- Racial Equity
- Talk About Race
By Josh Bassett
I direct a specialized educational program in Detroit, conducted through the city’s only community college, Wayne County Community College District; it allows high school students from both Detroit and its metropolitan suburbs to earn college credits while engaging in academic studies of race and social identity that will be directly relevant to their coursework at the college/university level. This program, called the Middle College Multicultural Educational Exchange Program (MCMEEP), was primarily developed as a response to the extreme levels of racial segregation — the highest in the nation — that exist between Detroit and its suburban public schools, which, with but few exceptions, have almost exclusively black, Latino, or white student populations.
One of the key purposes of the MCMEEP program, therefore, is to provide an opportunity for students from Detroit and its suburbs to work together and participate in dialogues about race in a diverse class room environment they would otherwise likely never experience in their respective high schools. And, indeed, this class room diversity has proven to be one of the most important components of our program as hundreds of students who’ve participated in our classes have reported on numerous benefits of working with students from different backgrounds and experiences, even in the most basic terms of debunking familiar stereotypes of the city and suburbs, for example, as many white suburban students have noted, the view of Detroit as an inherently violent and corrupt city, or the recognition by Detroit students that historically affluent suburbs such as Grosse Pointe are comprised of more than just rich white Republicans who could care less about the future of the city.
I preface the question of what a successful racial – or inter-racial – future in the U.S. might look in the year 2042 with this short overview of the MCMEEP program because I think one of the key structural changes that has to be made if we are to become a progressive race-conscious society is the transformation of public high schools from discrete four year institutions that continue to be afflicted by various forms of racial segregation into two year institutions wherein students complete their junior and senior years at designated community college/ university based locations. This collaboration between high schools and community colleges/universities would accordingly draw students from across racially segregated geographies that, despite the profound change in racial demographics of the U.S. in 2042 , will likely remain resistant to integration and provide future generations with the opportunity of continuing their education in a racially (and otherwise) diverse classroom environment.
Given the economic inequalities that will likely continue to persist along racial lines in the next three decades, this model of education offers a practical solution to the enduring problems of both residential and public school segregation that continue to afflict the U.S. public school system more than fifty years after Brown v. Board and its failure, or more appropriately, its deracination, via subsequent legal rulings, which has prevented the nation from achieving any kind of meaningful public school integration.
On a concluding note, I’d just like to add that some weeks ago, and notably during the advent of Arizona’s inescapably racist immigration law which further complicated my efforts , I had asked students in my MCMEEP classes to address the very question of what their hopeful vision of America’s racial future in 2042 might be. And as I suspect the efficacy of such a vision is related to one’s geography, it was not surprising how difficult it was for those students who lived in Detroit to imagine their city in the positive and realistic light of integration. The overwhelming consensus expressed by these high school juniors and seniors (most of whom are black and Latino) was one of resignation and incredulity to the notion that white families would ever move into their neighborhoods or attend their schools. Indeed, the vision of what an integrated/inter-racial Detroit might be in the future was so far removed from their lived experiences that many of the students deemed the question as not being “real.”
So taking a cue from my students here, I’d like to offer another key element necessary to achieve what civil rights and critical race scholars have long described as the concept of a multiracial democracy and the importance of transforming the U.S. into a true multiracial democracy, wherein structural racial inequalities will no longer have relevance. If this vision is to become reality, then the first step must be for young people, especially those who remain marginalized by race, to have access to the means and opportunity to believe such a vision can indeed be “real.”
Artist: Leon Zernitsky
Josh Bassett is the Director of the Institute for Social Progress at Wayne County Community College District in Detroit Michigan.
Author: Kirwan Institute (427 Articles)