A Symptom of a Greater Sickness

How Ferguson’s Roots Run From Our
Schools To The Supreme Court
For The
There is nothing that I can say about the shooting of Michael Brown that hasn’t been said
before by people whose experience affords them a perspective and an authenticity that I lack
for the simple reason that I am white. No matter how deeply and ardently I want to empathie
with the plight of black and latino and arab !mericans who are racially profiled and harassed" I
will always fail because I can never know what it’s like not to live with white privilege.
!nything I say or write concerning racial pre#udice against another group of people can be
academic and it can be emotional" but it cannot be authentic because I have to imagine what it
would feel like to have a cop stop and frisk me because of the color of my skin. I can point out
the fact that the $t. %ouis" Missouri&Illinois $tatistical !rea is the 'th most segregated metro
area in !merica" but that doesn’t mean I have the slightest clue what it feels like to be accosted
by an overealous security guard for the crime of shopping while black. ! (ispanic woman
living in Birmingham or a black man living in )akland doesn’t have to imagine* they can #ust
remember. +hether I want to admit it to myself or not" I am one of the ma#ority and I have
benefitted from the fruits of a racially biased system. I was brought into this world with an
ivory spoon in my mouth and a get out of #ail free card in my hand in a country that has blaed
with the fires of racial violence for the entirety of its being. I am the negative image of Mike
Sadly, the Ferguson Police Department, the St. Louis County Police, the Missouri
Highway Patrol and the Governors !""ice have #een more interested in o#"uscation
and damage control than in "inding answers. $Photo% St. Louis Post&Dispatch, '.(.
For#es)*ssociated Press+
For the totality o" my primary education, , attended a tiny private college preparatory
school in Cincinnati called -he . Hills School. Cincinnati #eing the historically Catholic
town that it is, . Hills was, along with -he Cincinnati Country Day School, one o" the
only two options "or parents living in the city who wanted to provide their children
with a /&thru&01 private school education, #ut didnt want a heaping helping o" 'esus
to go along with it. 2hen , was in primary school, the decision o" whether or not you
sent your child to . Hills or CCDS said a great deal a#out your the ma3eup o" your
"amily, speci"ically with regards to political a""iliations.
Located outside the city limits in the posh environs o" the su#ur# o" ,ndian Hill$0+, the
Cincinnati Country Day School has historically #een the home o" the citys moneyed
elite and can claim among its graduates the li3es o" 4S Senator 5o# Portman, "ormer
!hio Governor (o# -a"t, (ush $67+ 2hite House Deputy Chie" o" Sta"" 'oe Hagin and
Florida Marlins 8ice President and General Manager Michael Hill. ," the schools name
sounds vaguely "amiliar, it might #e #ecause it #ecame em#roiled in a minor scandal
a"ter the movie -ra""ic was released with a scene in which one o" the "ilms co3e&
snorting teenage trust "unders said that she attended Cincinnati Country Day during
an interrogation scene.
For their part, -he . Hills School was 3ind o" li3e CCDSs wac3y li#eral cousin. (uilt
within the city itsel" in two mi9ed&income neigh#orhoods, . Hills made up "or its lac3
o" upper&class pedigree with an e9perimental approach to teaching that was 3ind o" a
sampler platter o" progressive educational philosophies. -hats not to say that the
schools student #ody didnt overwhelmingly come "rom upper& middle class "amilies
$it did+ or that the tuition there wasnt prohi#itively steep $it was+. ,ts :ust that the
schools re"ormist ta3e on education attracted "amilies and teachers who generally
shared more radical designs concerning how and what children should learn.
," . Hills had a ma:or shortcoming while , was going to school there, it was that it was
still mired in the sort o" racial to3enism that is less a#out creating a genuinely
multicultural learning environment than it is a#out #eing a#le to present the illusion o"
integration in your promotional literature. Having one or $on occasion+ two #lac3 3ids
in a classroom doesnt ma3e a culturally competent school environment. ,nstead, it
:ust "orces the lone *"rican&*merican student in the classroom into the aw3ward role
o" #eing the uno""icial e9pert on #lac3ness, and god help you i" youre the un"ortunate
soul who "inds him or hersel" as the only #lac3 3id in an ;nglish class thats discussing
Huc3 Finn. , cant spea3 "rom e9perience, #ut , dont thin3 that sitting through an
hour long class where all o" my white peers pro""ered their opinions on the societal
appropriateness o" the most to9ic ethnic slur our country has to o""er would #e my idea
o" a good time.
