Thursday, June 28

A Day that will Live in Infamy

From Thinkprogress

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In the "biggest school desegregation ruling in more than a decade," the Supreme Court today ruled 5-4 to reject public school assignment plans "that take account of students’ race." The AP reports:

The decision in cases affecting schools in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle could imperil similar plans in hundreds of districts nationwide, and it leaves public school systems with a limited arsenal to maintain racial diversity. ...

[The case] was led by parents challenging the way race is used to assign students to schools for the purpose of integration.

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Like the multiple cases decided in favor of the Bush administration and corporations earlier this week, the majority was formed by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy.

Brown V Board of Education was a landmark decision, one which finally overturned the disgusting Plessy V Ferguson which evicerated the clear language of the 14th Amendment that "all persons will have the equal protection of the laws" and establish the doctrine of "seperate but (un)equal)."

Today the Supreme Court has official disabled schools from being able to fix the problems that were the basis of Brown. Certainly times have changed, thanks largely to Brown, as well as the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Public Accomodations Act we no longer have the open perpetration of Jim Crow.

But what about closet Jim Crow?

How are we to battle the preconceptions and presuppositions which trap both inner-city kids and suburban kids in a cycle of distrust and misunderstanding?

Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion:

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Uh huh. That's like saying the way to stop criminals is to stop paying attention to criminals. See, problem solved. Poof! No more criminals. Time for some Bran Muffins and re-runs of Chris Angel Mind-Freak. The SCOTUS could teach Chris a thing or three.

In dissent Justice Breyer wrote:

Finally, what of the hope and promise of Brown? For much of this Nation’s history, the races remained divided. It was not long ago that people of different races drank from separate fountains, rode on separate buses, and studied in separate schools. In this Court’s finest hour, Brown v. Board of Education challenged this history and helped to change it. For Brown held out a promise. ... It sought one law, one Nation, one people, not simply as a matter of legal principle but in terms of how we actually live. [...]

Many parents, white and black alike, want their children to attend schools with children of different races. Indeed, the very school districts that once spurned integration now strive for it. ... The plurality would decline their modest request.

The plurality is wrong to do so. The last half-century has witnessed great strides toward racial equality, but we have not yet realized the promise of Brown. To invalidate the plans under review is to threaten the promise of Brown. The plurality’s position, I fear, would break that promise. This is a decision that the Court and the Nation will come to regret.

You can bet that we will. I regret it already.

While going to school in L.A., I saw both sides of this issue. At first attending inner-city schools in South Central LA during the 70's when school shootings were common enough that teachers openly joked about them during class. At the same time I was part of an advanced program of students while attending Bret Harte Jr. High. There were about 30 or so "gifted" students who were being taught at classes one year in advance of everyone else. We were given college prep and an understanding of what most university requirements would be, such as a minimum of two-years foreign language study.

There was also a downside.

Besides the obvious, which included crime, drug dealers and prostitution and completely indifferent police which nearly over-ran the neighborhood there were also resource issues. Starting in elementary school I had become a gymnast. Starting literally on the hard rubber mats on our playground me and few friends who were rabid Bruce Lee fans had taught ourselves how to tumble. Round-offs, flip-flops, somersaults the works. Well, almost. Gymnastics is actually far more than that, which I learned when my mom enrolled me in a private classes in Glendale where I learned all six olympic events (Floor Exercize, Rings, High Bar, Parrellel Bar, Vault and Pommel Horse) from a former of the 1968 Japanese Olympic Team, Mitsuo Mori. I studied for about two years and competed with other kids my age from the Valley to Orange County. One of them at my very first meet (me looking riduclous in these cheesy shorts with a huge funky fro) was the really accomplished and confident kid by the name of Mitch Gaylord. We would meet again over the years.

When I reached Jr. High, that all stopped. Cold. My mom was working night-shift and the time it took to take my half-way across town three times a week was wrecking her sleep, not to mention the cost. But Bret Hart didn't have any Gymnastics Equipment available to it what so ever. None. Just some old rusty and disgusting looking deformed pommel horse and a few matts. They had no personel who were knowledgable about Gymnastic on staff - so I had to quit the sport for three years.

We did try to find other trainers who were closer to us than Glendale, and even for a time flirted with the idea of working with 1968 U.S. Olympic team member Mako Sakamoto who had a faciilty in Culver City. As you can imagine Mako and Mori were literally cross-town rivals and somewhat out of loyalty to Mori we didn't take up with Mako. He was also even more expensive than Mori.

When time came to go to High School, a set of marching band recruiters from Birmingham High came to our school. These were inner-city kids like us, but they were also part of the voluantary busing program which took them to a High School in the San Fernando Valley. I was inspired. I had been playing trumpet since I was 10, and had been in band that entire time. Music was a passion but so was Gymnastic were I thought I might have a shot at a potential scholarship. So even though I would have gone to Locke High which had a world class band program, I decided to be join the voluantary busing program. It was a trade-off but it wasn't a hard decision. Birmingham had a great band, but also a decent gymnastics team.

Win-Win right?

Most importantly though, I wanted to get the Hell Out of South Central. Being labeled one of the "smart kids" in a gang neighborhood was no picnic. As it turned out, I didn't go to Birmingham (which is the same school that Moon Unit Zappa of "Valley Girl" infamy went to), I was bused to another school down the road named Cleveland High. Their band wasn't that great, and neither was their gymnastics team - but at least they had both, while Locke only had a band and the same rusted out broken down Gym equipment I'd had to contend with at Bret Hart.

