Segregation Is Sort of OK

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Last week, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance telling school districts that segregating students by race is perfectly acceptable, so long as it isn’t strictly enforced.

To its limited credit, OCR conceded that if a school were to host an assembly for students of color and punish white students for attending, that would violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. But if, say, a school hosted a “Black Students’ Assembly with Black Speakers About Black Issues,” and somewhere on the school district website it stipulated that all students were free to attend any assembly, then that would be perfectly acceptable.

OCR illustrated what it would accept and what it might investigate in a series of hypothetical examples. If, for example, a history teacher were to teach a unit denying that the Holocaust happened and asked students to write papers about the various problems that the Jews caused for Germany, that might be grounds for a civil rights investigation. That’s all well and good. Fortunately, no instances remotely approximating this hypothetical have been reported in recent years.

Unless, of course, you replace “Germany” with “America” and “Jews” with “whites.”

There have been plenty of documented instances of teacher trainings and curricular exercises denigrating “whiteness” or “white supremacy culture” (which includes things like “objectivity” and “worship of the written word”). It would seem too obvious to necessitate mentioning that if a school were to instruct staff or students about the evils of “blackness,” that this would be adequate grounds for a civil rights investigation on the basis of a hostile racial environment.

Despite the widespread reports of thinly (if at all) veiled anti-white racism in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion trainings and the so-called “anti-racist” curriculum, OCR does not take this question on directly. It does say that if white parents were to object to the curriculum about “racial justice,” that OCR would likely decline to investigate. And if “racial justice” meant encouraging students to treat people the same regardless of race, then, of course, OCR should not investigate. But too frequently, the critical race theory-infused content peddled under the banner of “racial justice” would consider this form of “colorblindness” to be problematic and racist and directly encourages students to consider race to be an essential moral category.

The absence of hypotheticals approximating the instances that gave rise to the need for this guidance was striking. OCR gives the hypothetical that if a white student group were to host a white nationalist speaker who used racial slurs to suggest that black students did not belong on campus, that this could be grounds for a civil rights investigation. Again, that’s all well and good. But nothing like this has been reported in recent years.

In contrast, there have been numerous reports of asking students to do “privilege walks,” where they must step forward or backward based on prompts including race. These walks, and other exercises like the privilege wheel, communicate the lesson that race is a category imbued with serious moral significance according to the doctrine of intersectionality.

Is this OK? OCR’s silence speaks volumes.

According to OCR, if a school district were to host a “White Students’ Assembly with White Speakers about White Issues,” it would be totally kosher so long as black students could attend if they really wanted to. Of course, they likely wouldn’t want to — because the social dynamic set up by such an assembly is inherently exclusionary and obviously creates a racially hostile environment.

It seems unlikely that any school will test OCR’s commitment to this. Nor does it seem likely that any school will put up signs over some water fountains saying, “For Whites” and signs over others saying, “For Blacks.” But according to the Biden Department of Education, if they wanted to, they could. Just as long as they don’t actually enforce it as a school rule. Never mind that doing such a thing will obviously inherently inflame racial tensions. Because, apparently, segregation is just fine as long as it’s optional.

Reprinted with permission from AEI by Max Eden.

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