“This was a nice town before the blacks took over.” I heard this phrase more times than I can count growing up in the southern United States. As a kid, I didn’t think much about it. As an educated adult, I’m appalled.
Crime statistics are quoted repeatedly to justify the use of this phrase, and the idea that black communities are more prone to violence and criminal acts is as ingrained in the southern white belief system as is the Civil War was fought over states’ rights. These crime statistics are not as “black and white” as they appear however, and it is worth a closer look between the lines.
There are too many avenues to tackle about systemic racism, so I’m just going to focus on the role of the education system.
After the Supreme Court ruled that Separate but Equal was unconstitutional in Brown vs Board in 1954, school integration became a reality. Finally, black children had the opportunity to have the quality education that was denied to them under the Separate but Equal law, which had been anything but equal.
Whites, appalled and wounded that their segregated system was under attack again (cause you know, they LOST the Civil War), removed their children from public schools and enrolled them in private schools at an alarming rate. The Southern Education Foundation shows a 120% increase in private school enrollment between 1950 and 1965.
Whites enrolling their children in private schools had multiple effects.
1) Many white families relocated to “whiter” communities to be closer to a private school–which over time led to a disproportionate amount of blacks remaining in the previous community. A term dubbed “White Flight.”
2) Funding for public schools now showing a higher number of black students was cut and redirected into white private schools or other public schools which still reported a higher white population.
But wait, you say. Private schools are funded through tuition, not taxes or federal aid, so how could the funds be re-directed?
While federal taxes are not allocated to private schools, local taxes can be. Meaning, elected state officials had the power to allocate local tax funds away from public schools with growing black enrollees and into all white private schools. Private schools, until the Civil Rights Act of 1965, could discriminate against race, and their tuition rates were far too expensive for most blacks (and still are to a disproportionate degree). With this reallocation of funds, public schools, which were a beacon of hope for blacks, now had significantly less funding to deliver on that promise.
3) Private schools have major flexibility in what they teach because the federal government doesn’t regulate its course content. Many private schools have used this power to distort the true motivations for southern states to secede from the Union, teaching that the Civil War was fought for states’ rights, and conveniently leaving out the rest of the sentence which is “to uphold the institution of slavery.” This lie has led to generations of misguided southern whites on the history of the Civil War, and perpetrated a false notion of white victimhood by both blacks and the United States government.
The Mississippi Secession document signed in 1861 clearly states that the reason for secession was to uphold the institution of slavery, you can view it here for yourself.
The educational victory blacks achieved over Brown vs Board would not be celebrated with the results they hoped for. To further discourage and sabotage blacks from seeking better opportunities in whiter neighborhoods, local elected white officials directed law enforcement to police black communities more frequently. Police brutality and racial profiling increased, and white supremacist groups such as the KKK ramped up their terrorist activities to ensure blacks remained disenfranchised from the rights and liberties guaranteed to them under the Constitution.
More police in black communities led to a skewed statistic of crime rates among black communities vs white communities. Blacks were more likely to be charged with a crime, whereas whites were more likely to be let off with a warning. Today, blacks are still more likely to be charged with a crime than whites, even the same crime, as this study from the NY Times shows.
This increased police presence in black communities also directly translated to a decreased police presence in white communities, further skewing the reports of crime in black neighborhoods compared to white, and effectively creating the false assumption that black communities are unsafe and unfit for integration with whites–a view that spread across the US and continues to influence the perception of black populations today.
*It is important to understand that the smaller number of reported crimes in white neighborhoods does not prove that fewer crimes were being committed by whites, it only proves that fewer charges were being filed against whites. A statement that is still true today.
To the average southern white going about their day, unconcerned with politics (as so many still are), and trusting in their elected officials to uphold the Constitution and their oaths of office, it appeared that integration with blacks threatened public safety and the infrastructure of their communities. As funds were reallocated to whiter districts and public services disintegrated, it was too easy for poor whites to blame blacks than the people they voted into office.
The “Take over of nice towns” by blacks was not a vicious white suppression movement, it was blacks seeking better opportunities for themselves and their children–the very essence of the American dream; the exodus of racist whites offended by blacks seeking equality; and the political manipulation of white supremacist officials directing funds away from communities increasingly less likely to re-elect them. Communities, white and black across the south, were and are severely affected by these policies of systemic racism.
Sixty years ago, towns were more isolated, and it was harder to understand this racial divide and learn about the segregation motives of their elected officials. Now, in 2020, information is literally at our fingertips. There is no excuse now for whites, or any race, to not educate themselves about the history of racism in this country or the political track record and agendas of the officials in office.
Systemic racism is not a black problem, it’s everyone’s problem. The policies enacted to suppress equality not only affect blacks, but also whites and other races–an overwhelming majority of them poor.
*There is no excuse for white ignorance about systemic racism.
Please educate yourselves on the history of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. Look up studies on crime statistics and police bias. Research your elected officials, research election candidates. All of these things are desperately needed to end systemic racism and repair our divided country. All of these things are at your fingertips. We no longer live in a bubble. Technology has given us the power to learn, change, and grow as human beings, and as a nation.
If hearing “Black Lives Matter” offends you, then you don’t understand systemic racism in our country, and you have not taken the time to learn about it. Now is the time.
Every individual has a responsibility to help resolve issues that affect us all. Let’s start with ending systemic racism.
Photo courtesy of @vegan_sloth and @grime_photography