Race, White Supremacy, and Integration
Introduction to my comments during the American Educational Research Association Presidential Session on School Integration
John B. Diamond
April 16, 2018
New York City
I want to begin with a quote by W.E.B. Du Bois, perhaps the most important scholar of the 20th century, whose work was denied its proper place in history because of white supremacy in the academy (Morris, 2015). In 1935, Du Bois wrote:
The Negro needs neither segregated schools nor mixed schools. What he needs is Education. What he must remember is that there is no magic, either in mixed schools or in segregated schools. A mixed school with poor and unsympathetic teachers, with hostile public opinion, and no teaching of truth concerning black folk, is bad. A segregated school with ignorant placeholders, inadequate equipment, poor salaries, and wretched housing, is equally bad (p. 335).
Here, Du Bois argues that Black people need education not integrated schools or segregated ones. White schools with racist teachers and an anti-black curriculum are inadequate as are Black schools that lack sufficient educational resources. Derek Bell (2005) demonstrates a similar ambivalence about integration when he critiques our almost religious zeal regarding the Brown v. Board decision – arguing that the process of integration has become conflated with educational equity itself. That orthodoxy often overrides our ability to understand that integration was just a means to an end – a compromise in a white supremacist society in which white people (particularly white elites) have used their power to monopolize educational resources for their own children. Therefore, having a debate about school integration absent a careful analysis how race structures opportunity inside and outside schools, and poisons the educational process itself, is ill-advised and potentially dangerous.
So, for the next few minutes, I want to examine the (often unspoken) relationship between race, white supremacy, and integration. I will do three things in this regard. First, I want to reinforce the centrality of white supremacy in the U.S. and its educational enterprise. Second, I want to demonstrate some ways that white supremacy currently embeds itself in organizational routines inside schools. Third, I want to highlight how opportunity hoarding by white parents is the primary force that undermines integration and educational equity.
Most conversations about school desegregation fail to fully acknowledge the central point that white supremacy is the reason we have racially separate educational institutions in the first place. The core challenge of desegregation is that most people racialized as white do not want to go to school with people racialized as Black and Brown (for a recent example see this video). This is at least in part because of their belief in white supremacy and Black inferiority. Having been raised in a society defined by a distain for Blackness and Black people and the belief in Black intellectual inferiority, whites see schools with Black enrollments as inferior. In fact, they will avoid schools with large black populations even when those schools outperform mostly white schools in the same area.
But understanding race requires more than a superficial glossing over of its origins and implications. Race is a social construction developed by white people to justify the brutal treatment and murder of those defined as nonwhite across the globe. Europeans developed racial ideologies that espoused their intellectually and morally superiority over other groups. While race is based on arbitrary physical characteristics, it shapes social structures, institutions, laws, and interpersonal interactions in ways that perpetuate white supremacy. As Bonilla-Silva (2003) argues, societies like the United States form “racialized social systems” across all dimensions of social life, which contribute to the reproduction of white supremacy. Other scholars have spoken to what Mills (1997) refers to as “global white supremacy” as both an ideology and a social system. This is not to suggest that race is the only form of stratification. Class and gender exist simultaneously, and interlock with race in an intersectional matrix of domination.
Nonetheless, White supremacy is among the most powerful organizing principles of the United States and the Globe. It provides the ideological foundation that justifies for settler colonialism, the attempted genocide of indigenous peoples, the colonization of the Africa, and the enslavement of Africans in the Americas. It is encoded in the constitution of the United States with the three fifths clause, implicated in the continued denial of sovereignty to Native nations, and instantiated in historic and contemporary immigration policy that originally excluded “non-whites” from access and citizenship. It also gave rise to white supremacist terror groups that unleashed murderous assaults on Black people who simply sought to register to vote, live where whites did not want them to, or learn to read or form educational institutions.
This white supremacist terror continues in the hyper-surveillance and state sponsored extrajudicial executions of African American, Native Americans, and Latinx people across the country. The arrest of Black people for walking down the street, swimming in the wrong neighborhood, and sitting in Starbucks are the contemporary examples of this hyper-surveillance. And, of course, Black people continue to be murdered by police for standing in their backyards, failing to use turning signals when driving, and reaching for their wallets during a traffic stop with no repercussions. These are the modern-day manifestations of anti-blackness and predatory white supremacy.
I now turn to a discussion of how these structural and symbolic manifestations of race become embedded in organizational routines and are maintained through white parents’ opportunity hoarding behavior (Lewis & Diamond 2015).
Bell, D. Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Bonialla-Silva, E. 2003. Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield.
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1935. Does the Negro Need Separate Schools? The Journal of Negro Education, 4(3): 328-335.
Lewis, A. E., and J. B. Diamond. 2015. Despite the Best Intentions: How Inequality Thrives in Good Schools. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mills, C. W. 1997. The Racial Contract. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Morris, A. D. 2015. The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.