Race + Education + the Judicial System + Grass Roots Activism

“I have no race except that which is forced upon me. I have no country except that to which I am obliged to belong. I have no traditions. I am free. I have only the future.”

Richard Wright

This Richard Wright quote strikes at the heart of the nature of race.  Race is an ascribed societal construct designed to justify the distribution of wealth and resources in a manner that favors the European colonizers.  Race is not confined to phenotype or genotype, although Social Darwinism/Scientific Racism attempted to blur the lines between social and biological constructions of race.  Race is a social construct that stratifies society in ways both invisible and visible, tangible and intangible.  Race plays a mostly indirect (sometimes direct) role in socio-economic status and education levels.  For example, after World War Two, Census forms were revised in a way that categorized European-Americans as „white“ while keeping people of color divided on the basis of their perceived race or nationality.  White Whites became the default American, non-whites were required to hyphenate.  As such, I have understood „whiteness” to be the de-racing of ethnic Europeans (even the erasure of immigrants‘ nationalist identities) for the sake of consolidating power + resources. Race is a salient issue that cannot be ignored for the sake of a “post-racial” society.  In fact, this highlights the paradox of post-racialism; in order to deny the existence of race, one must acknowledge it.

In a 2008, The Guardian published an article entitled „USA Set For Dramatic Change as White America Becomes the Minority in 2042.“  Citing US Census Bureau demographic statistics and projections, this article does recognize that the projections are „based on assumptions about future births, deaths, immigration from abroad and internal migration that it has extrapolated from trends over the past 20 years.“  Any of those factors are subject to change: Immigration (entering a country in order to remain there) and emigration (leaving a country in order to remain away) patterns shift in accordance with global factors.  For example, immigration and political asylum are heavily influenced by the movement of capital (e.g. job outsourcing), political upheaval and war.  The displacement of persons due to war leaves them vulnerable to homelessness, impoverishment, starvation/malnourishment and gender violence.  As the United State‘s population grows and the formerly simplistic categories of racial identity are confounded, I see increasing diversity in the middle and upper socio-economic classes, which then leads to increasingly diverse neighborhoods.  What follows after racial and ehtnically diverse neighborhoods is public schools with heterogeneous student bodies.

Admittedly, I have difficulty positing the future of race when I‘ve studied the past and present of race in America.  However, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the future of race is integration- integration of neighborhoods, schools, businesses and other social institutions.  If we begin with the integration of neighborhoods, it is necessary to address bussing.  In Wake County, North Carolina, the school board voted 5-4 to abandon bussing, thus leading to more racially homogeneous schools.

Of course, I do not intend to discount the salience of the concentration of poverty within Wake County.  My main point is that the racial diversity and the concentration of wealth within school districts plays a role in the quality of the educations children receive.  Since the landmark Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, bussing has been a contentious issue.  Recently, efforts to bus children from neighborhoods where concentrations of wealth and the relative racial/ethnic homogeneity of residential neighborhoods ensured that schools were re-segregated by default have been met with apprehension.

Most African-Americans in larger cities live in neighborhoods whose boundaries were drawn before their inception by redlining.  Redlining by banks essentially prevents investors from pooring money into certain areas- and it just “happened” that these areas were homes to communities of color.  Moreover, socio-economic mobility was severely undermined by employment discrimination, housing discimination on the basis of race.  As late as 1950, if a Black family wished to move out of their majority-Black neighborhood, they likely were met by neighborhood associations with restrictive covenants. Restrictive covenants were contractual agreements that barred specific groups from living in the neighborhood, thus assuring a level of homogeneity in suburbia.  Additionally, the mobility of middle-class Blacks was met with the phenomenon of „white flight.“ In the 1960s and 1970s,  Bussing was a salient issue because public school resources were typically distributed on the basis of district tax revenue.  Districts with a higher income bracket [on average] often had/have schools with better resources and teachers.  Bussing was one solution to address the inequalities in the public school system.  It was a fraught solution indeed [e.g. Boston in 1976].

White parents feared for the safety of their children in less affluent and more “colorful” districts, and Black parents worried about exposing their children to virulent racism, despite the possible gains.  What’s interesting about Boston, is that it wasn’t primarily an issue of class and race.  These were mostly working class Jewish, Black and Irish communities in West Roxbury, Roxbury, Roslindale, Hyde Park and Dorchester.

Racial diversity also plays a large part in the justice system. For the same of brevity, I‘ll focus on racial diversity in juries in the American South.  The sixth Amendment of the Constitution outlines the basic rights of defendants in criminal proceedings, including the rights to a speedy, public trial with a jury of impartial jurors and the right to represent one‘s self in court.  More relevantly, the 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution states that:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Although „jury of peers“ appears nowhere in the Constitution, it is clear that every citizen is entitled to an „impartial jury“ in principle.  The partiality of juries in the United States has come under criticism and rightly so.  On June 1, 2010, the New York Times published an article entitled „Study Finds Blacks Blocked from Southern Juries.“

In short, racial discrimination in jury selection has an impact in the sentencing of death penalty cases, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Batson v. Kennedy in 1986.  The ruling stated that prosecutors must state a „neutral explanation“ for rejecting potential jurors within the context of the case, and the enforcement of said ruling was assigned to judges.  In the 24 years since Batson v. Kennedy (1986), Black potential jurors were struck out at three times the rate of white jurors.

