Still Separate, Still Unequal: 50 Years after Brown, Segregation Remains in Force

By Hilfiker, David | Sojourners Magazine, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Still Separate, Still Unequal: 50 Years after Brown, Segregation Remains in Force


Hilfiker, David, Sojourners Magazine


On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that "Where a State has undertaken to provide an opportunity for an education in its public schools, such an opportunity is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms." Fifty years later that decision has yet to be implemented. Laws enforcing segregation are now unconstitutional, but the structural violence of our society has left not only our schools but also many other areas of American civic life almost as segregated and in most cases more imperiled than they were 50 years ago.

In 1950, the segregation of inner-city African-American ghettos may have been modestly more severe than today, but those ghettos were vertically integrated, well-functioning communities that mirrored the larger society. Poor, working-class, and affluent African Americans all lived in relatively close proximity. Most people worked, education was highly valued, levels of violence were low, the social organization of the neighborhoods was intact, and levels of single parenthood were modest. Over the next 20 years, however, structural forces in our society--urban renewal, the federal Interstate Highway Program, federally subsidized housing projects, the exodus of manufacturing jobs from the cities, and, paradoxically, integration itself--would devastate those African-American neighborhoods, creating wastelands where jobs were scarce, social organization had been disrupted, and everyone was poor.

THE STRUCTURAL VIOLENCE continues. The racism embedded in our society keeps us largely segregated since whites generally move out of areas as soon as they get "too black," i.e. greater than 10 or 15 percent African American. Enforced segregation by race is no longer legal, but segregation by class still is, so jurisdictions are free to create zoning laws that keep the poor out. Affordable housing is not a legal right. And so the poor, whether minority or not, live in neighborhoods with other poor people.

Another structure we rarely call violent is our funding of schools largely through local taxes, depriving poor neighborhoods of the resources with which the affluent create their children's educational environments. …

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