2hen , was senior, the school was still struggling with its overa#undance o" white
students and, in an e""ort to loo3 "orward&thin3ing, had hired a <diversity consultant=
to come into my *P ;nglish Lit class and tal3 to us a#out racial tolerance and cultural
sensitivity and the li3e. -his diversity guru proceeded to spend the #ul3 o" our 6>
minute class period lecturing us a#out all o" the attendant virtues o" racial integration
and urging us to #ecome champions o" inclusivity and cross&cultural learning.
-hroughout the course o" her spiel, the woman did her #est to try and gently shame us
"or living a largely whitewashed e9istence and encouraged the whole class to #roaden
our prover#ial hori?ons concerning our peer group, as i" we had much say over such
matters at that time in our lives. 2hat she had to o""er were platitudes@ cri# notes "rom
the 1Ath century play#oo3 o" race relations that voci"erously supports racial eBuality in
pu#lic while Buietly avoiding it in private. 2e were only #eing lectured so that the
schools #oard o" directors and mar3eting department could proclaim to the masses
that their school had a <commitment to diversity,= whatever the hell that means. Cou
didnt need a diversity consultant to "igure out that my high school wasnt e9actly a
wal3ing, tal3ing (enetton ad. Hell, a > year old could have told you that the school
wasnt diverse. D *"rican&*merican and #iracial 3ids in a class o" E. does not ma3e "or
a diverse student #ody, especially when the racial ma3eup o" the city the school is
located in is split pretty much >A&>A #etween #lac3s and whites.$1+
Many peopleFmost o" them whiteF"eel that enrolling their 3ids in schools that re"lect
the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity o" the regions they live in isnt terri#ly high on
their priority list. -his is not to say that these "ol3s dont pu#licly e9press support "or a
diverse school environment, #ecause many o" them do. ,n "act, when as3ed a#out their
general attitudes on the su#:ect, D>G o" *mericans openly state that they #elieve #lac3
and white children should attend the same school. -his may seem li3e a given to us
now, #utas recently as 0D>H hal" o" *merican whites were supportive o" a segregated
educational system. -he "act that the vast ma:ority o" *mericans now say that they
support integrated schooling is ma:or achievement, especially when you consider that
some o" those who support the practice now grew up in "amilies that preached
<segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation "orever=$7+.
However, a good num#er o" these endorsements o" integrated education e9ist only in
the a#stract or in very small doses. For instance, when as3ed in a 1AA6 poll what type
o" racial composition they thought would #e pre"era#le in a school environment, E7G
o" respondents said that they would choose a school that was <mostly mi9ed=.
However, in the same poll, .EG o" people said that they would rather leave their
children in a local community school that was more or less racially segregated than
send them to a diverse school outside o" their community. ,ts the Buintessential non&
denial denial o" the Iot ,n My (ac3yard $I,M(C+ set.<2ell, o" course , want my #oy to
go to school with #lac3 and hispanic 3ids. -he thing is there :ust arent that many o"
them in our neigh#orhood and i" you try to #us any o" them in or #us mine out, theres
going to #e hell to pay.=
2ith tear gas #urning a womans eyes, protesters pour mil3 on her to try and ease her
pain. $Photo% 'oshua Lott)Getty ,mages+
For some#ody else, the prevailing wisdom has it, racially and economically mi9ed
schools and neigh#orhoods are "antastic. (ut theyre not "or us. My
neigh#orhood and my "amily and my children will not #e #rought down #y those
people. Iow, in this diverse, multi&ethnic, post&D)00 society o" ours, the groups
re"erred to as those people can #e many and varied, #ut more o"ten than not, the #ar#s
intended target is the same as its ever #een in the hate"ul racial history o" our nation.
-he "ear and the vitriol and the disdain havent gone away. -heyve :ust moved to the
su#ur#s and the e9ur#s, where theyve ta3en on a gloss o" wet, tolerant paint. Despite
all this lovely rhetoric a#out living in a <post& racial *merica=, our nations pu#lic
schools are more segregated today than they were in 6A years ago and the poverty rate
among children o" *"rican&*merican, Hispanic or Latino, and *merican ,ndian
descent is nearly 7 times that o" white children. Government o""icials and policy won3s
o"ten "ocus on the "iscal e""ects o" <racially isolated= minority school districts whose
#udgets are considera#ly lower than their ma:ority white counterparts, #ut dollars and
cents only gets at a small part o" the pro#lem. More than anything, it is the physical
and emotional distance #etween white and non& white students that perpetuates a
culture o" race&#ased "ear and distrust.