„In North Carolina, at least 26 current death row defendants were sentenced by all-white juries. In South Carolina, a prosecutor said he struck a black potential juror because he “shucked and jived” when he walked.“

Other studies have shown that diverse juries take longer to deliberate, allowing more time for different viewpoints to be heard and making fewer factual errors than juries composed only of whites.  The significance of this is two-fold.  In the United States Supreme Court, we have had 112 justices.  The gender and racial composition of the Court is telling: 4 women (3 of whom are currently serving), 2 African-Americans, 1 Hispanic-American, 2 Catholics, 1 Jew and 106 white men.  This is one of the more obvious examples of how access to post-secondary education and wealth is stratified by race- most partocularly within the judicial system.  In the Federal Court system, the diversity of judges is not much better in terms of race and gender.  In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has nominated Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye, a Filipina Associate Justice out of the California Third District Court of Appeals for 28th Chief Justice of California to succeed the retirng Chief Justice of California, Ronald M. George.  Justice Sakauye will be the first Asian-American justice to serve on the California Supreme Court.  But first her appointment must be confirmed by the California Commission on Judicial Appointments on August 25, 2010 and by California voters in the November 2010 general election.

I emphasize racial diversity in the ranks of the justice system beacuse the equal protection and application of the law depends largely on the enforcement of judges.   This is not to resort to reductive logic in regards to the representation of people of color in the justice system, by any means.  In November 2008, many people reached the conclusion that the election of an African-American president meant that the United States was now a racially progressive nation.  This certainly is not the case.  However, landmark elections of members of minority groups to positions of power do stir up hope.  If California can have its first Asian-American justice on the Supreme Court, and the United States can elect a Black man into the office of the President, there is hope yet.

I truly hope and believe that as Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Indigenous Americans become the collective majority, that there will be community mobilization at both the grassroots level and, to a lesser extent, in the Oval Office.  The two issues I have brought up- school integration and representation of minority groups in the judicial system are connected, in that educational attainment and proximity to power are tied.  At the community level, there needs to be awareness and urgency about matters such as school bussing or voter registration.  Awareness is key to political effectiveness.  It will not be the work of a single woman or man that propels us closer to equality, but it will be that individual‘s contribution to the collective work of grassroots organizers.  The election of President Barack Obama was partly a grassroots effort.  Voter registration, driven by community volunteers, and town hall meetings allowed for civic participation and an exchange of ideas.


1 Pilkington, Ed,  „USA Set For Dramatic Change as White America Becomes the Minority in 2042,“ The Guardian, 15 August 2008  [http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/aug/15/population.race], (accessed 06 August 2010), World News Section

2 Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, „Busing to end in Wake County, N.C. Goodbye, school diversity?, Christian Science Monitor, 24 March 2010 http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2010/0324/Busing-to-end-in-Wake-County-N.C.-Goodbye-school-diversity (accessed 12 August 2010)

3 Stacy Teicher Khadaroo. „Schools Grapple With How to Integrate.“ Christian Science Monitor.   02 July, 2007. http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0702/p02s01-ussc.html (accessed 12 August 2010)

4 Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948, p. 1, see also, Joe T. Darden, “Black Residential Segregation Since the 1948 Shelley v. Kraemer Decision,” Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 25, No. 6 (Jul. 1995), pp. 680- 691. pub. Sage Publications Inc.

5 Hoover Institution Policy Review , Volume no. 92, Stanford University, „Busing’s Boston Massacre: A Boston judge’s experiment in social engineering has unraveled neighborhoods and frustrated black achievement“ http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/7768 (accessed 12 August 2010)

6 Charters of Freedom – The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Bill of Rights (accessed 12 August 2010)

7 Dewan, Shaila, „Study Finds Blacks Blocked from Southern Juries,“ New York Times, 01 June 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/02/us/02jury.html?_r=1&hp (accessed 12 August 2010)

8 FindLaw, „U.S. Constitution: Fourteenth Amendment: Juries,“ http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment14/26.html (accessed 12 August 2010)

9 The Oyez Project, Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79 (1986), available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1985/1985_84_6263) (last visited Thursday, August 12, 2010)

10 Dolan, Maura. Governor Schwarzenegger nominates first Asian-American to lead California Supreme Court [Updated]. Los Angeles Times http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/07/schwarzenegger-nominates-first-asian-american-lead-california-supreme-court.html (accessed 12 August 2010)

11 Gov. Schwarzenegger Introduces Supreme Court Nominee Tani Cantil-Sakauye,“ http://gov.ca.gov/speech/15638/ (accessed 16 August 2010)


  1. I like the issue you pose as race being a social construct because the ways in which we construct what race “is” or is determined “to be” in present day society is ever shifting with minorities becoming the political powers slowly, but increasingly as you pose the example of President Obama and Justice Sakauye (soon to be).

    What remains to be seen is this idea that race should not be a dominate factor when discussing overall issues that pertain to social and economic concerns. Race should be include (because it is a problem) but race cannot solve the issues of education and poverty for example because other societal factors should also be included in the discussion (which in some way you allude to this point in the first two paragraphs and further down (bussing/judicial system).

    I am not posing my thoughts as post-racial because we are not post-race, but I think that in order to clarify issues of class, economics, poverty, and the like, all of these concerns should be discuss along side with race more (especially when discussing whiteness/blackness) in order to get a clear since of how to possibly solve these issues one by one.

    Toni Morrison’s Playing In the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination is a work in my opinion that I think complements Richard Wright’s quote and your analysis.

    1. Absolutely. I wanted to be more explicit about the salience of class in bussing, but I needed to keep the paper focused (I tend to go off in tangents).

      I agree that it’s a multifaceted issue. Class, race, gender, abiltity, immigration status, etc all play a role in defining Americans’ experiences.

      I need to read Toni Morrison’s “Playing In the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.” Thanks for the suggestion! And thank you for commenting! :)

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