Segregation Forever

In the next two months a federal judge will declare the Dallas Public Schools officially desegregated. That designation--desegregated at last!--will close a battle over racism that has consumed the city and the school system for a third of a century. And at that point people on both sides agree the universe of Dallas children will be almost totally segregated--black and Hispanic kids on one side of the equator, whites on the other. Victory!

A few years from now the school district will be populated almost entirely by children of color who may go through their student careers and never share a classroom with a white child. The white kids will be somewhere else, in private school or the 'burbs.

But here is a point to keep in mind: This is the black Dallas dream come true, as well as the white. If the traditional black leadership and the traditional white leadership of Dallas could link arms under any banner, their flag would cry, "Segregation forever!"

You thought the goal was integration. You were wrong. One of the most important figures in the abandonment of integration in Dallas was former school board president and black leader Kathlyn Gilliam. She's going to parse words eight ways to Sunday to tell you that the system she and other black leaders helped achieve here is not "separate but equal."

"It's not about 'separate but equal,'" she says, "but if it's anything about 'separate,' it's 'separate but addressing the equitable question.'"

Confused? Sure, because it's bullshit. "Separate but addressing the equitable question" is the same thing as separate but equal--exactly the kind of system the Supreme Court threw out in 1954 when integration of the schools began. And now it's about to receive the permanent blessing of the federal courts in Dallas.

There is no crystal ball to show the long-range effect of preparing children for the very diverse world ahead of them by bringing them up in racial separation. The worst outcome may be simply not teaching them how to deal with each other.

In a recent weeks-long court hearing, there was testimony suggesting that the few high schools left with any significant white presence--as high as 20 percent in some schools--are viewed as a problem of sorts. White parents are all sharp elbows and knees, it was suggested, shoehorning their kids into scarce advanced placement courses at the expense of kids of color. No mention was made of recent research showing that all middle-class parents, no matter what their ethnicity, are pushy and obnoxious. Some school systems in the Northeast are trying to integrate the middle class back into poor schools for that very reason--because pushy, obnoxious people are exactly the role models poor people need.

But there is another point you have to keep in mind, as well--an especially bitter pill for people who hate the idea of any kind of racial separation for any reason. According to the testimony in that same hearing, the Dallas separate-but-equal system seems to be working like gangbusters, in terms of teaching kids how to read, write and do their sums.

The results are still recent; too recent, some will argue, to trust. But according to the evidence presented in court, the Dallas Independent School District is doing an excellent job of teaching the poorest, most deprived minority kids. Give the system a chance--get the more extreme loony tunes out of school headquarters, give the poor devils a decent superintendent, for goodness sake, and a little whisper of stability, and this district could even be on its way to becoming one of the best urban school systems in the country for academic achievement.

Stick some of that in your pipe and smoke it, you liberals. And that includes me.

Nothing tells the story of Dallas like the schools. If you want to solve the riddle of color here--less a question of overt hostility, more like diplomacy between nations, a matter of social distance more than friction, caste more than race--you have to work the puzzle of the city's battle over school desegregation.

All indications are that U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders will close the 33-year-old Tasby school desegregation suit in the weeks ahead when he rules on a district motion to get out from under court supervision. The only reason the Dallas Public Schools are still in court is because five years ago, when the district suffered a mental breakdown, it stopped even trying to meet the final list of conditions the judge had set for getting out. Now the district says it has satisfied those terms, and it seems to have the numbers to prove it.

The black plaintiffs more or less agreed that most of those conditions have been met or are in the process of being met but asked the judge not to dismiss the district from the suit for another five years just to be sure. I'm no expert, but I don't remember "just to be sure" as grounds for incarceration in this country. And after sitting through a week and a half of testimony in his courtroom in late March and early April, I didn't see any signs that Sanders, at 78, is looking for ways to drag this thing out. My prediction is that he's going to declare it a huge success and kick it over the goalposts of justice.