Nationally, black and Hispanic/Latino public school students are now more segregated from whites than at any point in the last four decades. Most policymakers and activists on all sides accept the fact that our metropolitan areas are segregated by race as well as class, and work within its confines. In this age of greatly diminished expectations – the ‘twilight of common dreams,’ as Todd Gitlin once put it – it is assumed either that these patterns aren’t terribly important, or that the practical and political obstacles to changing them are too overwhelming. Today, Democrats and Republicans alike unashamedly promote efforts to “gild the ghetto” with charter schools that are more segregated than regular public schools, and with compensatory education programs that have little chance of truly compensating. But the black-white academic achievement gap is unlikely to narrow much further without revisiting the imperative of residential integration in our metropolitan areas. By ignoring segregation, we thrust the entire burden of our unjust social geography on urban and high poverty schools, leaving white and privileged suburbs untouched.
However, as Richard Rothstein and I argue in "The Cost of Living Apart," in the September/October 2012 issue of The American Prospect, it wasn’t always this way. From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s these geographical inequalities were very much a part of our public discourse. As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) during Richard Nixon’s first term, Republican George Romney – Mitt’s father -- led an ultimately unsuccessful crusade to use the power of the federal purse to ‘loosen the white noose’ and open up the suburbs along lines of race and class. He believed that racial inequalities in education and opportunity could not be overcome any other way. Forty years on, it seems clear that George was right. Unfortunately, as the Democratic and Republican National Conventions near, it appears that neither party is willing to take up the banner of racial integration.
Racial segregation matters -- in Providence and elsewhere
George Romney understood this.