,t is this distance that not only allows tragedies li3e the murder o" an unarmed 0E&year
old #y a police o""icer in Ferguson, Missouri to occur, #ut provides them with an
environment in which they are commonplace. -hat the murder o" Michael (rown #y
the St. Louis County Police Department was sandwiched :ust days #etween those
o" ;ric Garner #y the ICPD and ;?ell Ford at the hands o" the L*PDis not coincidence
and it is not an a#erration@ it is simply normal. Ior is it coincidence that Missouri
Governor 'ay Ii9on $D+, a man who was completely a#sent "rom any discussion or
action in Ferguson "or > days a"ter the shooting too3 place, #egan his career as
Missouris *ttorney General in 0DD7 #y "iling a motion to scrap St. Louiss court&
ordered desegregation program.
!ver the past several days, many mem#ers o" the media and the general pu#lic have
made the o#servation that the images they were seeing o" uni"ormed white o""icers
with police dogs at their sides staring down local #lac3 residents and phalan9es o"
militari?ed law en"orcement "iring tear gas and ru##er #ullets at non&violent protesters
loo3 li3e scenes ta3en "rom the Deep South in 0DH6 rather than ones "rom a #order
state in 1A06. How, many as3, can this #e happening here nowJ How can this #e
happening when we have a #lac3 President and live in a <post&racial society=J , thought
we were past this, they say, as i" a couple o" decades o" hal"&assed #ussing programs
and a""irmative action policies were going to undo more than 7AA years o" slavery and
systemic oppression.
-hus "ar, the hallmar3 o" civil rights "or #lac3s in the 10st century has #een regression
and loss. ," you want to harp on (arac3 !#amas race, then youre more than entitled
to do so, #ut his success in running "or o""ice has a#out as large a concrete impact on
day&to&day e9periences o" *"rican&*mericans in this country as !prahs media empire
does. -he truly important thingsFthe policies that aim to level the playing "ield "or
every one o" us in this countryFhave #een allowed to wither and wilt. *""irmative
action, a policy that has ena#led millions o" people o" color to attend universities that
they otherwise would have #een re:ected "rom, has #een wea3ened and e9posed #y a
Supreme Court decision that deems it constitutional "or states to enact #allot
initiatives that #an the practice. -he 8oting 5ights *ct, a piece o" legislation that had
propped open the doors o" polling places in the South and all across our country to
previously disen"ranchised minorities "or close to >A years, was slammed shut #y a
Supreme Court ruling that allowed D states with the longest histories o" racially&#ased
voter "raud to pass voting laws without the Federal governments #lessing.
!ur schools and neigh#orhoods are re&segregating, our :ustice system has #een
systemically rigged to incarcerate #lac3s at disproportionate rates "or the same crime
as whites, our voting rights sa"eguards are in tatters, a""irmative action is in mortal
danger, race&#ased income ineBuality is s3yroc3eting and our police "orces have #een
allowed to stoc3pile o#scene amounts o" military eBuipment that have no utility
outside o" stri3ing "ear into the hearts o" the people they have #een sworn to protect.
For me, the operative Buestion isnt how can this unrest in Ferguson #e happening
nowJ ,t is how has this unrest not happened more o"tenJ
./0 -o give you an idea o" the type o" ultra conservative money that ma3es its home
in ,ndian Hill, the neigh#orhood was second only to Manhattans 4pper ;ast Side in
donations to the (ush)Cheney re&election campaign in 1AA6.
.10 *ccording to the 1A0A Hamilton County <5ace 5eport=, the city o" Cincinnati
was 66.HG *"rican&*merican and 6E.0G 2hite, with no other ethnic group getting
more than 7G share o" the population. (y contrast, the much larger Cincinnati
Metropolitan Statistical *rea, which includes parts o" Iorthern /entuc3y and
Southeast ,ndiana, is 01G *"rican&*merican and E0.7G 2hite.
$7+ -his Buote comes "rom "ormer *la#ama Governor George 2allaces inaugural
gu#ernatorial address in 0DH7, at the height o" the pitched #attle #etween the "ederal
government and states in the deep south over desegregation in the wa3e o" (rown vs
-he (oard o" ;ducation and the #urgeoning civil rights movement in *merica. ,n less
than H months, 2allace would cement his legacy as the souths most theatrically
#igoted governor #y standing in the doorway to 4niversity o" *la#amas Foster
*uditorium, ma3ing an asinine attempt to stop 7 young men and women "rom
#ecoming the "irst #lac3s to attend the school. ,ronically enough, the man who once
pledged to uphold segregation "orever in 0DH7 only #ac3ed the institution "or another
decade or so. Shortly a"ter he was paraly?ed "rom the waist down a"ter an assassination
attempt while campaigning "or President in 0D.1, 2allace recanted his earlier
statement, ac3nowledging his wrongdoing and apologi?ing to civil rights leaders li3e
'ohn lewis "or his actions.
Posted #y -havam

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