The Integrated Schools Podcast

Ep 11 - White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy

Episode Summary

We talk with Dr. Elizabeth McRae, author of Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy, about what her research tells us about contemporary school segregation -- and the hope her work gives for it’s dismantling.

Episode Notes

Professor and author, Dr. Elizabeth McRae, discusses her new book - Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy. This is a compelling history of the everyday work that white women have undertaken to promote and reinforce racial segregation in America’s public schools. While legislation dominates the discourse, Dr. McRae reveals the many ways that white women have been segregation’s “constant gardeners”

We talk with Dr. McRae about what her research tells us about contemporary school segregation -- and the hope her work gives for it’s dismantling.

Let us know what you think of this episode, suggest future topics, or share your story with us - @integratedschls on twitter, IntegratedSchools on Facebook, or email us hello@integratedschools.org.

The Integrated Schools Podcast is produced by Courtney Mykytyn and Andrew Lefkowits. Audio editing and mixing by Andrew Lefkowits. Music by Kevin Casey.

Episode Transcription

Andrew: Welcome to the Integrated Schools Podcast. I'm Andrew, a white dad from Denver, 

 

Courtney: And I'm Courtney, a white mom from Los Angeles. 

 

Andrew: Episode 11: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy. Joined today by Dr. Elizabeth McRae, the Sossoman Associate Professor of History at Western Carolina University. And we're gonna talk about her new book, Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy

 

Courtney: Yeah, we don't want to give away too much here, but this book is a deep dive into the maintenance and promotion of white supremacist politics that support segregationists’ work historically and is the root of many of the things we hear today. And how that's really been the work of white women and white moms. 

 

Andrew: Yeah, let's hear the conversation. 

 

Courtney: Dr. McRae, if you could tell us a little about how you got interested in this project.


Dr. Elizabeth McRae: I think there's an experiential kind of trajectory that made me interested and then an academic. So I’ll just try to summarize both of those. I originally was a public school teacher. When I finished college and I taught in one of the richest school systems in Virginia in Falls Church City Schools and that, um, returned to Southwestern Virginia where I grew up and taught in one of the poorest school districts in the state. And the poor populations were different in Northern Virginia than they were in Southwestern Virginia. The school system was in Southwest Virginia was almost entirely white and the school system in Northern Virginia was much more diverse. But I was, I guess, puzzled by how I could be a public school teacher in the same state and trying to prepare kids for what they would do after high school. And some of them were being funded publicly by twice the amount of money. So this was in the early ‘90s, the difference and the funding per pupil was $7800 per pupil to $3100.

 

Courtney: Oh my goodness.

 

McRae: And so I think I was really interested in both. I believe in public education as central to a democratic society. But at the same time, I wondered why policies had developed that created such an uneven playing field for people who would be applying to the same university with drastically different educational experiences, even though on the surface they were supposed to be similar. So, um, that experience of working in those two different places sort of put me on the path of thinking about, you know, the origins of the sort of inequities in public education and why they were crafted in particular ways and why legislation and policy had developed, and then how people thought about what were good schools. And what did a good school mean to a kind of wealthy suburban family in Northern Virginia versus what did a good school mean to a working poor family in Southwestern Virginia? And why were there those gaps? And so that was sort of the experiential direction. 

 

I then went to, back to graduate school and was interested in, you know, broader fights over ideas that are central to American democracy and was interested in public schools and began to look at folks out of the Reconstruction Era. So after the Civil War that, when, in the South was the big push for public education and began to look at those debates and then thought about the debates that happened after the Brown decision and so academically I sort of moved into thinking about white supremacist politics of public education. And when you go look at schools in the 19th and 20th century, the people doing most of the work in those schools are women, and so that sort of, as I worked on my PhD in History, that's sort of where I ended up moving and that became the genesis of this book. 


Courtney: You know, your book is titled Mothers of the Massive Resistance, and you kind of open with, like, there's this story that we all like to tell about what Massive Resistance means. And then your book really complicates that. Can you kind of share a little bit of what this Massive Resistance story is?

McRae: Massive Resistance in general has been defined as the period after the Brown decision. So after 1954, starting maybe 1955, 1956, when there was kind of white Southern grassroots resistance to integrated education. This mass mobilization and that mobilization was often the result, the story tells us, of male elected leaders. So, the George Wallaces, the Ross Barnetts. You know, I’m gonna stand in the schoolhouse door, call on everybody to show up at the University of Mississippi to prevent James Meredith from going in. And then, as Black Southerners mobilized to force the issue of upholding the Supreme Court's decision and the nation began to look at the violence and the demonstrations in the South, the segregationists began to lose. 

