Don't Integrate Schools Just to Benefit White Kids

Sep 6, 2019 12:00:00 AM


White progressive educators and parents, I know lots of you. And I know you think diversity in schools is important. But you all are pushing a sales job on other White parents that has harmful consequences for children of color.

We need intentionally diverse schools because Black students deserve access to a high-quality education—not for the social benefit of White students. 

America has legally and systematically deprived Black children access to quality schools. The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining real-estate policies and White flight has created an education crisis for Black children and they are owed an opportunity to achieve. 

But, instead of clearly saying we need racially diverse schools because we have unjustly and systemically excluded Black students from top-tier education, many of you point to the benefits of diversity for all students. You assure fragile, White parents that their precious babies will not suffer academically or otherwise from proximity to children of color. This is unacceptable.

The benefits of diversity do exist. But [pullquote]centering Whiteness in order to ensure diverse schools certainly won’t make racism disappear.[/pullquote]

Proximity to Black Students Won't Fix Racism

Just as Black students won’t magically become “smarter” by sitting next to White students, neither will White students magically become “non-racist” by sitting next to Black ones. As Jennifer Eberhardt wrote in Biased, “It takes more than interpersonal connection to break the bonds of institutional bias and promote the sort of equality that allows us all to thrive.” 

Racism isn’t eliminated by osmosis or a magical spell—our children are not wizards and our schools are not Hogwarts. Even at Hogwarts, they know that simply having muggles at the school isn’t enough to stop wizard supremacy. And neither is having Black and Brown students at our schools enough to stop White supremacy. 

Radical change needs to happen. 

[pullquote position="right"]The worst part of this false advertising around diversity is that it places an unfair burden on Black and Brown children: the unrealistic expectation that they will educate White folks.[/pullquote] That burden is compounded because Black and Brown students also experience racism perpetrated by the same children they are supposed to be educating. 

Ruby Bridges was just the tip of the iceberg. There is now an entire generation of Black student pioneers. In fact, I have talked with many Black people who were one or one of a handful of Black people in their schools. It was not a pleasant experience. It makes it harder to learn when you are in that situation. When you’re battling stereotypes and being attacked with macro and microaggressions all the time, it’s difficult to succeed. That’s a significant burden alone. 

Black students don’t want to be placed in predominantly White environments so they can teach and/or influence White folks about racism. Black students want to be in predominantly White schools because the schools have more resources. Sure, Black students want to make friends that they can talk to, but about normal stuff like the struggles of school, study groups, which teachers are the best—not to serve as a teacher about race.

It is cruel to demand that the price of Black and Brown children’s presence in quality schools be that they address the lack of racial awareness on the part of most White children. I'm tired of it, and flat out refuse to place this burden, this unspoken obligation, on Black children—or Black adults—anymore. 

The goal of having diverse schools should not include the expectation that the Black teachers, Black parents or Black students will teach White people about race and make them less racist.

So, here are the new race rules for diversity in schools starting this school year: 

  • It is not Black students' responsibility to enlighten White students about different cultures or to demonstrate that “races are equal.” 
  • It is not the job of Black teachers to teach White teachers about racism, unless you are paying them specifically to teach White teachers about racism.
  • It is not the job of Black administrators to teach White co-workers and/or bosses about racism, unless they are hired specifically to teach about racism. 

It is not the role or responsibility of Black folks to unteach racism. If you want to learn how not to be racist, take a class or read a book (this is one is fantastic)! There are literally thousands of ways you can learn about racism on your own. 

Diversity and access to quality spaces should happen because all Americans should have access to quality schools, not because White children will benefit and not because being around Black people will make White people less racist. 

It’s not a barter. 

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson is the mother of two free-spirited, strong-willed girls and has a husband who should be appointed a saint for co-existing in the madness that is their life. She writes on politics, education, current events and social justice. She is also a taco enthusiast, a proud member of the Bey-hive, and truly believes that she will be receiving her letter from Hogwarts any day now.

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