expert on the teachings of Jesus, or any part of the Bible, I do not remember any references to Jesus organizing the basis for the Catholic religion, and they are the primary recipients of our public education tax fund while being tax exempt and further supported by all others, religious and non-believers alike.

    “Red Lining” and “White Flight” not only physically set segregation in place; it led to the deterioration of neighborhoods, primarily around public schools. While working on Mayor Hudnut’s requested study of abandoned housing in Marion County (study results abandoned the following year by Goldsmith); all meetings with City officials and staff included contractors, sub-contractors, church and school organizations, businesses and neighborhood organizations alike agreed that school busing was the beginning of the abandonment of businesses and homes and the deterioration of entire neighborhoods and the infrastructure in those areas. Much of today’s segregation is “hidden” as residents segregate themselves from other races and religions voluntarily. My small neighborhood “appears” to be well integrated with Black, Hispanic and white families but we have no idea who our neighbors are; attempts at social exchange is not in evidence and the residents are not in evidence but remain inside their homes.

    Theresa’s comment; “That kind of segregation is religious segregation. ” hits that nail on the head but leads to the question, how do we fight voluntary segregation on a racial or religious basis without violating individual’s civil rights? The current legal state level here, and soon to be followed by Pence’s leadership at the federal level, are legalizing that violation of all our rights.

    As an aside; I think I have found the answer as to why the current Congress, House and Senate, are sitting idle regarding our dangerous president, I researched a comment by Lawrence O’Donnell referring to taking action using the 25th Amendment. If you compare the actual Constitution, Article II, Section 1, paragraph 6, terminology with the 25th Amendment, Section 1, you will see that the Amendment has totally deleted the ability to oust Trump on the basis of his mentally imbalanced and dangerous actions and Tweets. The deleted terminology in the Constitution states, “…or the Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office,…” Trump himself shoves his blatant “inability” in our faces, down our throats and up our butts repeatedly every day; this includes his neo-Nazi, White Nationalism and KKK support. All of which are based in segregation.

  5. When I was in college (the Paleolithic era, I believe) one of my classes actually looked at Indianapolis Public Schools and determined that integration could be achieved simply by drawing straight lines for nearly square districts. That’s right, no busing required. So why did we bus? It was an easy way to destroy the commmunities in inner city neighborhoods.

  6. Segregation will persist (in schools and in neighborhoods) as long as racial prejudice exists. When a segregated school system desegregates (whether voluntarily or by court order), prejudiced parents who can afford to do so send their kids to private schools. Some rationalize it by saying, “We’d been thinking about sending Johnny to a Catholic school, and the desegregation just pushed us into acting on those thoughts.”

    I recall way back when our public school system desegregated. In the Catholic parish I attended (which did not have its own school), the priests were publicly supportive of the desegregation effort as being consistent with the social justice portion of the Gospels. Sadly, very few parishioners felt the same way. They changed to parishes with schools.

    Years later, a new pastor at this parish gave a homily where he flat out said that racism and prejudice are incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. A number of families left the parish afterward. (On the good side, several families who remained stepped forward to pledge to put more money into the collection baskets in order to make up for the financial loss.)

    Until we can erase prejudice from our individual DNAs and stop teaching our children to be prejudiced, we will make little progress toward becoming a truly integrated community/state/nation.

  7. Laws which blatantly prescribe segregation by race, religion or national origin might be long gone but there are few constraints on the underlying economic choices that individuals and families make every day, and for good reason, for without certain economic liberties there can be no liberty at all. Considered among the most immutable of them are 1) Where shall we live? and 2) Where shall our children be educated? Every time you see another cornfield being converted to stick-houses on the Northeast side of Indianapolis – extending the Zionsville-Carmel-Fishers-Noblesville Concrete Jungle ever further away from Marion County – rest assured that ALL our federal, state, and local government statutes, ordinances, programs and policies are facilitating those choices, and have been since the era Reconstruction in the late 19th century, and the Great Migration following it.

    I don’t believe racial integration can be forced on a people, at least not here. Our constitutional guarantees of freedom of association and economic choice are too powerful as counterweights to any law or program-du-jour. Whenever we try the unintended consequences often outweigh any benefits and all too often they place the burden on the underclass (I don’t share the author’s view that racial segregation was an unintended consequence of charter schools and school vouchers).

    I wish I could offer more hope, an untried solution, or even a pill. But if racial integration, as well as social-justice, ever come to pass in this country, it will be over generations and not election-cycles. The challenge will to keep the American Experiment alive long enough for it to happen. Until November 2016, I mostly took that for granted. Now I’m not so sure.


    I made my living as an artist providing oil paintings to art dealers all over the globe. That enterprise gave me a front row seat to a very interesting and surprising social phenomenon–the rise of a black middle class. My art dealers in the 60s and 70s and 80s sold almost no paintings to black collectors. And then they did.

