Like Kamala Harris, I was one of those kids bused to white schools. Busing was part of a desegregation plan Waterloo, Iowa, adopted using federal desegregation funds after being sued by the NAACP. Starting in second grade and all the way through high school, I rode a bus two hours a day. It was not always easy, but I am perplexed by the audacity of people who argue that the hardship of a long bus ride somehow outweighs the hardship of being deprived of a good education.
No, black kids should not have to leave their neighborhoods to attend a quality school, or sit next to white students to get a quality education. But we cannot be naïve about how this country works. To this day, according to data collected from the Education Department, the whiter the school, the more resources it has. We cannot forget that so many school desegregation lawsuits started with attempts by black parents to simply get equal resources for black schools. Parents demanded integration only after they realized that in a country that does not value black children the same as white ones, black children will never get what white children get unless they sit where white children sit.
I have spent most of my career chronicling the devastating effects of school segregation on black children. I have spent days in all-black schools with no heat and no textbooks. Where mold runs dark beneath the walls and rodents leave droppings on desks for students to clear in the mornings before they sit down. Where children spend an entire school year without an algebra teacher and graduate never having been assigned a single essay. And then I have driven a few miles down the road to a predominately white school, sometimes within the same district, sometimes in an adjacent one, and witnessed the best of American education. This is not to say that no white children attend substandard schools. But if there is a black school nearby, it is almost always worse.
The black students I talk to in schools that are as segregated as the ones their grandparents attended know it is like this because we do not think they deserve the same education as white children.
This is a choice we make.
The same people who claim they are not against integration, just busing as the means, cannot tell you what tactic they would support that would actually lead to wide-scale desegregation. So, it is an incredible sleight of hand to argue that mandatory school desegregation failed, while ignoring that the past three decades of reforms promising to make separate schools equal have produced dismal results for black children, and I would argue, for our democracy.
It is unlikely that we will ever again see an effort to deconstruct our system of caste schools like what we saw between 1968 and 1988. But at the very least, we should tell the truth about what happened.
Busing did not fail. We did.
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