As I was doing my research for my paper, I came across a book written by Karolyn Tyson entitled Integration Interrupted. This book speaks about the inequalities of America’s education system since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954-55, stating that the Brown decision was followed by a slew of broken promises and disappointments as far as the integration of schools is concerned.
American cities are notorious for having extremely segregated school systems, based on zoning which places the underprivileged, poor, often African American students together in one district, while the suburban and nice areas of the city (predominately white) are grouped together as well. This creates a perpetual divide between white and black, rich and poor, causing educational opportunities and expectations to differ dramatically.
We see this right here in Memphis as the inner-city schools are overwhelmingly inferior to the suburban schools and are filled with African American students. The suburban schools, however, tend to be much nicer, newer, and have an overwhelmingly white student population. As a way to better the system, Memphis has been debating and proposing a merger over the past couple years, one that is very controversial and difficult to decide upon.
An article from 2011 published in the New York Times offers a clear overview of the proposed merger and the potential problems that may arise as a result. Nearly 40 years ago, white students of Memphis fled the inner-city schools as a result of a personal fear of integration with black students, rooted in fears of intimate racial mixing perpetuated by white supremacists. When the federal government ordered busing in 1973 to force integration, whites fled Memphis city schools.
Today, with the proposed and intended merger for Memphis (although Shelby County has gotten judicial permission to set up new districts, which changes things quite a bit), many are worried a similar white-flight will occur again. This time, however, it may be less based on a personal fear and more about the educational inequality of the schools of Memphis. Inner city schools, overwhelmingly filled with black students tend to be much less desirable than the schools on the outskirts of the city, with predominantly white students. When possible, middle-class black families have fled the inner-city system in order to provide their children with more opportunities.
This has become a severe economic issue, yet this divide is undoubtedly a racial one. The worst schools in Memphis and Shelby County are filled with black students, since their economic situation is overwhelmingly worse than whites. To merge schools together and create true equality would mean re-oning the entire County in strange, narrow ways in order to incorporate any sense of a representative community of Shelby County in general. Putting these two systems together will be difficult on a variety of levels, racially and educationally. Racially, there will be a large change in the demographic of schools, which will obviously be a transition for students and teachers alike. However, the most concerning goal comes in the area of education. White schools are worried that busing in black students (who have a much weaker foundation) will drag the other students back, causing missed opportunities and test scores to go down considerably.
In the end, we have to ask ourselves how much we are willing to sacrifice in order to better the community. While, in theory, I think most of us think that the segregation of inner city schools is unfair and should be changed, if it comes down to ourselves, or one day, our children, how likely are we to change our mind? How much are we willing to personally sacrifice in order to better the black community as a whole, giving them greater opportunities and hopefully a chance to get out of the cycle which entraps too many young black youth in Memphis and other inner-city environments.