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Racial segregation still prevalent in education

File photo.
File photo.

There are many people who will say that racism no longer exists here in America.

They point back to the great accomplishments of the past and the battles that have been won — to Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the baseball color barrier; to Rosa Parks and the boycotting of segregated institutions; to the legendary march on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. as its Moses; and perhaps to our black president — and say, “Look, surely America can’t be segregated any longer!”

With recent events at the University of Alabama, however, it has become clear that, though half a century has passed since Brown vs. Board of Education, segregation is still alive and present in public education.

A week ago, the University of Alabama was criticized for the segregation of their Greek organizations; several sorority sisters have candidly confessed to their school newspaper that they have turned away pledges based on race.

The University of Alabama is no stranger to prejudice. The University was first made infamous in 1963 when George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, defied the Supreme Court’s decision that separate was not equal, preventing the first two African-American students from entering the school.

Wallace, whose slogan was “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” was forcibly removed by the federal marshals that accompanied the new students, as well as the Alabama National Guard, who had been called in by President John F. Kennedy.

This event is referred to as “The Stand in the School Room Door” and is often used as the marker of the beginning of racial equality in the classroom.

But how much progress has really been made in education? Those sorority girls did not suddenly become racist when they joined Greek life; they are products of an environment.

My reason for saying this is not to cast the South as the heart of prejudice — that has been done and, I believe, doing so allows the rest of the U.S. to get off too easily. My reason for saying this is to suggest that the educational system has a hand in the learning of racial prejudice.

Educators concerned with social justice have frequently listed numbers and statistics to prove this point, but while these facts convince our minds, they fail to grip our hearts. Instead I am asking you, reader, to delve into the reserves of your own memory, because I believe learning elixirs are more potent if they are made personal.

So mentally close your eyes and consider racial inequality in your experiences at school. Think back to the schools in your hometown. Think back to that wealthy school lacking only in diversity and that less wealthy, more diverse school lacking in everything else.

Think back to the kids whom the teachers encouraged and whom they gave up on. Think about free or reduced lunch and which students were eating these meals. Think back to students who began the day with metal detectors and security officers and teachers who said, “They don’t pay me enough.”

Think back to your classmates and who was deemed AP and who was determined ADHD. Think back to the characters of the books you read in school.

Think about every time you heard a teacher or adult say that African-American English is lazy talk or that Americans speak English not Spanish. Think about the students who volunteered in order to get into college and those students who worked to help pay the bills.

Now answer this: “Are things separate? Are things equal? Are we there yet?”

We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got further still to go.

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