To the Editor:
I was shocked to read the article concerning so-called controversy surrounding mere usage of the term “racial segregation” as it relates to public education (“It’s One of the Most Fraught Words in Education. What Does It Mean?” Big Ideas in Education special report, Jan. 8, 2020). There is no area of life within the thoroughly racist, white-supremacist-based U.S. nation-state in which racial segregation is more pronounced and objectively more obvious than in the arena of public education.
I was especially surprised by a quote contained in the article that was attributed to Ibram X. Kendi, who is a leading historian regarding matters of race and racism and is considered as being one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the subject. In fact, I wondered if the writer had quoted Kendi accurately, fully, and in context. He supposedly asserted that “segregation is distinct from separation—it’s involuntary.” I get that racial segregation is “involuntary” for many, such as the millions of students and families stuck, with no viable alternatives, in urban schools with overwhelmingly Black, economically poor student populations. However, from an historical perspective, we know that the pervasive racial segregation we continue to witness today, especially in housing and education (66 years after Brown v. Board of Education), is not the result of involuntary actions. As a matter of fact, the exact opposite is true.
Lastly, Kendi reportedly sees every action as either racist (promoting and/or perpetuating maintenance of race-based inequities) or anti-racist (working against promotion and/or maintenance of race-based inequities). How then does he view this article, which clearly posits that there are legitimate perspectives and arguments relative to the need to be careful or cautious about even so much as discussing segregation?
Is the intent and impact of the article not racist? Surely, we cannot argue (legitimately) that it is anti-racist.
Howard J. Eagle
The College at Brockport, SUNY
A version of this article appeared in the January 22, 2020 edition of Education Week as Whitesplaining Segregation