If you live in North Carolina, no doubt you have heard of the struggle in Wake County over neighborhood schools. In 2009, the Wake County School Board obtained a new majority of Tea Party members backed by the state chapter of Americans For Prosperity. This new majority pushed for and won the ending of busing policy in favor of neighborhood schools. Wake County had a policy of busing students around to avoid racially divided schools. They wanted to have socio-economic diverse schools by limiting the number of free and reduced lunch students allowed at each school. Because minorities make up a disproportionate number of students who qualify for this, the policy basically led to a resegregation of schools.
Under the message of saving the school system money, this new majority wanted to end this policy and return to neighborhood schools. This sparked a bitter fight between the school board and groups like the NC NAACP. There were protests and arrest, and enough noise made that the national media picked up on the story. There are plenty of issues with all aspects of the story. There are pros and cons to both sides of the issue. For me, the biggest issue was voter turnout. These new members all ran on the message of ending the policy, and returning to neighborhood schools. Voters simply did not turn out to vote. The new majority was able to take over with minimal voter participation. If the same number of people who participated in the protest, had turned out to vote or do get out to vote work, maybe this would not have happened but I digress.
There were other forces at play that may have made this inevitable though. There have been a number of growing stories about the money the extreme right is dumping into campaigns and where it is coming from. The names range from the Koch brothers to Art Pope, and they have received both local and national attention for their contributions. Brave New Films, is doing a series of documentary short films to expose the Koch Brothers and how their money has pushed the agenda of the far right. The latest installment discuss their role in the Wake County Issue, and exposes the money behind the desegregation of the Wake County Schools.
There has always been a racial component to politics in this country. Even after the Civil Rights Movement, this racial dynamic was clearly up for display. As time wore on though, and more minorities became involved and elected in politics, that dynamic has shifted from obvious to a more underlying position. Since the election cycle of 2008 that has all changed, and not just in Washington. Ever since Obama was a candidate, that racial dynamic has once again begun to shift from underlying towards obvious. During his campaign, it was widely discussed whether a black man could become president. There were groups of people who would not vote for him simply because he was black.
It continued after the election and still continues with the rise in white supremacy groups. But it is deeper than that. As the mission of the republican party has become to not let him succeed at all cost, the racial dynamic has moved from white supremacy groups to the halls of congress. Even if they will not come out and say it, there has been a racial component to their strategy. The questions of his birth certificate, the outright brashness of calling him a liar, interrupting the state of the union, and more recently the use of “tar baby” are unprecedented attacks on a president. No president in history has faced the same kind of treatment from the halls of congress. The rise of the tea party has not helped that dynamic either. The racial atmosphere that appeared at tea party rallies during the health care debate was troubling. Despite the rise of Herman Cain as a tea party candidate, you cannot deny the racial component to that movement.
Let’s take it one step further. The attack on both a federal and state level on programs that are designed to help the poor, is also ripe with racism. A disproportional amount of people who receive government assistance are minorities, and the disregard our elected officials have towards them is disturbing. It is continues to bleed down to the lower levels of government as well. The North Carolina State Legislature has been attacking policy like the Racial Justice Act, and early childhood for poor and at risk children. If we take one step further, we can look at the Wake County School issue. Regardless of how you feel about busing and socioeconomic diverse schools, the root of why people wanted to policy to change was a new approach to nimbyism. A certain subset of people no longer wanted poor kids to be sent to the schools in their neighborhood. Let them go to school where they live is written all over this, whether they want to admit it or not.
Many people wrongfully thought that the election of Obama pushed America into a post racial society. I would argue that it has done the opposite. That election has had an impact on the racial dynamic of this country, but not for the better. What it has done is moving racism back to the forefront.