The hedge-fund managers, the mainstream media, Cami Anderson’s friends in Montclair and Glen Ridge–during the election, they all tried to depict Ras Baraka as a revolutionary, as a radical, as a dangerous man with “fiery” and “incendiary” ideas and close ties to gangs. This was racist libel, of course, and it didn’t work but Newark’s new mayor should consider using those fears to the advantage of the city’s residents.
Baraka himself, speaking at Saturday’s launch of the sensible “Newark Promise” alternative to Anderson’s “One Newark” plan, hinted he is aware of just how nervous the rich and the white are about his ascendancy in New Jersey politics.
He did, after all, speak on the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, a ruling that, with subsequent decisions, outlawed racial segregation in public schools.
“We are still in the same position we were 60 years ago,” Baraka told the crowd of several hundred at Lincoln Park.
“People can’t be talking about school reform without talking about school desegregation,” he said. “There is a deeper segregation going on in the schools.”
He is absolutely right, of course. As a recent Rutgers University study showed, New Jersey’s schools are to so racially isolated that as many as 100,000 African-American children go to school every day without ever seeing a white classmate. The study called the situation “apartheid schools.”
The Star-Ledger’s editorial board fecklessly called Baraka a “a black nationalist”–but they should only wish he was. A black nationalist wouldn’t be talking about school desegregation. He wouldn’t care about racial isolation. No, Baraka is a good, old-fashioned American progressive who believes in all the laws and court rulings that have reached the same basic conclusion: Racial desegregation is wrong and should be ameliorated. Now.
If this were Maryland, the school districts would be county-wide. Newark would be merged with Millburn–and Essex Fells and the Caldwells and Roseland and Fairfield and Verona and Cedar Grove.
Imagine that. Opportunities would be county-wide, as well, so there wouldn’t be one school, or school district, with the latest technology and facilities, and another with crumbling buildings. That’s basic fairness.
And the law. The law in New Jersey forbids racial segregation in the schools.
Let’s be honest. The state is politically dominated by suburbs. Suburban legislators will never accept racial integration. For a while, New Jersey tried to buy off the legal demand with school aid formulas that favored the cities. But, now, the suburban dominated Legislature won’t even do that.
So the answer has become “choice.” Although there is no proof school choice does anything to help most urban children, it offers a pretend benefit to parents and their children. They can be told they have what white suburban children have–choice.
But that’s silly. Urban residents don’t have choices. Because of racially restrictive zoning and the failure of fair housing, many urban residents have the choice of staying exactly where they are and hoping the law eventually comes around to rescue them. School choice allows rich white people living in Montclair and Connecticut and the Hamptons to go to gala dinners and see well-behaved African-American children talk about how wonderful their charter schools are–and these rich white people never have to worry about sending their children to integrated schools.
And now we have a Supreme Court dominated by intellectual cretins, including New Jersey’s own Antonin Scalia and Sam Alito. They won’t stop until Brown vs. Board is repealed. But, so far, New Jersey still has a state supreme court that, despite attacks by Gov. Chris Christie, is holding on to the idea of basic fairness. Justices like Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Associate Justices Jaynee LaVecchia and Barry Albin know racial segregation is wrong.
And so does Ras Baraka.
If the newly-elected mayor keeps up his drumbeat about racial isolation–he calls it “oppression” and I agree with that–he might just convince enough people that it is time to get serious about improving New Jersey’s urban schools. Time to stop this charade about “choice” when it comes to schools and to think about choice when it comes to where people can live in segregated New Jersey.
Decades ago, I saw film called “Putney Swope.” In the movie, Putney Swope, an African-American is accidentally elevated to the position of board chairman of an otherwise all-white advertising company. After he takes the boss’s chair, someone asks, “You’re not going to rock the boat, are you, Putney?”
Putney smiles and answers. “No, man, I’m not going to rock the boat. I’m going to sink the mother——boat.”
Ras Baraka is not interested in sinking any boats. But he is in a position now to remind the rest of New Jersey they are living in a state that ignores both fundamental fairness and the law. If he does it loud and long enough, he just might get somewhere–and bring Newark with him.