I only attended Villa Heights Academic Center for two years. But, because of my Mom’s involvement through volunteering while my older sister attended, it felt like closer to six. Though I didn’t really know it at the time, it taught me things that shaped who I would grow up to be. In my first grade class, no one else looked like me- I was the only white girl. In total, the school was 18.7% white.
But what I looked like did not define me. I wasn’t the “white kid” in class. I was never the victim of someone’s prejudice because of my complexion. I never felt that I had to change who I was to blend in. I never felt the pressure of representing a race or ethnicity in my interactions with those around me. I know now that these are not luxuries a student of a different skin tone would have if the situation was reversed. A Black student in a majority white school would have a very different story than the one that I lived in my early years in elementary. That’s what white privilege is. It’s not that being white protects you from hardships in life, but instead that being white doesn’t add hardships to your life as a result of systemic racism.
The unfortunate truth is that white parents are leading the charge to continue to segregate schools. In reality, white students stand to benefit from diverse classrooms in ways that segregated schools are unable to provide. Too much of our curriculum is from the point of view of white historians writing about white-washed history, but having a diverse classroom, with students of different backgrounds and experiences and teachers and staff who are representative of a diverse student body, helps to decondition the centering of whiteness.
Moreover, the world students are entering is diverse. With the increased connectivity of the world, people are no longer interacting and working with people who only look like them and share their experiences. More than ever people need to know how to bridge cultural barriers. Parents who support segregation or policies that would lead to segregation, like “school-choice” in the form of charter schools, which divert money from public schools thus exacerbating underfunding, are only hurting their children in the long run, in addition to hurting other children in the process.
I also know now that there are no easy ways to undo the problems that plague our school systems. Schools have a long and enduring history of segregation and reinforcing socioeconomic barriers. They are a point of contention for the battle for civil rights.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, where I went to school for the beginning of my academic journey, are the most segregated in North Carolina. They used to be the poster-child for integration before busing was ended as a result of Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. The way to ensure that all children are given opportunity is to diversify and integrate schools. Students who are economically disadvantaged and whose parents are unable to give them the advantages of say a stay-at-home parent who reinforces learning need to have the attention from teachers to ensure they are reaching their full potential. Schools in North Carolina, and any other place with ‘gifted’ programs, need to make sure that the implicit bias of teachers and educators are not interfering with a child’s ability to thrive and be challenged appropriately. Additionally, schools need more funding. We have undervalued education and now, when the consequences of this are staring us in the face, people are still asking why such large racial disparities exist. Segregation, coupled with underfunded schools, has played a large part in the inequality we are experiencing today. We must integrate and fund schools, it is essential in creating a more equitable society. Our schools are deeply entrenched with a history of exclusion and white supremacy, we must address this truth before we can seek to undo the ways in which schools have harmed their marginalized students in the past.