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Plus: A hat tip to our friends at Marketplace for helping inspire this experiment; check out their collection of #GentrificationIs photos from across the country here.
The nation's schools have long been the chief avenue for pursuing racial equality. In striking down legal school segregation in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court said separate could never be equal because being educated separately still had the effect of stigmatizing black children. Integrated schools, the Court wrote, were the key to investing black Americans with the full rights and privileges of citizenship.
For a brief period of time, the courts successfully transformed schools in large swaths of the country. And integrated schools opened the doors to opportunity for black Americans across a broad spectrum of life.
Those efforts at school integration have been largely abandoned. These days, much of the country is mainly concerned with whether black and Latino students are doing better on standardized tests. And Americans often don't much care whether efforts to improve those scores are occurring in still solidly segregated schools.
But the harms of school segregation have never been limited to test scores or contained within classroom walls. Indeed, decades of research make that clear. Adults who attended schools integrated by the federal courts were less likely to be poor and were less likely to go to jail. They lived longer. They were more likely to work in integrated work places, to settle in integrated neighborhoods and to send their own children to integrated schools.
The enduring and expansive consequences of life in a largely dividedAmerica can be devastating, for the effect of segregation has always been to lavish opportunities on some while depriving them to others.
A litany of studies have correlated segregation with an array of social, economic and health consequences. Segregated neighborhoods are more likely to be polluted. They are more apt to have liquor stores than coffee shops and quality grocery stores. They are less likely to have access to top-notch hospitals and doctors. Their residents have higher rates of infant mortality and premature births. Segregated neighborhoods are less likely to have parks and often lose out when it comes to jobs and public services. Segregated schools tend to have less accomplished, less experienced teachers and not to offer kids the classes they need to compete for admission into college.
Segregation and its damage touches virtually every aspect of life in this country. It can feel so ubiquitous, in fact, that it often goes unnoticed. The signs are around us every day — in our schools and along our daily commutes, in shopping malls and church pews, moving through cities and suburbia — whether we pay attention to them or not.
We're working with The New York Times to expose the injustice of segregation and explore what segregation looks and feels like in America today.