Still Separate, Still Unequal

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Social equality in our daily lives cannot be achieved without Americans working together for change. When black students started sit-ins in the 1960s to protest segregation, white students joined, provoking an unmistakable message — we are equal, and we are brothers and sisters.

Michelle Obama’s speech addressed graduating high school students in Topeka, Kansas, on May 16, and sought to redress the issue of segregation and racist ideology. Held on the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, a 1954 decision outlawing segregation in public schools, Mrs. Obama warned our future generation that segregation is back in our public schools.

Beginning in the early 1990s, a series of Supreme Court decisions fundamentally changed desegregation law, causing many key desegregation policies such as the federal review provisions of the Voting Rights Act, to come to an abrupt halt. Segregation increased substantially after desegregation plans were terminated in many large districts, including in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, according to the UCLA Civil Rights Project’s May 2014 report.

Mrs. Obama’s message serves as a reminder to Americans that many communities are becoming less diverse and that many districts are withdrawing efforts to actively integrate schools.

The May 2014 report by the UCLA Civil Rights Project revealed that while schools aren’t as segregated as they were pre-1954, much of the progress made after 1967 has been abandoned. Black and Latino students are moving to areas with very few white students — these students mostly attend schools with a substantial majority of comparatively poor students.

In New York, Michigan, Maryland and Illinois, over 50 percent of black students attend schools where 90 percent of the institution is a “minority.” Latino students in New York, Texas and California face similar discrepancies — our state currently tops the list as the most segregated state for Latino students.

Mrs. Obama illuminated the wide-reaching impacts of segregation by adding that even schools which are integrated by the numbers aren’t actually “integrated.”

“You see students from different backgrounds sitting at separate lunch tables, or tracked into different classes, or separated into different clubs or activities,” Mrs. Obama said.

Critics are painting Mrs. Obama’s speech as a move by the left to impose the federal government’s thoughts into their family life — Michelle Obama, while a public figure, is most definitely not “the government,” and has every right to express her opinions against hatred to a group of graduating high school students.

The notion that she’s trying to use kids to monitor their families for racist comments, which Michelle Obama categorizes in her speech as forms of prejudice, is edging on paranoia. Michelle Obama’s speech serves as a means to spark the minds of future generations into thinking critically about racism and hate. Integration can only be fully reached through changing social attitudes — what good is having a legally integrated environment if there is no cooperation or communication?

Schools should teach students to focus on differences of opinion rather than appearance. Doing so will foster a greater appreciation of individuals’ backgrounds that is not blinded by prejudice. We can’t grow together and move toward greater social equality when deep social divisions exist in an atmosphere claiming to be desegregated.

Mrs. Obama called on young Americans to “politely inform [racists] that they’re talking about your friends.”

“When you encounter folks who still hold the old prejudices because they’ve only been around folks like themselves, Mrs. Obama said, “when you meet folks who think they know all the answers because they’ve never heard any other viewpoints, it’s up to you to help them see things differently.”