The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship. It is blackness that refuses to accept subjugation, to give up. A formidable array of policy assaults and legal contortions has consistently punished black resilience, black resolve.9 And all the while, white rage manages to maintain not only the upper hand but also, apparently, the moral high ground. It’s Giuliani chastising black people to fix the problems in their own neighborhoods instead of always scapegoating the police. It’s the endless narratives about a culture of black poverty that devalues education, hard work, family, and ambition. It’s a mantra told so often that some African Americans themselves have come to believe it.
Imagine the educational prowess our population might now boast had Brown actually been implemented. What a very different nation we would be if all the enormous legal and political efforts that went into subverting and undermining the right to education had actually been used to uphold and ensure that right. If all those hundreds upon hundreds of millions of federal dollars poured into science education had actually rained down on those hungry for education, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income. Think about what a different national conversation we might be having, even as the economy turns ever more surely to knowledge-based, rather than watching our share of the world’s scientists and engineers dwindle.
The future is one that invests in our children by making access to good schools the norm, not the exception, and certainly not dependent on zip code. We know the consequences of dysfunctional school systems. We see the wasted lives, just as clearly as Eisenhower and Congressman Carl Elliott saw them during the Sputnik crisis. At that time, the political leaders chose to look away, to avert their eyes, as if leaving millions of children in segregated, decrepit schools did not undermine the hopes of America’s smallest citizens while also undercutting the strength of the nation as a whole. We can choose not to listen to the rage and, instead, craft a stronger, more viable future for this nation. We can ask tough questions such as: Why use property taxes as the basis for funding schools when that method rewards discriminatory public policy and perpetuates the inequalities that undermine our society?
Since the days of enslavement, African Americans have fought to gain access to quality education. Education can be transformative. It reshapes the health outcomes of a people; it breaks the cycle of poverty; it improves housing conditions; it raises the standard of living. Perhaps, most meaningfully, educational attainment significantly increases voter participation.135 In short, education strengthens a democracy.
The truth is, white rage has undermined democracy, warped the Constitution, weakened the nation’s ability to compete economically, squandered billions of dollars on baseless incarceration, rendered an entire region sick, poor, and woefully undereducated, and left cities nothing less than decimated. All this havoc has been wreaked simply because African Americans wanted to work, get an education, live in decent communities, raise their families, and vote. Because they were unwilling to take no for an answer. Thus, these seemingly isolated episodes reaching back to the nineteenth century and carrying forward to the twenty-first, once fitted together like pieces in a mosaic, reveal a portrait of a nation: one that is the unspoken truth of our racial divide.
Few even think anymore to question the stories, the “studies” of black fathers abandoning their children, of rampant drug use in black neighborhoods, of African American children hating education because school is “acting white”—all of which have been disproved but remain foundational in American lore.10 The truth is that enslaved Africans plotted and worked—hard—with some even fighting in the Union army for their freedom and citizenship. After the Civil War, they took what little they had and built schools, worked the land to establish their economic independence, and searched desperately to bring their families, separated by slavery, back together. That drive, initiative, and resolve, however, was met with the Black Codes, with army troops throwing them off their promised forty acres, and then with a slew of Supreme Court decisions eviscerating the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.
The truth is that the hard-fought victories of the Civil Rights Movement caused a reaction that stripped Brown of its power, severed the jugular of the Voting Rights Act, closed off access to higher education, poured crack cocaine into the inner cities, and locked up more black men proportionally than even apartheid-era South Africa.”