 

And then you get the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and that solves the problem of Massive Resistance, right? Those folks who sort of emerged in the aftermath of 1954 in this kind of episodic rage, right, they've worn themselves out by ‘64 and ‘65. Legal segregation is dismantled, you know, the South has been brought back in line kind of with the nation. The story goes, right? Those, like, vocal white supremacist leaders have begun to lose political clout and the story is sort of over, right? So Massive Resistance traditionally is populated by these kind of demagogic leaders. And then, of course, you have the kind of poor whites in overalls committing violence. That’s who those leaders are stirring up. Again, most of this is male, and it lasts for about 10 years and then it's done. And that didn't make sense to me in a host of ways.

 

So that's sort of a traditional story of Massive Resistance, but we know that if you go into public schools, most often the people doing the work there, historically have been women, right? A lot of the work is female labor. And so here we had this moment that was animated by a decision about public schools in which the women who worked and supported and did PTAs and sort of fade to the background as these kind of racism white men take over. That, it didn't work for me. 

 

So I didn't, I couldn't understand how all these people were ready to do this, just all of a sudden, after the Brown decision, and also if we followed it through the busing decisions of the 1970s, when in different places busing was considered an acceptable strategy to integrate schools because residential segregation had so long separated its neighborhoods, and you had people all over the country in Detroit and Pontiac, in Boston and Milwaukee and Louisville, all these more urban, northern and western cities, that take to the streets and act to me, to my mind, very similarly to the people, the way people acted in Little Rock, Arkansas, or New Orleans or Charlotte, in the aftermath of the Brown decision. So I also didn't understand, like, if Massive Resistance ended in ‘64, ‘65, what were these people? I’m like, okay, they seem to be part of a massive resistance...

Andrew: Slightly different language, slightly different tactics, but clearly the same sort of underlying sentiment.

McRae: Right. Right. And so what I hope my book would do is reframe how we think about Massive Resistance and understand that that moment came out of decades of sort of political mobilization and training for white supremacist politics. It might have been resistance after Brown, but before that, the decades before that it was a training ground for support for racial segregation and white supremacist politics. And that, if we lo,ok at the work rather than the rhetoric, that it also doesn't end in ‘64 and ‘65 that the anti-busing campaigns are part of that trajectory. And what had changed was the way that folks talked about it. 

 

So I was interested in changing both the geography and the chronology, the chronological scope. But then I also felt like the story on the ground had been missed and that in order for systems of sort of oppression to work, it requires a kind of grassroots commitment. And so I was interested in looking at who did the work on the ground and found mostly white women.

Courtney: Policy doesn't come out of nowhere.


McRae: Right. And policy is just part of it, right? So policy matters. But so does this sort of way you’re raised and/or act, etiquette of interactions, right, that you are raised to think about the way, that you learn your history and think about the past, right, in ways that reinforce your position in the present. And so that policy and, like traditional politics, are part of it. But it's not the only part of it, and that in order for segregation to be maintained, there had to be work at the levels of culture, and the levels of sort of family politics that, as well as kind of traditional electoral politics.

Andrew: This is sort of the metaphor of the constant gardeners that you, that you refer to. Tell us a little more about the constant gardeners. I think that's such a great concept.


McRae: You know, a garden requires, like, a lot of work that you never see, right? Like a good garden requires, you know, years of sort of weeding and fertilizing. And there's a delayed gratification, right? You have to purge the things you don't like, the things you think are toxic to whatever your garden is, however you do that. I think a garden is both kind of productive and reproductive work. Which I think was central for thinking about how women work, right? If you look at labor history, when you look at women’s both productive and reproductive labor. And I felt like sort of the nation's investment in various versions of racial segregation were a result of kind of this productive and reproductive work. 

 

And I mean, the other reason the sort of garden metaphor worked for me was that those people that work in the garden, that do that kind of grunt work are not really celebrated. And so, their work could be done, right? This kind of work was done for a long time in really kind of constant and consistent and daily ways that I felt like had not been adequately recognized. And that if legislation and policy is one piece of dismantling sort of inequities in American society, that only gets at one piece, and so then we have to think about if all this other labor was devoted to this project, then we have to recognize it to dismantle the system. We have to work in all those places, too.

Courtney: Yeah, and, and what I was thinking about, you know, as I was reading, especially in the beginning of, of your book, kind of the importance of apathy that these white women really felt like they had to kind of stir the pot, right, right? Like, so it seems like, you know, we have this idea that, that this resistance to integration or this desire for segregation is, you know, completely natural. But in fact, as you show over and over again, it's totally constructed, right. Like these white women are fighting the apathy.


