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White supremacy is at the heart of school segregation

Outside River Hill High School, people protest a plan to redraw boundaries in Howard County to bolster diversity.
Outside River Hill High School, people protest a plan to redraw boundaries in Howard County to bolster diversity. (Photos courtesy of Scott Ewart)

White supremacy is what causes segregation. Losing our focus on this most foundational component of racial capitalism is why Howard County’s redistricting plan is so controversial (“Howard County’s redistricting plan: Progress but not pain-free,” Sept. 10). That being said, this avoidance of calling a thing what it is — racism — is why so many of our social ills continue to thrive and evolve.

Why are some of us so bad at, unwilling and afraid to tell the truth? I’m a somewhat proud graduate of Wilde Lake High School (class of 2003). That hesitation has any number of roots, not the least of which was the calculus teacher who referred to the group of advanced black students as a “posse” and the small problem of being blackballed by the teachers such that I had zero letters of recommendation for college. Fortunately for me, I had strong parental advocates, a supportive and well-respected football coach in Doug Duvall, and a first-year principal who had more than a few compelling reasons to do the right thing.

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The point isn’t that I’m exceptional and for us to look shamefully at the mistake they made — I’m not Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school team. The point is that I had support, I had intellectual gifts and I’ve still had to damn near steal every bit of education I’ve ever received from pre-K to a PhD from the University of Chicago. Every one of my peers — those from historically marginalized groups, low-income and working class backgrounds, first generation high school graduates and college students — faced similar obstacles. The struggle was so familiar to some of us that even we have forgotten what we’ve overcome. And many still chose to fight, but that has not and will never guarantee any success.

To quote the prescient Ta-Nehisi Coates from a 2014 article about Richard Sherman (who at different times sounds like one or two of the students I just mentioned), “There has never been a single thing wrong with black people that the total destruction of white supremacy would not fix.” White supremacy isn’t just a white people problem and it’s not just anti-black, but it will take wealthy white people (very liberal and conservative alike) fighting back against the idea that the world constantly teaches: that what is best is anyone’s divine right.

We all deserve the best our public institutions have to offer whether we’re hard workers, well-behaved, the brightest or none of these things. That’s what it actually means to choose civility. Anything less is another hurdle for us and you, because we will never stop demanding better. Concede, collapse or cooperate. And for those still fighting the good fight, I salute you. All power to all the people.

Marcus Board Jr., Washington, D.C.

The writer is an assistant professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University.

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