Hi Vivett. I read your blog post on New York School Talk. It is getting a lot of attention in the Sewanhaka district — too much attention. The post is fake news. First, South Floral Park students attend Floral Park Memorial. Second, Floral Park Memorial’s student body is 45% minority with an even number of Black, Hispanic, and Asian students. It is one of the most diverse high schools in the State.
This was the body of a private email I received after my blog post last week was published. Almost immediately, I was put off by the notion that my writing was getting “too much attention.” Excuse me, sir? Come again? Once I got past that comment, though, I went to check the accuracy of the information offered by the reader. What I wrote, like everything I write, comes from my experience — experience that can not be refuted, but that may not reflect the current state of affairs. I graduated from high school in 1993 and my children were students in the Sewanhaka District almost a decade ago. I am not above standing correction.
He was correct in stating that the total minority student population of Floral Park Memorial High School is 45 percent; however, of that 45 percent, the smallest percentage is that of Black students (13 percent). This information comes from a well-known source of high school demographics throughout the country. How is it possible that only 13 percent of the student body is Black when according to this database, over 60 percent of the population of one of two closest neighboring towns, South Floral Park, is Black? Where do all those Black students attend school? Numbers and statistics can be manipulated to depict multiple angles and so I decided to research further and ask a longtime friend and lifetime resident of S. Floral Park, J. Wallace, about the situation.
Here’s what Wallace had to say:
In my time we were flat out not allowed in Floral Park even though it’s literally a stone’s throw away. We were forced to walk a half hour to Sewanhaka. Wasn’t even paying attention to the blatant racism. But now I see mad black children walking past the crib coming and going to Floral Park.
I’m grateful for the progress and to the reader for calling my attention to it; however, though progress is being made, it’s not enough and is moving at a snail’s pace. The Sewanhaka district appears to be making inroads where its Black and Brown constituents are concerned, but what about the rest of Long Island?
Diversity is a cute buzz word in education that does not always paint an accurate picture of the facts or experiences of Black students who are included in the diversity population numbers of those spaces. It is often the claim of diversity that supports a school’s claim of equity – an equity that is impossible to exist alongside the overwhelmingly blatant racial discrimination that encompasses Long Island.
Diversity and segregation can and do co-exist here.
Educational equity will only come with the intentional disruption of White privilege, particularly as it relates to the exclusionary housing practices that have driven the neighborhood demographics of Long Island for decades upon decades, going as far back as the building of Levittown during Post-WW II
According to Brick Underground, “Long Island, is overwhelmingly white (over 90 percent, according to the 2010 census), and despite its proximity to New York City, as well as Long Island’s overall diversity, the region is highly segregated, which is especially apparent in its public schools.”
I experienced this myself student teaching and long-term substitute teaching in the North Shore school district where students gawked over my then long honey blond dreadlocks and asked with all sincerity if they could touch my skin. I was asked if I ate fried chicken and was approached with a most derogatory, “Yo Miss!” by White students who I believe to be well-intentioned, but grossly unexposed to anyone or anything else but their White, mainstream, Long Island culture. They only lived among other White people so, because of the way Long Island’s housing and school zone laws are set-up, they only went to school with other White students.
So why don’t Black people just buy houses in White neighborhoods if they have the money to do so? Why do they stay to themselves? Stay to ourselves? These are questions that have been posed to me in discourses around this topic It enrages me that anyone could be that simplistic and matter-of-fact about highly orchestrated “Blacks not allowed” housing (and by default) school choice policies that ill-intentioned White people developed and continue to enforce, even with the establishment of the Fair Housing Act. These exclusionary practices are legal and anything but fair to those negatively impacted by them.
John Logan, a professor at Brown University, supports this supposition when he states, “Suburban diversity does not mean that neighborhoods within suburbia are diverse. As is true in central cities, minorities are fairly highly segregated among suburban neighborhoods.” For example, he found that in 2010 African-Americans comprised about 10 percent of the suburban population but lived, on average, in neighorboods that were over 35 percent black. Moreover, this isolation did not depend on income; affluent African-Americans lived in neighborhoods with higher poverty rates than low-income whites did.
Logan attributes this to a phenomenon he calls constrained choice. “Minority households who move into mostly white neighborhoods often find that there’s not much of a welcome. They don’t make friends easily and their children don’t make friends easily in school. So they notice there’s a cost to being the ‘pioneer’ minority settlers in the white neighborhood,” he says.
Being educated in an all-White learning environment can add a measure of stress to an already intense situation and that, in and of itself, is not the solution to the problem of educational inequity in Long Island’s schools. The solution begins and ends with White people wanting to co-exist peaceably with their neighbors of other colors and cultures. Until that happens and systemic changes are made to how houses are sold and to the connection between school taxes and education, we are fighting an uphill battle against the demon of White privilege. It’s a battle very thinly veiled by the acceptable “feel good” concept of diversity.