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Racial Segregation in Los Angeles

By Eman Hamed

Edited by Danika Suh

Sixty years ago in Little Rock, Arkansas, Black students had to be escorted into their school by the U.S. National Guard for an ensured, equal opportunity to education. Six months ago in Gardendale, Alabama, a federal court had to issue an injunction to force a local school board to cease their segregation practices. The historical reality of educational segregation in the United States protrudes through to the present in the classrooms and lecture halls, that should hold the promise of equal representation. While America prides itself on dismissing the idea of segregated schools to some of the darkest hours of the past, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce reports that nearly 75% of Black and Latino students astonishingly comprise only 15,000 out of 132,853 schools, with Los Angeles being the second largest city home to segregation. Despite common misconceptions that income disparity is the cause of segregation, it is previous discriminatory housing and schooling policies at the root of it. This institutionalized racial segregation fosters a lack of educational opportunity, and, consequently, poverty, for Black and Hispanic communities throughout the city of Los Angeles.

Income inequality, while still a pervasive issue, is not a root cause of racial segregation. Racism operates at levels spanning from an individual to whole demographics, and structural racism, throughout the entire nation’s history, has persevered and fueled socioeconomic disparities. Cities like Los Angeles are segregated irrespective of income- especially when nearly three quarters of impoverished Whites in the United States live in middle class areas, whereas 32% of Hispanic children and 40% of Black children live in neighborhoods at least 185% below the poverty line.

The Child Opportunity Index measures education, health, and environment, and social and economic status among the Top 100 largest metropolitan cities, which includes Los Angeles. It finds that education and health attribute to racial segregation, far more than socioeconomic status. And more so, Hispanics and Blacks congregate more frequently in central business districts near poor quality infrastructure, schools, buildings, and public facilities, which produces a pattern of distribution that is clustered on the standard of race, not socioeconomic status. Specifically in Los Angeles, Hispanics form “blocs” and are prominent across census tracts in concentrated amounts. To gain insight as to why this current reality exists, there are two distinct policy platforms that need to be examined that have shaped the racial set-up in the city of Los Angeles.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and similar policies are seen as champions of racial progress, but are conversely ignored when it comes to the fact that those policies have not come to fruition. Discriminatory housing policies, from redlining to blockbusting to covenants, are direct reasons for racial segregation. As the Federal Housing Administration promoted minority groups, especially Hispanic and Black communities, to purchase homes, they simultaneously conducted “redlining.” Redlining is when mortgage lenders systematically under-loaned to Blacks and Hispanics as compared to whites of comparable income background. This forced Blacks and Hispanics to seek homes in underdeveloped areas with unadvanced schools and poor education. Poor education equates to less wealth, financial insecurity, and no home owning, which means affected communities like Hispanics and Blacks are given lower chances to succeed economically if they are designated to impoverished neighborhoods.

Until the 1960s, official apartheid laws and practices existed in the U.S., including restrictive covenants, or agreements, that required certain homes to be sold only to members of a certain race, which we can also see with blockbusting, a practice in which realtors persuaded White home owners to sell their property at a low price in minority territory for fear of the property value depreciating. In Los Angeles’ case: real estate agents convinced a plethora of white owners to cheaply sell their property in areas where Blacks, Hispanics, and Latinos were increasingly becoming populated. After whites sold said property off, realtors then rose housing prices and offered them to these entering minority families.

The previous white home owners then moved into suburban homes with little integration. In addition, realtors and government officials designed more zoning laws to condense Blacks and Hispanics to overcrowded, low quality, yet expensive neighborhoods with poor facilities such as hospitals and schools. Infrastructure that complemented these minority-oriented neighborhoods were poor roads and time consuming public transportation, two factors that made getting to schools more difficult. Deficient schools existed because of the property tax revenue the segregated, adjacent neighborhoods provided. When a neighborhood is poor, then homeschools simply won’t get as much funds, hence why schools are overall better in more affluent areas that have more property tax revenue, and hence why minorities stuck in poor neighborhoods are left with insufficient resources and a lack of educational opportunity.

Property taxes work in conjunction with racist schooling policies to further school segregation and foster unequal opportunities. The state of California reduced its investments in schools for Black children in the late nineteenth century, which reduced the literacy rates of Blacks. Before this, however, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) instituted policies that triggered de facto segregation in schools, priming certain schools with all-white student populations and leaving others to Black and Hispanic groups. For example, LAUSD’s student body in 2010 was majority minority, with 74% Hispanics and 9% whites. The proportion deviated immensely from the 5% Hispanic and 74% white Beverly Hills Unified School District, and the 40% Hispanic and 25% white Culver City Unified School District. Black and Hispanic students are saturated in schools with non rigorous curriculum, lower test scores, lower graduation rates, higher expulsion rates, higher dropout rates, and overall curtailed Academic Performance Index (API) ratings compared to Whites and Asians. This is in part due to school choice programs, which are vehicles for resegregation, because they favor the provision of grants and scholarships to Whites and Asians, over minorities, to attend charter and magnet schools with various robust educational opportunities. With low quality education, minority groups are subject to collegiate failure, which in turn leads to unemployment or low wage professions and, consequently, poverty for generations to come. The level of primary education attained by anyone determines their college education, which, as a domino effect, determines their socioeconomic status and their ability to provide for their families. Unfortunately, the federal government has no programs or policies dedicated to racial inclusion, a reason why minorities’ educational disadvantages are continuities over time and why poverty exhibits a cyclical nature.

While the evidence may seem unpromising, there is still hope for the irreversibility of this issue. To prevent Hispanics and Blacks from settling for an unfair reality, we need to expand school choice programs, enabling them to attend magnet schools or schools with special interest programs (such as STEM), as well as create challenging curriculum in lower income schools that prepare for higher education, such as research opportunities and more collaborative learning. Children are caught in the gears of a discriminatory system because of the zip codes in which they live, but enhancing opportunities is the most solvent way to lessen educational disparities and account for increased poverty. There needs to be an emphasis on the vital political truths we hold, and that emphasis starts with reform to accommodate minorities who have been ostracized for far too long.

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