Home > Uncategorized > Kamala Harris Scores Points in Debate #2…. but Is Busing the Way Forward?

Kamala Harris Scores Points in Debate #2…. but Is Busing the Way Forward?

June 28, 2019

The NYTimes and myriad other news sources recounted an exchange between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden in the second Democratic Party Debate. Here’s a synopsis from a “Top Stories” email I received written by Lisa Lerer:

Last night, former Vice President Joe Biden had a moment. And it wasn’t pretty.
It started when Senator Kamala Harris interjected into a conversation about racism with a request: “As the only black person on this stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race.”
She then laced into comments Mr. Biden made at a fund-raiser earlier this month where he fondly recalled his working relationships with segregationists in the Senate, as well as his active opposition to busing in the 1970s.
“It’s personal,” she said. “It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”
She continued: “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”
Mr. Biden, an experienced debater, looked defensive and a bit offended, and he struggled to respond. He noted he’d worked as a public defender in 1968, unlike Ms. Harris, who was a prosecutor. And then, he seemed to simply give up: “Anyway,” he said, “my time is up.”

As noted above, in recounting her personal experience Ms. Harris DID unsettle Mr. Biden… but, as Ms. Lerer noted later in her synopsis, busing has not proven to be an effective means of desegregation. In an NPR report from 2016, which was linked to Ms. Lerer’s email, Arizona State professor Matthew Delmont offered this analysis of why busing failed:

A couple things happen that make it difficult to sustain busing programs into the ’80s and ’90s.

One is the tremendous amount of white flight that happens in cities like Boston, so there just simply aren’t enough white students to go around to have meaningful school desegregation. This is true in Chicago, in Los Angeles, in New York.

The other thing that happens is busing placed a tremendous burden on black students and on students of color. In most cases, they were the ones that were asked to travel to the suburbs, travel sometimes to hostile neighborhoods. For many parents, that simply isn’t worth it after a number of years.

If Democrats are committed to racial equity, they may want to avoid hitching their wagon to busing and instead look at ways to provide desegregated affordable housing in each and every district in the country and/or provide each and every student— rich or poor, white black or Latina—  with the same opportunities for learning that students in affluent school districts receive routinely. The argument cannot be focused on busing as the ultimate solution, for there is no evidence that busing worked for the wider population of Africa Americans even though it clearly worked for Ms. Harris.

 

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