Social Justice Usage
Source: “Providing Spaces for Black Students Does Not Mean Segregation.” Washington Square News. August 31, 2020.
It’s also important to note that while Jim Crow laws might be behind us on paper, institutional racism persists. Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by the police than white men and legitimate segregation still exists, though not by law: today, nearly one-fifth of public schools in America have almost no children of color, according to the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
White people have never experienced anything remotely close to systemic racism. While groups of white people have experienced discrimination in the past — like the Irish in the 1800s — there have never been laws put in place to oppress white people as a whole. In fact, anti-Irish sentiments were largely rooted in opposition to their Roman Catholic faith, and Irish immigrants were able to move up the socioeconomic ladder in America by oppressing Black people. Because of this, white people do not need a supportive space in residence halls the way that Black students do. By creating a space for marginalized students in residence halls NYU is not segregating dorms, but providing Black students with a supportive place within an institution where they represent just over 10% of the previous year’s incoming class.
Claiming that white people are being segregated when Black students request a space where they can feel safe and supported not only misrepresents the reality of what NYU is doing, but overlooks the institutional racism that leads Black students to need a supportive space in the first place. There is a difference between a privileged group oppressing another group of people by excluding them from spaces due to race and a marginalized community asking for a space where they can find support. The argument that this is segregation only further shows that the nuances and history of systemic racism are still being completely, if not willfully ignored by many.
New Discourses Commentary
Under normal assumptions, “desegregation” refers to the process of ending segregation (or apartheid) by race or other identity category, especially legally (see also, institutional racism). For example, if it has historically been the case that men and women, or members of different racial groups, are not to occupy the same college at the same time, desegregating the college would mean ending this policy and allowing members of all of the relevant groups to attend the college. Under the assumptions of the Theory of Critical Social Justice, however, this view is considered simplistic and insufficient to address the alleged realities of segregation, which often requires segregating the relevant spaces in a literal sense to achieve desegregation in the Theoretical sense. (One might be tempted to phrase this approach as “segregation is desegregation.”)
Under the Theories of Critical Social Justice, power is believed to be both systemic and hegemonic, which makes it effectively impossible to escape no matter where one goes in the relevant society. For example, in critical race Theory, racism is believed to be systemic and the ordinary state of affairs in society, not an aberration from them, and therefore racism is assumed to be present in all social phenomena, including spaces, organizations, institutions, relationships, and culture. The presence of systemic racism—and thus whiteness and white supremacy—is then posited to automatically segregate a space by preventing people of color from being able to feel fully themselves outside of a circumstance where white people, whiteness, and white supremacy are minimally or not present (see also, diversity, inclusion, and belonging). These alleged nearly ubiquitous social forces are said to be “exclusionary,” “minoritizing,” “marginalizing,” or “oppressive” to people of color, especially BIPOC, who therefore need spaces of their own away from the presence of whiteness entirely to escape them (see also, white gaze and white male subject, and also, male gaze, and also, safe space). Because these forces are posited to create subtle forms of segregation, creating these literally segregated spaces is referred to as “desegregation.”
While the most obvious examples of this literally segregating approach to “desgregation” occur under the auspices of creating safe spaces that admit limited or single identity groups only, a more subtle, complex, and important example arises in the cases of schools. Schools are often considered to be “segregated” within both Critical Social Justice literature and some sociological thought whether segregation is legal or not if there is a significant degree of racial disparity from one school (or school system) to another. For example, if a city’s schools have some schools that are predominantly white and Asian and others that are predominantly black and Latino due to the facts of where people live and how schools are zoned, then it is often argued that the schools in question are segregated because the proportions are not homogenous throughout the entire district. Desegregation efforts would include trying to make changes that change the proportions of students in the schools, or money going to the schools (usually based on property taxes) through various or artificial means.
Within our public schools, we also often segregate students by ability level for various reasons, using programs like “advanced placement,” “honors” or “advanced honors,” “gifted and talented,” and so on, often in a handful of tiers relevant to the students’ academic capabilities. This ability-based segregation is done because it is to the benefit of both students and teachers to group students according to their abilities in the various subjects (grade level, as a proxy for age, is a coarse approximation of ability) and because it creates a meritocratic means by which the best students can receive better instruction in an efficient and effective way while students who need more remedial work can receive it in the proper classroom contexts. Because there are statistical disparities across identity groups (especially race) in average levels of academic success and attainment, however, this practice tends to result in disparities in the racial demographics of the various competency levels. This pattern of discrepancies can apply to various classes within a school (or school system) or across schools (i.e., with better and worse school systems existing within a single geographical area). The “Social Justice” education activists and Theorists (see also, critical pedagogy) then classify this demographic difference that most accurately correlates to actual student ability as a form of de facto “segregation.” Ending all relevant practices and programs that result in such a state of affairs is also referred to as “desegregation.”
In these cases, “desegregation” refers to making policy and system-level changes to the schools, school systems, or departments of education that end any practice that produces (or can produce, in Theory) inequitable outcomes—regardless of their purpose. For example, “gifted and talented” and “advanced placement” programs (which often consume more resources to provide optimal educations to the students most qualified to be admitted to them) are problematized and pressured out of existence because they are disproportionately filled with white, Asian, and Jewish students (see also, model minority). Standardized tests and other assessment tools (e.g., grades) are advocated against because these are used to place students according to their abilities. In the eyes of the activists, this makes the tests, grades, and other assessments “racist” and in need of replacement with “anti-racist” assessment methods that produce more equitable outcomes. Redistributing financial resources between programs and schools is also demanded when the relevant race and identity factors are statistically relevant. All of this is argued to “desegregate” our allegedly “already segregated” schools under the same assumption as above—that which isn’t equitable must be subject to systemic power that is somehow creating “segregation.”
In schools, then, “desegregation” is not necessarily achieved by literal “segregation,” as above—though a literally segregating approach may be used in tandem with redistribution and ending programs to better facilitate diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives in the name of desegregation. It is, instead, a way of averaging our schools, school systems, and educational system down to whatever level of achievement is typical of the relevant protected racial or other identity groups (cf., individualism). Thus, in summary, “desegregation” means a combination of literal segregation (because of the beliefs Theory holds about power dynamics) combined with reimagining the system to optimize around particular sets of minoritized identity groups instead of ability. It will do this while hiding the evidence that this is unlikely to be a good idea, as might be obtained through standardized testing and grades.
Anti-racism; Belonging; BIPOC; Critical; Critical pedagogy; Critical race Theory; Diversity; Equity; Exclusion; Hegemony; Inclusion; Individualism; Institutional racism; Male gaze; Man; Marginalization; Meritocracy; Minoritize; Model minority; Oppression; People of color; Power (systemic); Problematic; Problematize; Race; Racism (systemic); Realities; Reimagine; Safe space; Segregation; Social Justice; Space; System, the; Theory; White; White gaze; White male subject; White supremacy; Whiteness; Woman
Revision date: 12/16/20