Last night we went to see Bill Nye speak at Drake University’s Knapp Center. As they lowered the lights for the show to begin, the dim blue light reflecting off thousands of pale faces in the corner of my eye caught my attention. I looked at the stands to my left and my right and noticed that everyone in this 12,000 seat stadium, save maybe a handful, were white. Now this probably wasn’t an accurate representation of Iowa’s demographics, as most of the people there were huge science nerds, but I feel it was pretty close. In the most recent Census I could find (2010), Iowa was 76.4% white. So I’m not really sure of the extent to which I can speak about any diversity issue. We just don’t have the diversity here that they do in Chicago or New York City or in Philadelphia and New Jersey as Ifemelu does. You’ve heard the joke that Waukee only has one black kid, and though obviously inaccurate, racially segregated schools are kind of still a thing (obviously de facto not de jure, meaning legally they aren’t but socially and culturally they are).
This becomes a real problem in the deep South and other places with a large schooling gap. Here in West Des Moines, the educational differences between a public school and a private school usually are chalked up to religion and recruitment opportunities, but the value of knowledge and opportunities are usually equitable. When I went down to visit my friend’s cousins in Georgia last summer, I was talking to them about their school system. One of the girls commented that her sorority had just accepted its first black member that year and it had been a big news story for them. I asked them about their elementary and high schools and they said that they had gone to private schools and their parents felt it was necessary for them to get an education of any value. Following court cases in the Civil Rights Era that forced Southern states to desegregate public schools, many just cut funding for the schools and white landowners’ taxes so they could use the money that would have gone towards the public schools to pay for their children’s private education. This disparity continues and for many white families in the South that value their children’s education, public school is just so bad that it isn’t an option. As a result, those families with lower incomes (typically black), attend the public schools, and those with higher incomes (typically white) attend private schools, and then because the private schools are so much better than the public schools, the rich white kids get better education then better jobs and get richer while the black students are unable to get a decent education or job and their families are trapped in poverty. [Obviously this is not always the case, there are definitely rich black people and poor white people.]