REYNOLDS: Interracial Education

Two assumptions I had always heard: Integrated schools result in racially mixed children; and because of cultural differences, black kids need black teachers.Whether voiced in polite company or not, these deep-seated attitudes have fueled the battle to keep schools segregated for decades. But now, as we start a new school year, new information suggests those basic assumptions might need a makeover.First of all, integration does not mean what it once did. When I was growing up in the 50's and 60's in Ohio, people were either white or black, but today there are there are many in-betweens. The U.S. Census Bureau has predicted that by the year 2050, Hispanics will account for 21.1 percent of the population; blacks 15 percent; Asians 10.1 percent; and whites 52.7 percent.Yes, there is plenty of race-mixing, but not at a rapid rate by blacks. For example, the Russell Sage Foundation reported that 31.6 percent of native-born Hispanic husbands and 31.4 percent of Hispanic wives had white spouses. The figures were higher for Asians: 36 percent for native-born Asian husbands and 45.2 percent for native-born Asian wives. Yet for the 25-34 age group, only eight percent of black men marry outside their race and less than four percent of black women do so. There are, of course, regional differences. Interracial marriage of all kinds are more typical on the West Coast than in the Midwest.Why then would blacks and whites who go to school together be less likely to marry each other than whites and Asians? It has been said that in the U.S. armed services, black-white interracial marriages are higher because the races are more likely to be treated equally.While that may be true, what social scientists generally overlook is that blacks are likely to be as intolerant of racially-mixed marriages as some whites, and there are severe penalties for those who step out of their race. First of all, many black women reserve special scorn for black men who date or marry white women. Those who hold this view see the black woman working and helping the black man gain an education or business opportunities to get ahead, but as soon as he reaches a modicum of success, he "rewards himself" with a white woman who is thought to be a bigger trophy. Another view is that many black men, like Clarence Thomas, who marry white woman, live in a predominately white neighborhood and denounce initiatives like affirmative action, are expressing their own self-loathing.Ironically, black women who marry whites are generally viewed positively, especially if the marriage lifts their social status, such as that of former weather anchor Janet Langhart to Defense Secretary William Cohen. However, white women who might also marry a higher-status black man are rarely embraced by his family.Thus, these cultural inhibitors stand as barriers to black and white inter- marriage more so than that of whites and Asians.Another assumption that I thought most blacks held about integrated schools also needs a fresh look if a new report, "Time to Move On," can be believed. Conducted by Public Agenda in collaboration with Public Education Network, it says that half of blacks polled and 72 percent of white parents polled feel integrated schools make little difference in the education their children receive. In addition, three-quarters of blacks and 77 percent of white parents say "too often schools work so hard to achieve integration that they end up neglecting their most important goal; that of teaching kids."The most surprising conclusion was that three-fourths of African-American parents say race should not be a factor when choosing a teacher or superintendent for a predominantly black school. "By a stunning 80 percent to 9 percent margin, African-American parents nationwide say the highest priority for the nation's schools should be to raise academic standards and achievements rather than focus on achieving more diversity and integration."Is the report skewered? Parents are falling into a trap, if they think you can't have both diversity and high academic standards. First of all, a lack of diversity is instructional. When whites don't see black teachers and role models, that is a learning experience, albeit a negative one. It is as important to have a black superintendent in a white school as in a black one.The slow growth of interracial marriages and the assigning of a lower priority to integrated schools may be a welcomed sign by some blacks and whites for different reasons. But in the final analysis, it may also be another signal of how tired some of us are of each other and of our continued drift apart.


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