By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Excerpt from the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.
On May 17, 1954 (60 years ago) the Supreme Court of the United States of America issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling declaring that racially segregated public schools were unequal.
The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution was used as the argument to end the practice of forcing African-Americans to attend segregated and inferior public schools. The argument against desegregation was that the schools for White Americans and the schools for African-Americans were separate but equal.
Every African-American who had attended those racially segregated schools knew that was not true. African-Americans, including Maya Angelou, Mildred Taylor, bell hooks and Richard Wright, wrote about their experiences attending segregated schools.
In the 1976 book Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, African-American author, Mildred D. Taylor, writes about a separate but unequal school for African-Americans in 1930s Mississippi: “The Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School, one of the largest Black schools in the county, was a dismal end to an hour’s journey. Consisting of four weather-beaten wooden houses on stilts of brick, 320 students, seven teachers, a principal, a caretaker, and the caretaker’s cow, the school was located near three plantations.”
In Roll of Thunder, Taylor also writes about the textbooks that were provided to the African-American students after White students had used the books until they were dirty and falling apart. These textbooks were considered suitable to be passed on to African-American students after the Board of Education had deemed them unsuitable for use by White students.
In the 2003 book Brown V. Board of Education: The Case Against School Segregation, White American author Wayne Anderson writes: “The attitude of most policy makers in the South (and many in the North) was that education was wasted on African-Americans, whom they regarded as not being much more than a cheap source for labor. Accordingly, the southern states spent comparatively little on public education for blacks. Black schools were inferior in every way. Typically they were housed in rundown buildings that lacked adequate heating and plumbing.”
On December 8, 1953 African-American lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, in his argument for the plaintiffs in the Brown v. Board of Education said: “They can’t take race out of this case. From the day this case was filed until this moment, nobody has in any form or fashion, despite the fact I made it clear in the opening argument that I was relying on it, done anything to distinguish this statute from the Black Codes, which they must admit, because nobody can dispute, say anything anybody wants to say, one way or the other, the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to deprive the states of power to enforce Black Codes or anything else like it.
“It can’t be color because there are Negroes as white as the drifted snow, with blue eyes, and they are just as segregated as the colored man. The only thing can be is an inherent determination that the people who were formerly in slavery, regardless of anything else, shall be kept as near that stage as is possible, and now is the time, we submit, that this Court should make it clear that that is not what our Constitution stands for.”
Marshall’s argument in this case is considered one of the great Civil Rights speeches and is included in the 2003 book Ripples of Hope: Great American Civil Rights Speeches, edited by Josh Gottheimer.
This landmark case is considered the official beginning of the modern Civil Rights campaign which eventually led to legal (at least on paper) desegregation of American society.
Although African-Americans were at the forefront of this fight and countless African-American lives were lost in this struggle, African-Americans are not the main beneficiaries of the Civil Rights struggle and the resulting laws. Other racialized people have benefited to such an extent that some of them have become proponents of White supremacy and target African-Americans. Some of the more infamous of this ilk are Ted Cruz, Dinesh D’Souza and Geraldo Rivera.
The other group that has benefited tremendously from the sacrifices of African-Americans during the Civil Rights struggle/movement and the subsequent Affirmative Action laws are (www.ncsu.edu/project/oeo-training/aa/beneficiaries.htm) White women: “According to the United States Labor Department, the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action are White women. The Department of Labor estimated that six million women workers are in higher occupational classifications today than they would have been without affirmative action policies.”
North Carolina State University is just one of many sites where information about White women being the main beneficiaries of Affirmative Action is available.
When the decision to desegregate public schools in the United States was made on May 17, 1954 Canada had not desegregated all its public schools. The myth of a non-racist Canada makes it surprising to many people that at one point African Canadians were forced to attend separate and unequal schools in this country as in the U.S. It was not until the 1960s after concerned African Canadians took up the challenge of desegregating these schools that they were closed.
The last segregated school in Ontario (Merlin, Ontario near Chatham) closed in 1965 and the last segregated school in Canada closed in Nova Scotia in 1983. In his 1980 book A History of Blacks in Canada: A Study Guide for Teachers and Students, White Canadian author, James W. St. G. Walker, wrote: “Blacks were denied equal use of public schools in Nova Scotia and Ontario, and this division was recognized by the law. The most important manifestation of colour prejudice in Canadian history is in education.”
White supremacist ideas in public education is alive and well here in the Great White North in the 21st century. On March 5, 2007, an African Canadian teacher teaching in a French Language School (École Francois Buote) in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) was vilified by a group of White “colleagues” in a video where one of the White staff was in Blackface.
The video was shown at a staff meeting. A complaint was made to the P.E.I. Human Rights Commission, which took six years (January 2013) to make a decision. The School Board apologized. “The French School Board acknowledges that the skit was inappropriate and unacceptable and regrets that the comments made by Mr. Gilles Benoit, the school principal, may have given the impression that the incident was not a serious matter. The French School Board wishes to ensure no person or group feels discriminated against.”
Just last week on May 6, 2014 I read this on the website of Citynews Toronto and watched the accompanying video: “Warning: contains disturbing content. Here’s video of a schoolyard fight that reportedly took place at Sutton District High School in April. Source: YouTube.”
In the video, a 17-year-old African Canadian student is defending himself in a physical attack by a White student who is encouraged by a group of other White students making blatantly White supremacist remarks. Eventually some of the other White students become involved in the physical altercation.
In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education when African-American students were finally allowed to enter “White” public schools, the mental, psychological, physical and spiritual injury to which they were subjected by White adults and children was horrendous. In the 21st century, the physical abuse and White supremacist taunts to which the 17-year-old African Canadian student was subjected is mindboggling.
A friend who lives in the Southern U.S. called me to verify that this really happened in Canada. It has been 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education was decided in the U.S. What is happening in Canada in 2014?
The culture of denial and blame the victim has been the response from the White community where this child was physically and psychologically abused.