McRae: They have to work all the time. There are folks that work really hard to construct or produce that system. And then there are the more passive consumers of that system. So what happened, and this is particularly true in the period between World War I and World War II. So that period of the 1920S and 1930s, there's this national complicity upholding racial segregation, right? I mean, if you looked at the allies of people who believed that some form of racial segregation was the way to order society, the federal government supported it, state governments, the Supreme Court, textbook producers. I mean, so the allies of that political position were the Democratic Party, the Republican Party. 

 

So I think, in that period for folks who realized the kind of work it took to maintain that system, they fought against apathy because it looked like the sort of decision makers are on their side. So how is it that you rev up everybody like to say, “Oh, you have to watch out for this,” when everybody seems to support that? And so I think, in that period, the irony is, one of the messages of the segregationist was segregation is natural. This is just the way God meant it to be. So it's just natural, right? This is natural that people flocked to their own kind and race is gonna be the way we decide the flocks. But the system required work. And so here you are, telling everybody it's natural. But you have to work all the time to make sure that people are disseminating that message, that it is natural. And so that's why I like the textbook debates so important. 

 

Courtney: Yeah.

 

McRae: There were no, like, books that were like, Oh, America needs to move to a more racially equitable system and look at all these racial, um, racist sort of tragedies and systems that have created the world we live in. There weren't textbooks that said that, but to make sure that none ever did, you had to keep working to make sure that the textbooks told this history of slavery as a school and of reconstruction as a era of corruption. Former slaves weren't ready intellectually or politically to be citizens. Those messages were really important not so much for the past, but to make sure that white folks, right, were like, of course, this is racial segregation and separateness makes sense. 

 

But you had to make sure that those textbooks kept telling those stories, right? So you had to make sure that the committees were not allowing a different message to infiltrate into the public schools, when the battle seemed already won. That's why people kept pushing for textbooks censorship and to make sure these particular stories were reinforced and told across the nation.

Andrew: It's fascinating. I think the way the story sort of goes is, you know, like the moral arc of the universe is bending towards justice and segregation was the natural state and we're just sort of slowly working to undo that. And maybe we do it faster or slower at times. We do it better at times than others, but we're just slowly pushing back at the natural state of things. But when in actuality, what we're pushing back against is really active, intentional effort in the other direction.

McRae: Ibram X. Kendi’s work: work for racial justice and equality is sophisticated and continues to develop over time. But so does those working for racial inequality and white supremacy. I imagine it like a double helix, you know, like they're all intertwined and they're on this trajectory. And I think we often want to think about the path, and we should, it's an important story, but the path towards a more equitable society. And think that folks working for inequities are sort of relics of a less sophisticated past rather than invested in a political and social system in that they want to replicate generation after generation.

Andrew: I think about Nell Battle Lewis. 

 

McRae: Nell Battle Lewis, yeah.

 

Andrew: So the, the idea of being, like, really progressive and also being a segregationist, right. Like we think, I think, you know, politics has gotten so polarized. The right has sort of taken on the label, like, of not caring about the interests of marginalized communities. And so people who tend to lean towards the other way feel like, “Well, my work is done here. I'm like, I'm on the good side of race because I happen to be progressive in some other area.” But, but, you know, it’s a pretty good example of how those things, those two things, do not exclude each other. Being progressive and being a segregationist was possible and I would say probably still is possible, right?

McRae: Yes, yeah. When I have my students close their eyes and tell me what they see when they see, when I say the word, racist, right? It is never like a PTA member. Never.

 

Courtney: Right.

 

Andrew: That’s good.

 

McRae: It’s never like: Oh, it's this mom in a soccer van, right? It's a Klan member. It's somebody that showed up in Charlottesville, right? At the Unite the Right rally. Like, that is the image, and that is certainly one kind. But I think we're so used to seeing that as a dichotomy rather than a continuum. Right? So you're either an integrationist or a segregationist. You’re either a racist or you're not. Rather than thinking about their different generations of segregation. Segregation in Pasadena looks different than it does in Jackson, Mississippi. And segregation looks different, racial segregation, in the 1920s than it does in the 1970s. There is change over time. 

 

You know, for Nell Battle Lewis, she believed that a society could be organized around separate but equal. And so she worked on the equal part, right? Like, OK if schools are funded equally. If the justice system has reform schools for white juvenile delinquents and reform schools for Black juvenile delinquents. That she condemned the KKK. So in the twenties, if you had to pick a segregationist and if you were Black in the South, you would have chosen Nell Battle Lewis, as better than someone calling for lynchings.

Andrew: Right, right. That's a low bar, but yeah.

