Finally Integrating Public Education is All the Reparations We Need

MY TURN-Integrating and raising the academic levels of our schools -- public and private -- is all the reparations we need as a people for this country to finally reach its potential, benefitting ALL our people.

As the superb writer and intellect James Baldwin as well as others have known for generations, an "educated people, of any color, are so extremely rare that it is unquestionably one of the first tasks of a nation to open all of its schools to all of its citizens." 

We did this early in our country's history with the unprecedented opening of our schools for the European "huddled masses yearning to be free." What we didn't anticipate was that these immigrants, who were once the downtrodden peasant dreamers, would turn around and treat Africans, Latinos, and other minorities the way they has been treated in Europe – as a way of nurturing their newly inflated egos and feelings of superiority. Unfortunately, they began to see themselves as the new American ruling class, even as they were becoming no different than the European rulers that they and their ancestors had suffered under, escaped from, and despised. 

"Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a [delusional] dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free -- he has set himself free- for higher dreams, for greater privileges." Right now might be our last chance to reject the self-deceptive and destructive ego trip that White America and some "house Negroes" and Latinos have been on for far too long. All that must end if we are to remain a viable country. 

Given the unprecedented success the United States has achieved in its relatively short existence, one must wonder how much greater our achievements might have been on a national and even international level, if we had used the untapped potential and cooperation of all our people. Rationalized generational racism has gone on for so long here that all races have to some extent bought into negative stereotypes as to who is educable and who is not in our still segregated public schools -- schools where there has been almost no attempt to educate large segments of our population. 

Why has true integration of our public schools been scrupulously avoided? Because there is no way to maintain racial fantasies and cultivated inferiority for the benefit of a few if children of all ages and backgrounds attend integrated schools every day. Those in power will never integrate public education unless we the people -- the majority in our democracy -- force them to do so. 

"The question is not what we can do now for the hypothetical Mexican, the hypothetical Negro. The question is what we really want out of life, for ourselves, what we think is real."


(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles, observer, and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second- generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.