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Desegregation Busing: Race Has Always Been A Contentious Issue In The USA

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Busing recently came under headlines due to the heated exchange that took place between Democratic Presidential candidates, whereas the issue is much bigger than just a 5-minute debate. The second round of the first Democratic primary debate was summed up by the heated exchange that took place between Senator Kamala Harris and Former Vice President Joe Biden. The exchange took place over the stance of Joe Biden, against federally-mandated ‘school busing‘.

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JUNE 27: Sen. Kamala Harris (R) (D-CA) and former Vice President Joe Biden (L) speak as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) looks on during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019, in Miami, Florida. A field of 20 Democratic presidential candidates was split into two groups of 10 for the first debate of the 2020 election, taking place over two nights at Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“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 and it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing,”said Sen. Kamala Harris to Joe Biden on his record of working relationship with segregationist senators.

“You know there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me,” she said.

I did not oppose Busing in America. What I opposed is Busing ordered by the Department of Education” responded Biden to Kamala’s remarks.

Senator Joe Biden (left) and Kamala Harris (right) in the 1970s. Getty Image

In 1974, the Federal Court at Wilmington, Delaware (Joe Biden’s constituency) addressed the issue of racial segregation in housing. Following the judgment, many white voters panicked over the prospect of a Busing plan being implemented in the future.

This situation gave rise to a dilemma for Biden, who, until 1972, favoured Busing programs and was someone who was committed to the larger cause of upholding principles of the Brown ruling and that of the Civil Rights Act.After consecutive narrow margin victories in the 1972-1973 senate elections, Biden tilted towards an anti-busing slant under the pressure of white constituents.

Biden remains a staunch critique of federally mandated busing, during a Senate hearing in 1981 on busing Biden said, “The courts have taken it upon themselves to go beyond simply dismantling deliberate segregation as an illegal government policy”.

In his political career, Biden opposed busing but has stayed a strong supporter of racial integration.

 What Is Busing, And What Were The Reasons Behind It?

Busing a practice first recommended by the U.S. Supreme Court, to address the issue of de facto/de jur racial segregation in American schools, in its decision in the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education of 1971.

The 1954’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education judgment, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional, paved the way for Busing. Though, in its ruling in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court suggested that federal courts could use Busing as a mean to end desegregation in schools.

Anti-Busing protests in Virginia. Credit: Virginia Museum of History and Culture

Busing was a system of assigning school transportation buses, to a student either inside or outside of one’s own, generally racially, segregated neighbourhood. Since schools with Black students tended to be poor in terms of resources and facilities due to historical reasons, busing was seen as a tool to achieve racial integration. Students sometimes were transported from their de facto racially segregated neighbourhood, to a school in a different district to curb the ongoing racial segregation.

 ‘Forced Busing‘ was the term that was used by many skeptics of the Busing legislation. Though the state provided zero-fare transportation to students, sometimes the assigned school was hours away from the student’s residence. Many parents disliked the idea of sending their children into a school that is miles away from their home when they could send them to a school that is a few doorsteps away. Many, predominantly white, families deflected the busing legislation by fleeing away from urban areas which had a majority black population, to primarily white suburbs, this phenomenon was termed as ‘white flight’

‘White flight’ in return drained away all rich white families out of urban areas of the city, which, along with themselves, took away high taxpayers and resources, and that degraded public funding in already poor neighbourhoods.

As other parents who oppose Busing migrated towards private schooling, these measures in return withered the effectiveness of Busing. 

Southern legislators were the chief opponents of the bill, sighting Busing as an attack on freedom of choice and the inconvenience caused by ‘forced busing’. Opponents of the bill often cited Jim Crow Law which existed since the 18th century in the Southern American states, for the state to enact racial integration. Following the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision, a total of 101 Southern congressmen drafted a bill named Declaration of Constitutional Principles formally known as The Southern Manifesto. Two years following the Brown ruling, this bill was presented as an opposition to the idea of racial desegregation in public places.

 Southern states were not the only ones hostile to the Busing program. The Busing legislation received a heavy backlash in the Northern States as well. Many anti-busing protests broke out throughout northern cities of New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit. The backlash to Busing sometimes came in the form of stone-pelting, violence, vandalism, riots, assault from dissidents of the bill. Bricks and stones were thrown against buses that carried students and police protection was sent along buses transporting them.

The History Behind Busing, And The Civil Rights Movement

By the end of 1939, a large number of agrarian workers migrated towards American cities to fill the labour vacuum created by the high manufacturing demand jobs following WWII. The black population moved towards the urban centres, and the white community moved towards suburban white neighbourhoods. The ongoing Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s acted as a catalyst to the cause of racial integration. It also gave direction to the indelible judgment of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The historic Brown case was successfully argued by the esteemed Thurgood Marshall in 1954. Later, T.Marshall goes on to become the First African-American Justice in 1967, nominated by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. Thurgood Marshall consecutively fought against racial desegregation in the Institutional American education system and remained one of the initial warriors who fought against racial discrimination and rose through the ranks.

Busing Has Now Become A Practice Of The Past

While the practice of federally mandated busing declined since the 1980s, some schools are still under a court order to continue busing, and some do it voluntarily. Most desegregation efforts came to a halt after the 1990s after a Supreme Court ruling that suggested, integration plans were not supposed to be enforced indefinitely. This decision homogenised public schools even more to the extent that pushed the marginalised communities further down.   

A recent study conducted by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) in 2019, found that after 64 years following the Brown ruling, the dynamics of race has changed.

White students still dominate the share in the number of students, followed by Latinos who account for more than half of the students of colour. Black students account for the third-largest racial group. Asian students are the fourth largest group in this multiracial reality. The present scenario is quite different from the time of Brown judgement.

Segregation of resources is still prevalent in modern times. The aforementioned report highlights that Black and Latino students are more likely to struggle for better resources in the public education system. It also suggested that Black and Latino students are more homogeneously mixed into a non-white school. Meanwhile, white and Asian American students are more likely to attend affluent schools with better resources.

Also read: The 5 Things Donald Trump And Narendra Modi Have In Common
Featured Image Credit: Getty Images
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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