Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Segregation Privatized

In the South appearances can be deceiving. Exaggerated, superficial politeness, especially toward strangers and those of differing race, often masks xenophobic intolerance or outright contempt and hatred. It's a subtle thing. So subtle that only an outsider like Panderbear who lived in California most of his life would likely take notice. Southerners, at least those in Arkansas where Panderbear resides, seem unaware of this near universal affectation.

Elizabeth Eckford
The subtlety of social affectation notwithstanding the underlying intolerance in some Southerners has real and harmful effects, particularly with regard to education. One might have thought that when President Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce desegregation at Little Rock High School and later with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the issue of segregation would have long been settled. Panderbear sees it differently.

Two trends thwarted effective integration in Arkansas' schools. By fleeing from Little Rock to outlying communities that were essentially all white, parents ensured their children would continue attending all white schools. Of course white flight was a national phenomenon and primarily economic rather than racially motivated. But the effect was especially marked in Arkansas. Panderbear has relatives who fled to the suburbs to avoid having their children attend integrated schools.

The other phenomenon, apparently far more common in the South than elsewhere, was the rise of the Christian Academy. Arkansas is now awash in Christian Academies. Whether there is outright discrimination in the application process Panderbear cannot say, but the additional expense of sending children to private academies ensures attendees are among the more affluent and in Arkansas that means white.

The end result is that segregation never really ended, it was privatized. Never mind that separate is inherently unequal. Never mind that parents are harming their own children by preventing them from learning lessons that come by exposure to diversity of race, culture, and religion. Never mind that parents sending their children to private schools vote against spending more on public schools, while decrying the low quality of public education. Arkansans seem oblivious to these wrongs. Don't expect Arkansas' politicians, whether Republican or conservative Democrat, to ever address the harmful effects of de facto segregation. Unfortunately, it is the children, not their intolerant parents or the pandering politicians, who continue to pay the price.

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