Mari Matsuda has a terrific short essay in this week’s issue of The Nation.
She’s exactly correct about the problem of far too many liberals (not to mention conservatives–we don’t expect any better from them), who don’t send their kids to their neighborhood schools because they imagine the schools are “bad.” (Which usually means “black.”)
We marched for civil rights, linked arms to stop eviction, sang “We Shall Not Be Moved” with tear-stained conviction and then walked quietly away from public schools. In the beginning it was called white flight, but the friend who writes to me is not white, and neither are the peers he is talking about. In my DC neighborhood, black parents as well as white choose against the local school.
She’s right that it’s not even just white flight anymore, because it’s some black parents, too. Class certainly plays a role, but the core of the problem, usually, is racism, whether internalized or not. And it’s based (as racism so often is) on ignorance.
Here is what you don’t see if you are not inside that school: heroic teachers and real learning occurring alongside unconscionable neglect of human needs. Because I see many strengths still intact, my children remain in neighborhood schools. I deploy privilege from my back pocket to help make those schools work and, I confess, to retain the exit option if it comes to that. A plea to my peers: Before you pull out, make sure it is as bad as you are imagining it is, and do the impossible. Cleanse your imagination of racism.
She also makes the point that the schools suffer, that the flight or the avoidance of the privileged (white or not), means that the political power and resources fly away, too, making bad situations worse.
But it’s the kids of those flying-away white (or not) parents, too, who suffer. They absorb (don’t think they don’t!) their parents’ ideology that there’s something dangerous, or at least undesirable, about the schools which their parents (with their mouths, but not their feet) claim to support and care about.