Unintended Consequences of Integration: What I Thought I Knew Is Challenged

I have a confession to make.

Though it’s not something I feel guilty about, it has been quite disturbing to confront a lifelong conviction; the ease to which I bought into it and the difficulty I’m having shedding it.

Like most Generation X’ers, I was taught integration is the only means to a great education for Black children. At six years old I was bussed from my black neighborhood into a white suburb. In tenth grade, I along with other students from all-black high schools around the city merged with students from a recently closed majority-white school to attend a brand new school in a majority white neighborhood north of the city. So, for most of my life, I have believed Black kids could only get a great education by sitting alongside white kids in their wealthy neighborhoods.

Further, as an adult, I made many concessions for my own kids, jumped through many a hoop, in the name of diversity.

But today’s Black parents aren’t feeling it. As a matter of fact, my friend and blogging colleague parent powerhouse Gwen Samuel is saying “hell no, we won’t go!”

Gwen called me a few weeks ago with the opening “they are intentionally keeping seats from black and brown kids in Hartford!” Whoa. “What? Wait, back up. Who’s doing what to the babies?” I responded. In Hartford, CT sits a majority-black high-performing magnet school with CT Supreme Court-ordered seats reserved for white and Asian students. “Ok”, I thought, “this sounds familiar”. Quotas, in reverse. The notion of American integration, in reverse. What’s different about this situation, but not entirely unfamiliar, is that the seats go unfilled because white and Asian families don’t want to go there.

After learning that last piece of information, I knew she was headed into battle. And, boy, was I right.

Gwen joined with families behind a complaint filed earlier this year challenging O’Neill vs. Sheff, the case responsible for creating the Hartford magnet system and the 75 percent cap on black and Hispanic students. The complaint states, in part:

Every year, hundreds of Hartford’s black and Hispanic students are denied admission to the City’s best schools solely because of their race. Hartford’s world-class magnet schools have the space to educate these students, but they are kept out by a racial quota that reserves 25% of the seats at the best schools for students who are white. These schools are literally mandated to leave desks unoccupied if enrolling an additional black or Hispanic child would upset the racial quota. Turned away from Hartford’s best schools, these black and Hispanic students are forced into Hartford’s failing neighborhood schools, where their hope for a bright future is, all-too-often, extinguished.

The idea that anyone would allow high-performing seats remain empty for any student is unconscionable. That a mother who repeatedly and unsuccessfully works for another school option as she watches the light dim from her son’s eyes due to bullying and inferior school support is inhumane. That magnet school eligible minority children are repeatedly denied available seats is maybe one of integration’s harshest unintended consequences.


No doubt this case and stories I’ve learned over the past year have irreparably challenged my belief system. Shaken my core.  So, with some trepidation, I watched Gwen’s news interviews, press conferences, and this week’s symposium on “The True Co$t of Integration in Connecticut Schools.” I, like Gwen, am incensed by the school system’s tolerance of unclaimed high-performing seats, but, for me, it goes beyond the notion of empty seats in Hartford, CT. It took some time, but I finally figured out my hesitance besides my lifelong allegiance to the tenets of integration. It’s not just about Sheff or the Hartford parents demanding a better education for their children. We’re talking about challenging Brown v. Board. Separate but equal. Thurgood Marshall.

Supreme Court Justice Marshall was brilliant, indeed. However, when it comes to school selection, I will defer to today’s parents who know what’s best for their children. I think about the crazy successful majority-black/brown schools in Nashville and respect that these parents didn’t succumb to a system that expects black and brown families to make all the concessions in order to go to school with white kids in white neighborhoods. And, at this moment, I am indebted to the Gwen Samuel’s of the world. The fighters for educational justice and freedom. Connecticut families are blessed to have someone willing to sacrifice it all for babies she did not birth.

I believe in diversity, but because of Gwen and the parents in Nashville and throughout the country, I will no longer marginalize my race or other minorities with the thinking that we can only be successful if sitting next to, learning from, or led by the majority race.

Please check out this thread by Chris Stewart.

5 thoughts on “Unintended Consequences of Integration: What I Thought I Knew Is Challenged

  1. It is interesting that the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board in Topeka were not concerned about academic quality of the assigned African-American school. The NAACP just wanted to make a case around a child not being able to attend the school across the street because of their race. Instead, it was the determination of the high court in the final verdict that African American children were damaged (under-achieving) because of racial segregation.

    This documentary definitely worth adding to all the resources and books we are studying….


    When my local public school in Memphis was blown apart by court ordered busing, I concluded, at age 8, that this _must_ be something that African American families wanted overwhelmingly. Only in the last few years have I learned that it is not so simple as that, not at all.

    I missed you at the “State of Education in the Black Community” last night. I can email you an audio track for the last 50 minutes or so. The more I learn, the more I find that things are a _lot_ more interesting than the over-simplicity with which we have said”integration is the only way” since 1969.

    _Everything_ in our district is organized around the 1970s court-mandated idea of cross-town busing for racial balance. So, before we touch the third rail ( the Pandora’s box of “Maybe cross town busing has not helped achievement after all”), we owe it to ourselves to dig deeply into the painful history of how we got to where we are.

    Only when we look at the history – extraordinarily painful for African Americans, and deeply embarrassing for whites – can we move forward, together, in next steps that help all children.

    I can’t imagine that racial segregation can have a long-term role in a city that will soon be equal parts African American, Latino, and white. But, we won’t have the obvious equality that everyone with a brain longs for, unless we first fully take ownership of all the past – the good and and the bad.


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