Through a series of interesting events, I found myself in the middle of 8th grade in a small town in North Carolina. This school was more unique then any I had been in in my lifetime. (We moved around so much I was the new kid EVERY year for at least once a year) In the entire 8th grade there was me, a boy from India, 2 white boys, and 2 white girls. The rest of the grade was entirely African American. It was not a huge class, but I remember my seat being assigned between the two white girls who also happened to live in my neighborhood. I don’t remember the demographic really concerning me, it was the questions of “Hey, are you a red neck?” and wondering why they would ask me that because there was no way I had sunburn on my neck. And the other thing that made me nervous was realizing that I had no idea who Beavis and Butthead were. My parents had remarried and my stepdad’s family had really taken my brother, sister, and I under their wing. However, one thing was clear, I was not to bring a “black boy” home for Christmas. I would just nod my head and agree, “of course not.”
Fast forward to the following year I began high school. Even though there were two other high schools closer to our house, (one was 2 miles away) I took the bus to one that the furthest and triple the distance away. The trip on the bus was probably a good 30-45 minutes one way. My predominantly white neighborhood was being bussed to a predominately African American school. Approximately 20% of the students at the school were white. I was the new kid all over again and realized that my way of making friends was a little bit different. Since I was not from the area, I was not brought up with the unspoken code of who you should and should not be friends with. On the weekends I hung out with the girls I went to middle school within my neighborhood, but at school, I was friends with everyone. I didn’t mind the bus ride and quickly got plugged into the marching band and the soccer team.
Looking back here is what I now remember as being really interesting. The band: it was mostly white, except for the drumline. The soccer team: I only remember one African American girl on our team. She was the one I always had to partner with during sprints and boy was she fast. How is it that a predominantly African American high school had a predominately white soccer team and marching band?
That brings me to the point of this post. Busing (at least in my case) does not erase white privilege. From my understanding at the time, I was lucky that my parents would come and pick me up after games and practices. We had the resources for the fees and the equipment that I needed to participate in those activities. I was not needed at home to take care of more grown-up things. I still had the luxury of time to be on the team and keep up with my homework and stay on the honor roll. My white privilege in a myriad of ways allowed me to go to a school with low test scores (24th percentile in the state), low graduation rate, low AP participation, and still have a high enough GPA and test scores to earn a full academic scholarship to a private school in Tennessee.
It seems we are asking the wrong questions when it comes to school segregation. Even if you talk about bussing underprivileged kids to other schools, that is not necessarily the answer. In the next county over, a more racially integrated school had similar test scores and graduations rates to the school I attended in the 9th grade. So instead of arguing about a federal mandate on whether or not we should be bussing in 2019, let’s ask the better questions.
How can we take the financial burden off parents so they can be more involved in parenting and the education of their kids?
When we look at funding what would it take for students from all walks of life to be able to afford the equipment and fees to participate in sports and/or activities?
What about providing school transportation after practices or after school activities? I actually had this when I was in middle school in Jersey.
Why are “good schools” mostly in “good neighborhoods”? Should that be the issue the government addresses?
Why can’t all schools, no matter what their racial make-up, afford the same opportunities?
What are we really even talking about here? The next generation. Let’s not settle for a pat solution. Let’s not settle for what makes US feel good or what looks good on paper. Let’s dig deeper. Let’s invest. Not just our time, or our money, but our whole heart.
Let’s ask and debate the better questions.