"What I really object to," he said passionately, "is that they bus in all those black kids from Silver Spring. They bring them into this neighborhood, to see all of our big houses, exposing them to things they are never going to have. I just don't see the point." - a white guy from Bethesda, 2007
The biggest sin of the local blogosphere is that Lydia Sullivan at Snoburbia doesn't get more attention for her thoughtful and provocative posts on the life of the privileged Montgomery County (Md.) suburbs. Over the weekend, she wrote that class, not race defines who you are here:
This got me thinking about how race is treated in snoburbia. In the local snoburban high school, kids mix seemingly without regard to race . . . But when I look more closely at who all of these kids are, it becomes clearer. No matter the race, all of the children are advantaged, from educated parents. Some of the blacks and Latinos are children of government bureaucrats, scientists or diplomats. Some were born in another country. But they all have at least some money and educated parents.
Left out of the snoburban teen social groupings are black and Latino kids from the less fortunate neighborhood. (There are virtually no poor white or Asian kids around here.) Those kids also attend the same high school, but they talk and dress differently. They live in one or two pocket neighborhoods and ride the school bus. They don't go to the same parties or even to the same mall. They are more on MySpace than Facebook, so their online social interactions are limited; this aspect is rapidly changing, however, and may already have changed by the end of this paragraph.
This was the case at my high school, my friends' high schools, and likely every high school in Montgomery County. At face value, it seems like integration worked: you walk the halls of Blake, B-CC or Seneca Valley and you see faces of all different colors. But they find ways to divide themselves up - occasionally by race, but far more frequently by class. Black or white, the rich kids will always sit at lunch together. Or at Blake, they'll sneak off-campus in someone's SUV and have lunch in Olney. (Though I long campaigned Principal Goodman to allow open lunch, she never budged.)
That said, if you're a low-income kid in a Montgomery County public school, you're still much better off than you'd be anywhere else, according to a new study written up in the Post last week:
Dominique Johnson, 13, who attended an elementary school in the District before moving to a public housing apartment in Bethesda, said the difference was obvious.
"It was a bad, bad school," she said of her old school, shaking her head. "The principal, I don't think she did anything about all the fights. I had this one teacher who would curse at the kids."
At North Bethesda Middle School, she said, she found rules, focus and difficult classes with attentive teachers. Her grades dropped. But after a year or so, they improved.
On top of that, the study says that Montgomery County's affordable housing program has made it possible for low-income families to actually live in its most coveted school districts. So: affordable housing means that kids get into good schools, meaning they have a better shot at having a good, prosperous life. It doesn't sound like they're the incubators for crime and poverty that some people make them out to be.
But according to Lydia, it doesn't mean that those kids are necessarily welcomed with open arms when they get there. We're winning the battle, but not the war.