How pernicious is it: Taken at a glance, Nikole Hannah-Jones paints an unappealing picture in her lengthy report about the Tuscaloosa City public schools.
The lengthy piece was written for ProPublica. It also appears in The Atlantic.
Hannah-Jones is largely concerned with the alleged “resegregation” of the Tuscaloosa schools. Early on, she paints a rather gloomy picture of this “resegregation:”
HANNAH-JONES (4/16/14): Tuscaloosa’s schools today are not as starkly segregated as they were in 1954, the year the Supreme Court declared an end to separate and unequal education in America. No all-white schools exist anymore—the city’s white students generally attend schools with significant numbers of black students. But while segregation as it is practiced today may be different than it was 60 years ago, it is no less pernicious: in Tuscaloosa and elsewhere, it involves the removal and isolation of poor black and Latino students, in particular, from everyone else. In Tuscaloosa today, nearly one in three black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened.In substantial detail, Hannah-Jones tells a fascinating story about the way the racial balance of Tuscaloosa’s schools came to be as it is. The story tales us from Brown v. Board (1954) up through the present day.
Tuscaloosa’s school resegregation—among the most extensive in the country—is a story of city financial interests, secret meetings, and angry public votes. It is a story shaped by racial politics and a consuming fear of white flight. It was facilitated, to some extent, by the city’s black elites. And it was blessed by a U.S. Department of Justice no longer committed to fighting for the civil-rights aims it had once championed.
We’ll briefly review that story tomorrow. (We can’t evaluate the accuracy of Hannah-Jones’ detailed account.) But that early passage by Hannah-Jones certainly paints a gloomy picture of current arrangements.
We’re told that Tuscaloosa’s “resegregation” is “among the most extensive in the country.” Its schools are “not as starkly segregated as they were in 1954,” Hannah-Jones writes. But the “segregation as it is practiced today...is no less pernicious.”
That strikes us as a rather strong overstatement.
Gloomy pronouncements of this type can make liberal hearts feel very glad, especially when such statements are aimed at southern targets. But those statements strike us as semi-perniciously wrong. These would be the most obvious objections:
“Tuscaloosa’s schools today are not as starkly segregated as they were in 1954?” That is a very strong the understatement.
In 1954, all of Alabama’s schools were legally segregated by race! No child attended public school with any kids from other races. Schools were either all-white or all-black, as was commanded by law.
It isn’t like that today. “No all-white schools exist anymore,” Hannah-Jones writes. “The city’s white students generally attend schools with significant numbers of black students.”
That’s quite an understatement on the high school level, the level Hannah-Jones focuses on. As we showed you yesterday, this is the racial breakdown for Tuscaloosa City’s three high schools:
Tuscaloosa City high schools:“The city’s white students generally attend schools with significant numbers of black students?” At the high school level, the city’s white students all attend schools with substantial majorities of black kids!
100 percent black
75 percent black, 19 percent white
61 percent black, 35 percent white
For various reasons, Hannah-Jones is troubled by the existence of all-black Central High. We’ll discuss her concerns tomorrow, then again next week.
But is this current arrangement really “no less pernicious” than the legal separation that existed in 1954? We’d call that a rather large stretch—and outside the city limits, elsewhere in Tuscaloosa County, black kids and white kids attend six other public high schools together, often in robust numbers, as detailed yesterday.
Did Hannah-Jones mislead her readers about the degree of racial separation in Tuscaloosa’s schools? We’d say she drew a somewhat misleading picture. (She was writing about Tuscaloosa City only.)
In fairness, racial separation is greater in Tuscaloosa City’s elementary and middle schools, where the city reverted to a form of neighborhood schools around the year 2000.
Especially given her very long article, Hannah-Jones doesn’t go into much detail about elementary and middle school enrollments. But these are the white enrollment figures for the middle schools, as best we can determine:
Tuscaloosa City middle schools:The bulk of white kids in the city attend Rock Quarry Middle. Quite a few black kids go to schools which are all-black or almost all-black.
Eastwood Middle: white students, 12 percent
Rock Quarry Middle: white students, 73 percent
Southview Middle: white students, 3 percent
University Place Middle: white students, 10 percent
Westlawn Middle: white students, 0 percent
For ourselves, we’d like to see black kids and white kids going to school together. You can see photos of Tuscaloosa's black and white kids together at the web sites for Bryant High and Northridge High.
Out in the Tuscaloosa County schools, where there are a lot more white kids, you can see a lot of smiling students posing for pictures with their black and white classmates.
To see photos of what we mean, click here, then continue clicking. All in all, a lot of kids in Tuscaloosa County (of which Tuscaloosa City is a part) are going to school with lots of kids of both races.
Hannah-Jones raises a lot of valid concerns about the “resegregation” of Tuscaloosa City’s schools. We also think she may have her thumb on the scale a tiny tad at times.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the basic parts of the history she tells. Next week, we'll examine her thoughts about what makes a school good, bad or even “hopeless.”
That said, is the current situation “no less pernicious” than it was in 1954? That strikes us as a fairly large stretch, and we'll guess it proved a bit misleading for many of Hannah-Jones’ readers.
Why do we liberals sometimes seem to want to say things like this?