Facebook can be a weird place on Martin Luther King Day. Some of my friends post famous passages from MLK’s speeches. Others post statistics on racial inequality. Still others, mostly white parents, post photographs of their children assembled in auditoriums and schoolyards. These are always hopeful images, the next generation stirring toward interracial harmony. Except for one thing: nearly everyone in the photos is … white.
In her public school this year, my first-grade daughter learned that Daisy Bates helped integrate the Little Rock schools. She knows that Ella Baker, someone I’d never heard of till I went to college, was part of the civil rights movement. Meanwhile, her school has a combined black and Latino population of 15 percent, down from nearly 30 percent just seven years ago.
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In school, white children are taught to be conscious of race and racism in a way I never was when I was as a kid in the 1970s. Yet they go to schools that are in some respects more segregated now than they were in the 1970s. In 1972, under Richard Nixon, 36 percent of black students in the South attended white-majority schools. By 2011, under Barack Obama, that number had plummeted to 23 percent. In every region of the country, a higher percentage of black students go to nearly all-minority schools than was the case in 1988. The same is true of Latino students in the South, the West and the Midwest.