Reine Duell Bethany - Author and Illustrator
My Blog

The Problem Wasn't the Black Kids

Hempstead High School was renowned on Long Island during the first half of the twentieth century. Students from nearby villages attended Hempstead High because they didn't have their own high schools yet. Hempstead had transport: the Long Island Railroad and a trolley system running west, east, and south. It built roads that cars could traverse and it had been a business establishment since its inception; Sammis Hotel sustained itself with Sammis descendants as propietors from 1660 to 1929. Carman Lush Pharmacy served at least three generations. Cooper and Powell was a gathering place as well as a supply place from the second half of the nineteenth century through the first quarter of the twentieth, and its founders helped establish Hempstead Bank, which lasted nearly a hundred years.
     Hempstead was thought of as both a white village and a village where black people could live. Hempstead High School had a significant black population from the 1940s on, and black athletes contributed to its reputation as one of the best high schools on Long Island, and indeed, one of the best in New York State -- a reputation that didn't waver until the late 1960s.
     Here is the core of my blog today: Although Hempstead High Schoo's reputation began to deteriorate in the late 1960s, and even though its population changed noticeably from majority white to majority black, the problem is not that the student body became largely African American. It is now the lowest-performing high school in New York State and its population has not been majority black for about 15 years. It is majority Latino -- 63% Latino and 36% black.
     So -- what happened? Why does a school that is majority nonwhite have to be low-performing, a phenomenon that is repeated throughout the United States?
      Again, it wasn't that it became majority black for a while. It's because it became majority poor. This problem is not racial. Not, it is socioeconomic. Its racial element stems not from the innate intelligence of this "race" or that, but from the prejudices of still-too-many white people who associate nonwhite with poor and uneducated. But as Carol Anderson so brilliantly reveals in her 2013 book White Rage (updated 2017), nonwhites have a large percentage of poor and educated because whites have gone to so much trouble to keep them poor and uneducated.
     For many years while Hempstead High became more and more populated by black children, its reputation as an excellent high school renown for its sports did not waver. Hempstead High did not sink under the weight of nonwhite-ness. It sank under the weight of regional manipulation by the government. When the malls sucked business from the villages and Mitchel Field Air Base closed in 1961, Hempstead's long-standing business base was decimated. To get federal funding for renovation, the village accepted a large population of low-income housing. Once the village became the place where poor folks got placed (especially, in Hempstead's case), poor black folks), the schools had to cope with a heavy percentage of needy whose scholastic abilities were low coming into kindergarten, and remained low because their families had little idea how to foster scholastic development.
     Middle-class and upper-class families of all races fled the scene. The high school became the place where bad kids could go and not get kicked out. Its reputation during the 1970s degraded from bad to terrible, and it has been notable for its low graduation rates for forty years.
     But the problem was not the black kids coming in. They did not ruin the neighborhood. They were part of the Hempstead Public School system's excellent reputation for sixty years before the troubles began.
     The problem is regional manipulation of the indigent. There has to be a way to solve that problem.

1 Comment to The Problem Wasn't the Black Kids:

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Felicia on Tuesday, January 26, 2021 5:20 AM
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