I soldiered on. The pick-up time for the Bus was 6am, after which it would drive 35 miles north up the 405 through the Sepulveda Pass, past Bell Aire, Encino and into Northridge where Cleveland High was located. Because I was in either the band, which practiced afterschool and a during half-time at Football games or at afterschool gymnatics practice I didn't take the normal Bus home at 4pm, I took the late Bus at 6:30 arriving home at 8pm. Oh, and did I mention the walk? The bus didn't stop right at my house, I had to walk about 15 blocks to the stop - so now we're talking leaving the house at 5:30 am and returning home at 8:30-9pm.

Oddly enough I went from being one of the "gifted" kids at Bret Harte to being just another average kid at Cleveland. Maybe it's because I wasn't as smart as everyone seemed to think, or maybe it was the fact that they didn't have a gifted program. Getting back into Gymnastics was a lot harder than it seemed after taking three years off. It took me nearly a year to get back up to the level I had been with Mori - almost four years previously. It was pretty discouraging. And unfortunately I didn't really leave South Central behind - because it rode with me every morning and evening on the bus. Yet again, I was still "the smart kid" to all the jocks who had been recruited by the Valley Schools for their football and basketball teams.

"I bet you get straight 'A's don't cha?" they would say mockingly.

"No, look I got a "C" right here." I would sheepishly defend. "I'm not perfect."

Riding home, I would never get a seat, cuz all these guys were way too macho to sit with another dude. Particular a skinny little guy like me. Fortunately I didn't give a shit, I had my trumpet case - so I sat on that in the middle of the aisle far enough back that the bus driver wouldn't have a heart-attack. Since Cleveland's band was going nowhere I joined the All City Marching Band during my senior year and was able to march in the 1981 Rose Parade. Big whoop. That same year Locke's Band won the Grand Sweepstakes in the City wide competition for the first time ever.

Eventually I graduated, without a scholarship either in academics (because being too much of a brain would have been "uncool"?) or gymnastics. Y'see the kids who'd stayed in private training had effectively kicked my ass during competition season, some of them at Monroe High even kicked the ass of some of the kids who I used to compete with back in my Mori days (Jim Rix, who was my age and a senior was also on the Monroe High team with these two tenth graders who were just Insanely good.) If Jim - who was effectively neck and neck with me back in the day - couldn't keep up with them, I pretty much didn't have a chance at it after falling three years behind. Still, one of best gymnasts in town was Mitch Gaylord who went to Grant High. I met him once at an semi-final meet, he was kind of an egotistical prick.

Anyway, I was accepted to UCLA - my dream school - but couldn't afford it.

Ironically one of my old team-mates with Mori, Tippy Schoolhouse (yes, that's his real name - don't ask) actually did get a gymnastics scholarship to UCLA only he decided to pass on it in moment of indecision and it was given to the next person in line - wouldn't you know - it was Mitch Gaylord.

UCLA's coach during that time was - get this - Mako Sakamoto. Mako would later become the coach for the 1984 Oympic Team in Los Angeles, which included, you guessed it - Mitch Gaylord.

Mitch went on to make a really shitty movie about Gymnastics, so I guess I got my (and Tippy's) revenge of sorts.

In conclusion, I'm not sure I have a conclusion. Being voluantarily bused was an amazing, weird, enlightening, scary experience. I met a lot of people besides latinos and blacks from South Central, that I simply would have never gotten to know otherwise. And also - they got to meet me. As much as the others kids who were bused with me may have succombed to racist stereotypes themselves and effectively embraced them, taking pride in their "Dumb Macho Jock" status - I was able to defy that stereotype and show that we weren't all cut from the "same cloth."

Here's the thing I suppose. One of the other kids who had been with me at Bret Harte was named Gary Rippetoe (no, I am NOT making these names up!) he played clarinet in the band and was a couple years older. Gary didn't chose to be bused and instead went to Locke High and joined their band. Both of us would meet up again working in the IT department of Northrop Grumman just a few years later. We may have taken different paths, but we arrived at the same place.

Thinkprogress is linking to a study on integration which indicates that it is one of the best ways to "narrow the educational gap".

A key study by University of Wisconsin professor Douglas Harris, using empirical data gathered from No Child Left Behind, shows that desegregation remains the most effective way of closing this gap:

African Americans and Hispanics learn more in integrated schools. Minorities attending integrated schools also perform better in college attendance and employment.

– Controlled choice and other forms of desegregation benefit minority students.
– Racial integration is a rare case where an educational policy appears to improve educational equity at little financial cost.

Empirical evidence may indicate this is true. To hear him tell it, Gary experienced a great deal of the same ostricization that I had during my bus trips. I guess that one difference was, once I was off the bus, I didn't have to deal with those guys unless I wanted to - and I didn't. In Gary's case it was everywhere. He had no escape and simply chose to persevere in self-imposed isolation anyway.

Another aspect of this which is frequently overlooked, isn't just a matter of how inner-city kids perform when you change their environment - it's also how they can affect and change the perceptions of those they meet from other communities. School isn't just about what you learn in class, it's also about what you learn about and from the other students. Sports teaches you teamwork, planning, strategy and organization. Some stereotypes may be confirmed, others may be shattered. The most important thing to learn is that any individual, is first and foremost - an individual who may or may not confirm to any of your expectations. Anyone at anytime just might surprise you.

You can't learn that if you never meet or interact with anyone different from yourself.

Today I mourn the loss of the oppurtunity that I had to learn that lesson may now be lost to generations of young people who should've been able to benefit from Brown and have the experiences I gained, but Gary didn't.

To me, this day will live in infamy.

Vyan

P.S. Gary died of Cancer about a decade ago - he wasn't even 40 yet.


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