Revolution #96, July 22, 2007

Segregation Then…
And Now—
This System Cannot and Will Not Bring About Equality

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Segregated drinking fountains in the County Courthouse, Albany, Georgia.. [Photo: Danny Lyon]

Demonstration at an “allwhite” swimming pool in Cairo, Illinois, 1962. [Photo: Danny Lyon]

White supremacy is built into the very foundation of the American capitalist system. After the period of Reconstruction, the oppression of Black people was forcefully reasserted through Jim Crow segregation. American schools and every part of society were, especially but not only in the South, segregated by law and by lynch mobs. The Supreme Court had declared in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that this kind of segregation was consistent with the U.S. Constitution. By law, Black people were forced into substandard and dehumanizing schools, housing, and jobs. And many decades after slavery ended, up through the 1940s, KKK mobs held mass public rallies, burned crosses, dragged Black families out of their houses, and tortured and murdered people—enforcing a system of sharecropping—near-slavery.

In the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Supreme Court held that attempts to label segregated education as “separate but equal” were fraudulent and violated the Constitution. It called for schools to be integrated “with all deliberate speed,” setting off massive changes in the United States. People around the country (and around the world) watched as courageous Black students defied howling mobs, racist politicians, and vicious police who sought to bar their entry into schools. But it quickly became clear that simply ending the “separate but equal” standard in education would not bring about any real changes. White supremacy was too deeply embedded in every aspect of American society.

Despite two decades of courageous struggle, where many gave their lives, only a dent was made in the societal patterns of school segregation. By the 1970s, the system had unleashed the “backlash.” For the past 30 years or so, what gains were made in the struggle to integrate schools, and society as a whole, have been under attack— often in the form of claims that whatever small progress was made in remedying still-overwhelming and pervasive segregation constitutes “reverse discrimination.”The workings of the system has laid waste to the communities with concentrations of Black people. Jails have been built, not schools, and an entire generation has been criminalized. Today education is more segregated than in 1968. The four states with the most segregated schools are New York, Michigan, Illinois, and California. In New York, far from the “deep South,” only one Black student in seven goes to a non-segregated school. Race affects everything in this society, cutting across economic lines, and impacting everything from what happens when your car is pulled over by the police to what kind of medical care you get, to where you can live.

The proletariat is the only class that can and will end segregation. The ruling class today and their capitalist system could never fully desegregate society and do away with national oppression even if they wanted to. In contrast, the proletariat—and a future socialist society in which it would rule—would have no interest whatsoever in maintaining this set up. The Draft Programme of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA states that in the future socialist society, “Segregation in neighborhoods, schools, and the like will be banned and integration promoted. Racist/segregationist groups will be broken up, and those like the KKK and Nazis who have initiated attacks on oppressed nationalities will be immediately and mercilessly crushed.” And it goes on to explain: “As opposed to the way in which capitalism enforces systematic discrimination and essentially closes off whole spheres of society to the oppressed nationalities, the new proletarian state will provide the resources, support, and leadership required to overcome all inequalities between nationalities and all barriers to full and equal participation in every sphere and on all levels of society.”

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