Segregation By “Choice?”

(This is my yearbook photo from 9th grade)

Berkeley Unified was one of the first districts in the country to integrate “by choice”. That sounds terrific — they didn’t need a court to order them to do, but as I’ve mentioned in my post: Reality Check http://mixedgirlsurvivalschool.com/reality-check/ Even though the buses brought the Black children to my Berkeley Hills (the White part of town) elementary school, self-segregation ruled all interactions…it’s what the kids chose. As I mentioned, the next school in the district I attended, called Equal One http://mixedgirlsurvivalschool.com/cultural-continuity-a-great-concept-hard-to-execute/,was intentionally re-segregated by design in order to match teacher/student culture. That did not go well, for me. I ended up begging to spend my 6th grade year in the Asian program, which I did…and it was actually the least racial pressure I ever felt, in fact hanging with that “nerd-crew” got me through junior high. But by the time I arrived at Berkeley High, I wanted to be cool. Never good. The Berkeley High campus was just as segregated as my first school playground. However since I was raised in The Hills, I naturally gravitated to my neighbors: the Fogerty boys, Saul Zaentz’s son, Tim Hutton, etc., who hung out next to the Community Theater — with my white-girl friends — sporting Farrah Fawcett “wings”, and other perfect 70s pop-culture looks — who nabbed boy-friends right away. With my giant Afro, I was the awkward third wheel. The sad part is that since I regularly walked by the Black part of the campus to get to the office and the gym, I was noticed by the popular males there. At the time, almost all of the school government, sports teams (except tennis and crew), and the Home Coming Royalty were dominated by the Black students. And I could have joined it. Being Mixed allowed that. But my previous negative experiences prevented me. As a result high school was dismal, and I ended up testing out when I was sixteen years old.

Seeing as my teen years were still on the fuzzy edge of the Civil Rights era, it never crossed my mind that forty years later teens would face the same race issues. Ah well…this 2017 article articulates the amazing lack of progress pretty clearly:

A structure of division: Berkeley High School attempts to tackle segregation on campus, BY SYDNEY FIX

As one of the few Black students in her classes as a freshman at Berkeley High School, Kyla Stewart would often hesitate to ask or answer questions, fearing classmates had already formed judgments about her.

“I definitely felt intimidated, like I don’t want them to think that I’m stupid or something just because I answer a question wrong and I’m Black,” Stewart said. “You don’t want them to think badly about you.”

Stewart began her first year at Berkeley High in the Academic Choice program, one of the school’s five learning communities — programs within Berkeley High that provide their own focus and curriculum.

Stewart left the predominantly white Academic Choice program at the conclusion of her freshman year for the Academy of Medicine and Public Service, or AMPS, one of the smaller learning communities within Berkeley High, with a majority population consisting of students of color.

It was her “choice” to self-segregate, but if that was the only place she felt comfortable how much of a free choice was it?

Break the cycle

About the author: Laurie

4 comments to “Segregation By “Choice?””

You can leave a reply or Trackback this post.

  1. Mo Gilhooly - August 31, 2017 at 11:15 pm Reply

    Laurie, Your blog hits home for our family. My son with physical disabilities had a rough time in high school. He was bullied, but received amazing support from his peers in his Afrocentric history/English cohort. My white, disabled son choose to “segregate” with his peers of an Afrocentric background, because he understood what it was like to be judged solely on physical appearance; he felt more connected to his peers in his Afrocentric classes than to his white peers. He was one of the few truly included students in general ed. He often felt isolated because of his disabilities. He just graduated last year with honors in writing and government. He is taking a break to figure out his next steps, volunteering for disability advocacy groups. He recently spoke at our local vigil for Charlottesville. When I read your blog I understand some of the many segregations, code switching that still exist in our public schools, for our young people. My son lives a segregated life with his disabilities. Please keep posting.

  2. Maureen Gilhooly - August 31, 2017 at 11:58 pm Reply

    Laurie, Your blog hits home for our family. My son with physical disabilities had a rough time in high school. He was bullied, but received amazing support from his peers in his Afrocentric history/English cohort. My white, disabled son choose to “segregate” with his peers of an Afrocentric background, because he understood what it was like to be judged solely on physical appearance; he felt more connected to his peers in his Afrocentric classes than to his white peers. He was one of the few truly included students in general ed. He often felt isolated because of his disabilities. He just graduated last year with honors in writing and government. He is taking a break to figure out his next steps, volunteering for disability advocacy groups. He recently spoke at our local vigil for Charlottesville. When I read your blog I understand some of the many segregations, code switching that still exist in our public schools, for our young people. My son lives a segregated life with his disabilities. Please keep posting.

  3. Karma - October 23, 2017 at 9:40 pm Reply

    I have to recommend the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum. Really terrific book that gave me a better understanding of racial identity. She talks about this a lot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.