Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Black Flight: Race and Economics Pt. 2

I think Dallas Morning News' brief series on 'black flight' is reports on a significant problem decades in the making; a problem rooted in a number is societal issues and ills that are a mixed bag of race, economics and opportunity (or the lack thereof).

Part of the problem is found in the mobility of young African-Americans, college educated or simply with good jobs, who want a nicer, larger home. Some of them simply like living in proximity to the places they shop, go to church or work. Others simply want their neighborhood and dwelling to reflect the economic progress they are making. A number of them will tell you that what they look for simply cannot be found in south/southern Dallas. Many of them are young parents, some are young people whose plans include starting their own families.

And, yes, there are others who are taking advantage of section 8 vouchers to move into apartments and rental homes.

It's important to point out that all of these families don't come from south or southern Dallas. But according to this important piece by Tawnell Hobbs and Holly Hacker, the loss of 20,000 black students from the school district is a pretty significant migration. They went somewhere. Some of those destination points were some of the southern and southernmost suburbs in Dallas and even Ellis county.

But equally troubling is the apparent nonchalance, if not resignation of DISD's top educator.

"Superintendent Michael Hinojosa did not voice concern with the drop in black students, saying the shift is part of a national trend."

That's probably true, and it is both important and fair to point out that it is a trend that didn't begin with Hinojosa's tenure.

But he hasn't done a lot to help stem the tide either.

Proposals such as the no homework, multiple attempts to take tests; the $84 million shortfall in the district's budget; the loss of learning centers in schools in predominantly black communities, are things which have helped a number of parents lose confidence in the ability of Dallas' public school system to effectively educate their children.

And then there is the issue of race.

There is an undeniable tension between black and Hispanics in Dallas. It has been there for years.

When I worked closely with Dallas Area Interfaith, our efforts to get district funding for after school programs was stymied time and time again by what was called 'the Slam Dunk gang'. This was a voting block, manipulated by the president of the school board to get Hispanics to vote with whites against nearly whatever was proposed by African-American board members.

I spoke with African-American board member Dr. Yvonne Ewell (for whom the Town View Magnet School is named), about the insensitivity and intransigence of administrators in addressing the needs of black students. And this was when black students were in the minority!

Dr. Ewell, Ms. Kathlyn Gilliam were among those whose efforts resulted in federal court mandates to get DISD to address the needs of African-American students through learning centers. Those mandates were to get the district to comply with the 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision...nearly 40 years after the ruling! Hinojosa's recent dismantling of those schools in the name of 'fairness' for all students, essentially undid that compliance.

For some this is moot because 'white flight' long ago left DISD 'majority minority' district. White flight took place because whites wanted to avoid the prospects of having their children going to school with black children. Some of it, did indeed have something to do with upward mobility, but its folly to pretend that racism had nothing to do with it. You have to have been born since 1980 to believe otherwise.

Does black flight represent the same thing? Not to the same extent. African-Americans are, at times, astonishingly resentful of Hispanics 'encroachment' into their neighborhoods and schools.
It is amazing to listen to blacks mouth the same prejudices and bigotries against Hispanics that were spoken about us 40 years ago (and even today). We've allowed ourselves to be co-opted into sentiments about integration that ignore our own history in this country. And have forgotten that in places like South Dallas and the Oak Cliff communities, white people left, when we started moving in. At first blush, lawyer and long time activist Adelfa Callejo seems to have a point when she says, "They're [black people] doing exactly what the whites are doing, abandoning the school district," Callejo said. "That will leave us with a lack of black leadership. You need leaders of all races to make it happen."

African-Americans have to remember that Latinos are now the minority in the district and just as we looked to improve the educational progress of our children when we represented the majority, Hispanics are understandably going to do the same.

But that doesn't mean we have to have 'winners' and 'losers' in this process.

Black flight has to do with more than bigoted attitudes toward Hispanics. But to the extent that it does it is not only wrong, it is detrimental to the future of all of our children.

We can neither forget, nor ignore race. We have to find a way to make it work for us. That means we have to be allies. We cannot afford the fractious nature of internal politics or political enmity between these two communities. Nor can we afford to commit to the naive notion that there are no unique academic challenges imposed by race, culture, ethnicity or economic status. Education is not a generic discipline. It is contextual. It is what we learn, the context in which we learn, from whom we learn and how we learn that determines if we learn.

Blithely mouthing the 'we must teach all of our children' while ignoring the needs of children who don't look like us (whoever 'us' is), is to commit to education policies which will destroy public education. And it only plays into the hands of those who don't care if African-Americans or Hispanics succeed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The shifted demographic does not bode well for the collective Black political voting block. If the Hispanics continue their left leaning trend,they will be the dominate voting block in the Democrat party. The animosity between the two cultures will leave the Black block impotent in party policy, and eventually dissolve the block's influence in party decisions.

it's enevitable