    By the mid- 90s, many of my dealers entire clientele was middle class black. I sold hundreds of paintings referred to as black art, which I specifically designed to appear to have been painted by black artists and containing content referring to African culture and possessing signatures that looked black. I signed many paintings as Mbasi, some as Mohammed and others as Nkaji.
    When dealers organized showings of my art, 5,000 black attendees was the norm. I met black collectors who owned as many as 48 of my paintings. One had built a home in Atlanta designed to “go with” my paintings. Geez, I sound like Donald Trump. Anyway, at these gatherings, black collectors were eager to tell me their remarkable stories. Integration of schools and busing had been their magic bullet.

    I realized that previously I had been exposed to the beginnings of this movement, but had not paid attention. I was in college during the era that saw the first black children graduate from integrated schools and enter college. I was happy to associate with them and learned a bit about black life, but I had no inkling of the positive effect of busing and integration. I don’t think the black college students quite understood the trajectory they were on, as well. But some of my white friends saw it clearly…and they saw it as a threat.

    With that in mind, I see the move now to charter schools as a cleverly disguised white counter move against the black middle class as much as it is a move to separate their children from the black lower class. I also know of middle class black parents who buy into charter schools in an effort to separate their own children from the black lower class. I suspect also that the black lower class has withdrawn deeper into self-fashioned gutter culture more as bitter reaction to black middle class growth than it has been a response to white privilege. I hold no hope, however, that whites with the lower class gene will ever adjust to the rise above them of an entire class of black people. It is here that I find myself wondering if there could be a righteous use of eugenics.

  9. Maybe it is time to stop funding schools with property taxes and create a different funding source that would be more equitable. I am sure this idea would be extremely popular within the wealthy neighborhoods…sarcasm intended.

  10. Here is a link to an article about the attempt to give parents debit cards valued at $6,000 to spend on their childrens’ education however they wish. This is going to be a bill presented in IN during this short legislative session. The efforts for private theft of public education money just keeps getting more bizarre.

  11. Larry; are you local, an Indianapolis or Indiana resident? I ask because I have a beautiful drawing of an African bride done about 35 years ago by local jazz drummer “Mad” Harold Cardwell who died recently. I don’t believe he relied on his talented artistic ability for a living.

    If you are local; or maybe you don’t have to be to be familiar with Indianapolis artist Joseph Holiday. If so; are you familiar with this incredible painting, “Black Christ”? If you are familiar with it, you must agree it is probably the truest painting of Christ’s actual appearance. When the Madam Walker building was being renovated years ago; the murals need to be retouched. Officials were down to the two finalist; Joe Holiday and Pat Flannigan, a red-headed Irishman who was their pick to do the work. Joe was a friend; I also knew Pat, I asked Joe why Pat had been selected and he said Pat could stay sober longer than he could. That has always rankled me, Pat was also an alcoholic, a very unpleasant one. for tradition and historic value, the job should have been Joe’s. But this has always been, is and always will be, racist.

  12. Larry, Larry. Where to begin?

    Let me get this straight; you signed your “art” with phony names in order to sell to blacks? And deliberately painted in “African” details in order to attract black buyers? In other words you really didn’t create art, but manufactured some phony thing and called it black art. Then you met some black “middle class” buyers at your art shows, interacted with them, and now believe you are an expert on black culture and class? Eugenics? Really? Really?

  13. Larry Kaiser – interesting comments about racial integration in schools when you were in college.

  14. “It is here that I find myself wondering if there could be a righteous use of eugenics.”


  15. So advocating for the use of eugenics is now acceptable wrt this forum? And my comment is moderated? You people are something else. Actually,you people are scary.

  16. To what degree is segregation by race and to what degree by socio-economic class? To what degree is segregation fueled by hate and to what degree fear?

  17. Francis; this is a rather open forum, we speak our minds but no insults and name-calling is allowed for very long. Larry’s blathering reminds me of a long-gone anti-Semitic commenter, Gopper, removed by Sheila. Theresa questioned Larry’s “artistic” background and questionable business tactics. You have questioned his apparent support of eugenics; was that term ever applied to Hitler’s search for the “Master Race” or is it a relatively new scientific term? Nancy questioned his references to racial integration in schools during his college years. I waded through, ignoring his crap, seeking information on a local artist Google seems to be unaware of due to his claims of knowledge of Black art and Black artists. We have all seemingly found interesting or distasteful issues to comment on. Sheila’s blog makes us think; also decide for ourselves which comments are valid and which are detestable, as is his eugenics reference. Do you think he will respond to any of us? I doubt it; I also doubt he will stay with us for the duration, racists and bigots rarely do.

  18. Today’s string of comments confirms the ongoing speculation that humans have not evolved mentally past the cave-dwelling, hunter/gatherer, tribal days of 200,000 years ago.

    We still keep finding ways to segregate ourselves by tribe (or Supertribe, if you remember Desmond Morris) no matter how hard our society tries to “legislate” equality. The United States is more backward than most European countries, yet there are the same culturally unique sections and neighborhoods everywhere.

