port of harlem magazine
port of harlem gambian education partnership
Integration and Busing’s Legacy – Lessons We Haven’t Learned
July 18 – July 31, 2019
we won't go to school with negroes

“Thank you, Mom, for listening,” she said. I sat down. It’s not often my twenty something daughter begins a conversation thanking me. 

I knew it was serious. “I just listened to a TED Radio Hour Podcast called ‘Confronting Racism.’ It was about how Black, and Brown children are disproportionately disciplined in schools.  When it happened to me you moved me, and I thank you,” she thankfully continued.

She went on to explain how the talk exposed how Black children are suffering psychological trauma in public schools and what can be done to raise public awareness. When we hung up the phone a solemn realization overtook me: We haven’t told our story. 

We, the Black children who are the first generation that integrated public schools, that now have graying hair, rarely talk about our experiences. Our socialization was not to speak of the unpleasant ways that White folks treated us. We tucked those experiences away in the crevasses of our minds. We minimized their effect on our psyche.  We overcame, didn’t we? 

Some of us survived it; the weak, those who came with other issues, didn’t. Most of us graduated from high school. Some of us even went on to become successful professionals:  doctors, lawyers, authors, business owners, and even politicians. But, we continue to wear the mask in the words of Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

Over 60 years after Brown vs. Board of Education,  after forced integration through busing,  and fifty years after my own life altering experience with hostile school environments during the 60’s and 70’s, the painful reality is that notwithstanding the few who made it, thousands perhaps millions didn’t. Too many Black children of today are faced with similar experiences with more dire consequences. When we grew up being children was rarely criminalized. 

I took the time to listen to the 'Confronting Racism' podcast. Authors Brittney Cooper and Monique Morris, journalism professor Pat Ferrucci, clinical psychologist Howard Stevenson, and anti-racism educator Travis Jones all shared in painstaking detail how the US public education system is not just failing Black children, it appears to be harming them through adultification and criminalization.
The good news is that presidential candidate Kamala Harris has brought the impact of integration in public schools into the national public’s discourse. The not so good news is that unlike that little girl who was the product of a voluntary busing program in California based on income, most Black children and parents of that era know her experience was and is not our experience.

The racism in public education persists. There are lessons that were not learned from the experiences of first-generation Black students who integrated American public schools.

It’s not that the data isn’t there to support this reality. The Department of Education found that approximately 2.7 million suspensions were handed out in the 2015-2016 school year.  Black students accounted for 15 percent of the student body but were 31 percent of arrests referred to law enforcement authorities.

The Federal Government Accountability Office released a study on the same subject in April of 2018. It concluded that Black students and students with disabilities were overrepresented in disciplinary action: “These disparities were widespread and persisted regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of poverty, or type of public school attended,” the GAO report stated.  
However, that legacy of hostility towards our children persists in today’s public schools. It is time to address the root cause. We the survivors must take off our masks.
The GAO report also gave the “why” for what they believe causes the disparities in disciplining Black children. “Implicit bias - stereotypes or unconscious association about people - on the part of teachers and staff may cause them to judge students’ behaviors differently based on the students’ race and sex.” 

The Department of Education reports that over 80% of teachers are White, female, and have over a decade of experience in the classroom. Therefore, the statistics prove that the ones disproportionately disciplining Black and Brown children are experienced White women. A pay increase, while needed for teachers economically, will not improve this culture for Black children. 

We, the first generation that survived integration and forced busing know this, yet we haven’t said enough or done enough. Looking at busing in hindsight, which is always 20/20, forced integration harmed too many Black children and needed to end. 

However, that legacy of hostility towards our children persists in today’s public schools.  It is time to address the root cause. We the survivors must take off our masks. It’s time for us to tell our story and listen to our children. The ones unborn are depending on us.

Note:  Arthuretta Holmes-Martin is a former Deputy Director of Small and Disadvantaged Business with the Department of Health and Human Services and is a parent of three adult children, one of which has special needs. A TEDx Fellow, she will soon release her memoir, “Public Service Private Pain – Embracing Your Story to Heal from Workplace Abuse.”
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