By LaKeshia N. Myers
As we all take time to digest the recent Supreme Court decision that rolled back affirmative action provisions in higher education admissions, we must look to the aftermath of the Brown decision to find its impetus. The decision by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the federal courts to limit the scope of the equal protection clause for the purposes of arguing Brown was necessary at the time, however its ruling, while ending defacto segregation in public schools, did not reconcile mechanisms for ending dejure segregation, which can be caused by institutional patterns, policies, and social restrictions.
Nelson, using Milwaukee as a prime example, outlines the systemic ways in which African Americans were placed on a trajectory for poverty through housing discrimination; he states, “additionally, banks promoted segregation by engaging in a practice called redlining—encircling poor black neighborhoods in red and denying mortgage loans to the residents within the red area. The federal government cooperated with the banks through the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, which did not guarantee mortgage loans to people who were in those redlined areas. Restrictive covenants, clauses in deeds that prevented land from ever being sold to African Americans, were also used to keep African Americans out of the suburbs. One study by an African American attorney in the 1940s found that 90 percent of the plats had these restrictions after 1910. Additionally, an ordinance was enacted in 1920 that zoned the area on the southern end of Milwaukee’s Black district for commercial and light manufacturing, instead of housing, effectively blocking African American migration until World War II” (Nelson, 2015).
The strategy to use such a narrow scope was necessary, legally, to challenge just one aspect of segregation. I am certain that the attorneys for the NAACP felt that if they could challenge segregation in small feats, they would eventually end the process altogether. While this was true (evidenced by the fact that today, we live in an integrated society); I do not think they took into account the multifaceted variables that would produce intrinsic forms racism. This is a direct correlation to the rhetorical distinction between de jure and de facto segregation and why most Americans cannot truly understand the difference between the two. In American history, both defacto and dejure segregation were often committed in concert with one another. While people and places were often segregated by law in this country, they were separated (and in many cases still are) separated by custom.
I am reminded of Carol Anderson’s text White Rage, I now know and understand what she meant by “transformative racism”—the use of policy, procedures, and the law as a form of protection for whites. Anderson posits, “White rage is not about visible violence, but rather it works its way through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of government bureaucracies. It wreaks havoc subtly, almost imperceptibly. Too imperceptibly, certainly, for a nation consistently drawn to the spectacular—to what it can see. It’s not the Klan. White rage doesn’t have to wear sheets, burn crosses, or take to the streets. Working the halls of power, it can achieve its ends far more effectively, far more destructively” (Anderson, 2016).
This is exactly what occurred after the Brown decision—whites figured out a way to legally separate their children and we are left with segregation that some argue is worse than the defacto segregation experienced prior to 1954. And then there are the cases of southern school districts who had yet to desegregate their schools. As late as 2016, the Cleveland School District of Cleveland, MS, was ordered by the federal courts to desegregate its school district. While its district had not been segregated in a defacto sense, it was truly a case of dejure segregation. The federal courts settled with the school district after they agreed to consolidate its high schools into one school for all students in Cleveland (CNN, 2016).
While the Cleveland School District consolidation happened in 2016, the school district has experienced the loss of white students from the district. This harkens back to the days of old when “white flight” was an expected response to integration. While this has been a challenge for the district they have moved forward and report that school operations are running smoothly (CNN, 2018).
While the issue of race continues to rear its head in many of the institutions we deem necessary, it is my only hope that slowly we as people become more comfortable with each other and begin to understand and embrace our own biases against each other. I believe that only after we know and understand our unconscious bias that only then we will be able to truly move forward and begin to erase racism from our American fiber.