    Maybe, if we really wanted to walk the walk of equality, we should equalize the root of the current situation by requiring equal funding for all schools using the richest districts as the baseline. Also, by attacking chronic poverty in our inner cities by instituting a kind of Marshall plan wherein the locals were trained and paid to rebuild and maintain their own neighborhoods, maybe we would see the beginning of the end of our expensive crime and infrastructure decay issues.

    But I do carry on….

  19. Sheila’s remarks about segregation, which certainly seem plausible, leave me wondering about not history but progress. We have what we have today and it will only get more or less so. What can we do to change the odds to favor less so?

    I can’t help but think that the prime answer is education. Perhaps more precisely job training. That is found at the intersection of opportunity and motivation. Progress can be limited by either axis IMO. Of course for socioeconomic success progress in education is necessary but not sufficient. It must be met by job opportunity, a robust growing economy, jobs for all who prepared for them.

    This I fear will be our downfall in achieving less segregation. History will show that when we needed business to excell we failed. We failed because needed to redefine business in the post modern word and the people who could were looking backwards at make more money regardless of the impact on others.

  20. Pete,

    In more modern terms, you just re-defined Marx’s predictions for capitalism in “Das Kapital”. Today’s capitalists are COMPELLED to maximize profits no matter the cost to the planet or the humanity that makes them rich. The irony is, this mentality dictates constant growth and an increasing burden on resources, both natural and human. The outcome is inevitable, but none want to change the model, never mind the impending doom of the system.

    Segregation, aka tribalism, is just another aspect of capitalism guaranteeing a certain amount of abject poverty. Greed prevents doing the right thing, as many of the above writers have suggested.

    Me? I’m glad I’m old.

  21. Vernon I too am glad that I won’t have to experience the coming correction but unfortunately my kids and grandkids and even another generation not far behind will. Loving family is a substantial load to carry.

    I had hoped to leave behind solutions but a set of unfortunate circumstances is making the problem pile higher rather than reducing it.

  22. The United States is one of only three nations (along with Israel and Turkey) in the developed world which spends more money on schools for the wealthy than it does on schools for the poor (google: U.S. Israel and Turkey spend more money on wealthy schools). Food for thought…

  23. You don’t have to go to the South to experience the worst of segregation, but smack dab in the center of Indianapolis. I’m a few years too old old to attend grade school, but it is easy to see:

    the difficulty of finding an IPS.

    same for a first class supermarket

    a Dollar Store with a navigable parking lot and shopping carts

    a Walgreen with a normal amount of merchandise or without super-inflated prices

    small merchants handling everyday needs

  24. Easy for my head to see parallels between my (admittedly scant) knowledge and understanding of Reconstruction and the disruption after Brown vs the Board in 1954. In both instances I believe cultural and institutional behaviors pre-war and pre-decision (e.g., land ownership, education. social interactions, et alia) went forward in the ‘post’ eras as though the intervening event had simply not occurred, or made zero difference in the real world. In this generalization I definitely mean to include legal and government actions and institutions.

    Thus, I have been stating since the beginning of the Charter School and School Choice ideas and movements that these were just the latest efforts to obviate Brown vs the Board behind a screen of righteousness – everyone deserves a choice – ha! In this case, choice translates as no choice=choice only for the higher classes=my kid deserves what I say he deserves=whiteness rules=he who has the gold rules…

    Hard to see exactly how to successfully redirect the tide. Awareness must help – the long and nasty history of red-lining is an instructive example of reality outdoing imagination to cement a world that works only for the few. An old friend observed, at a long ago lunch – this country will not, cannot, resolve its racial issues if it does not resolve its class issues.

    I am not well versed in conservative thinking (as opposed to whatever the Republicans really are) but I suspect (hope) the philosophy goes toward thoughtful use of government and its resources to support matters of public interest within an envelope of tolerance and care for the well-being of fellow citizens (humans). Go ahead and laugh, even a pollyanna such as me can catch on to pie in the sky. As Pete has said, conservatives and liberals want the same thing, except liberals want it for everyone.

    As each person works out a personal, idiosyncratic, but potentially moral approach to these vital issues, freedom – for the rest of us, literally means nothing left to lose. It means the opposite to that tiny group of nasty, wealthy, world dominators who believe they are white and thus have exclusive rights to might…

    Awareness must be the first tool, but alone is insufficient. In the face of the constant, ringing nastiness of the current ruling class, we need also tolerance, curiosity, patience, fearlessness, and myriad other strengths, including (and not the least) love.

    And cheerfully, I’ll sign off…thanks for listening.

  25. Mary Jo,

    The horrible Art Pope became a millionaire in North Carolina by putting in cheap stores in blighted neighborhoods that put all the local merchants out of business. He used/abused his wealth and power to fund the takeover of the NC government by Republicans and got rewarded by the new governor making him their Sec. Treasury. How’s that for exploitation of the poor and perpetuating poverty?

  26. Policy map ( has the HOLC maps from 1935-1940 online available to the public.

Comments are closed.