McRae: Right, but those two things are both real possibilities. So yes, she's pushing for Langston Hughes to be able to come read his poetry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and she defends his presence there, and she defends white students, you know, being able to go listen to Langston Hughes. And so in that way, right, it seems progressive, but she's never, ever for racial integration. Also, and I think this is the sort of maybe compelling part about Nell for us to think about today. Is she always believed that because she was an enlightened, educated white person, that she knew best how to direct racial change. As African Americans and Black Southerners in particular said that they could take charge of the pace of racial change, that diminished her position. And that's when, the, sort of, the gloves came off. Time had shifted right? And so after World War II, when the NAACP and court cases are being decided and there's grassroots Black mobilization and they don't need…

 

Courtney: They don’t need the white hero.

 

McRae: Right. They have crafted enough political and cultural power at that point to be in the conversations and they don't need a Nell Battle Lewis anymore. She couldn't take that. And that seed, I mean, in some of your conversations that, you know, the people that were going to come in and rescue the public schools from folks who haven't run them correctly and I think sometimes there's some of that Nell Battle Lewis that comes out…

 

Courtney: Yeah.

 

McRae: ...in all of us.

Courtney: I think, what’s interesting about thinking about segregation in the context of international politics and movements across the globe is how, how the work of defense really begins at home. Like, you know, so you're looking at like you know, the global world order. You're looking at constitutional principles, certainly state's rights. And then there's, you know, local control issues. And then there's parental authority. Like, all of these spaces are really critical, and they're all really related to one another. We often think as parents that we're just making a decision just for our kids. But in fact, there are these relationships with the decisions that we make far more broadly, and I think that is a really fascinating part of your history.

McRae: One of the things that surprised me was how these international, what we would consider kind of foreign policy, big “P” politics debate, got boiled down into the language of, like, the classroom, of the garden club, of the Rotary, right? That at this local level, that got translated into a particular set of domestic politics and decisions, and parental decisions about raising your child.

 

Courtney: Right.


Andrew: There's this like this, this long history of racism, and it shows itself in various different ways. You know, first, it’s sort of nationally endorsed legally. Everybody sort of accepts it as the way the world should be. And as those things start to get taken away, it's like people have to find a different way to enact a different way to tend to it, to make sure that it lives as these various other things come in and start, and start, taking away. All right, so we can't draw school districts now to segregate kids. Okay, so let's find a different way to go about doing the same thing. We've got the U. N. who's coming in and saying, you know, there's this sort of equality of man. We've got, we've got to do something to push back on that. It's like the scope sort of gets narrower and narrower as the institutions start to try to push back against it. But it's almost like it concentrates the power of the resistance. Like when the state says anything goes, we can, we can have segregation, then it's not so, there's not so much heat behind it, and as those things get taken away and you start narrowing the scope and and the ability that people have to insist on segregation, it seems like that turns up the intensity of the, of the opposition.

McRae: Yeah, or filters it, in particular. But I mean, I think once segregationists lose its national allies, the way the you continue you that system needs to change. And in that way I think the racial regime of the United States, not that it doesn't come out of a history, but it's pretty modern. I mean Jim Crow’s segregation emerges at the same time that we expand the state, that the bureaucracy expands, that public schooling becomes a national institution. That urbanization happens, right? I mean, it’s important to draw the connection certainly between the regime of slavery and racial segregation. But I think it's also important to recognize that segregation also comes out of what we consider a pretty modern context. It is not, like, a relic of antiquity. And as such, is sophisticated, you know? 


Andrew: Right? And that being deep in your heart opposed to slavery doesn't,  doesn't actually mean that you're opposed to segregation.

 

McRae: Right, right, right. 

 

Courtney: You're talking about, like, how the way we talk about things has changed over time in, in all of these international and national and local contexts. But you write that Brown v Board really like feminized Massive Resistance, right? And so it seems like you're kind of saying that in the wake of a lot of these changes and how we're thinking about things and race as a nation, that the resistance was able to say, like, it's not about race, it's just that I'm a mom and I know more about my kids.

McRae: Yes, for some people, that was a really deliberate strategy and choice. But for some of the women in my book, they say we have to not talk explicitly about race. Instead, we need to talk about the Constitution and we need to talk about families. And we need to talk about choice, right? The signs of legal segregation are coming down, so no longer can we talk in explicit sort of white and “colored”. That's not gonna work. There’s sort of both a partisan realignment and also really distinct sort of partisan changes. So, taps into a larger kind of conservative conversation about limited government, about states rights. That is sort of separated from its older kind of racial context, I think. 

 

And then the right of a mother to choose a segregated school somehow is morally superior than the right of a white supremacist to say I only want my kids to go to school with white people, even though the choice results in the same thing. The segregationist women that I write about had tried that out, that sort of colorblind language and a language of kind of property values and a family and parental autonomy and choice. They had tried that out in different audiences over the ‘40s and ‘50s. But with the achievements of the civil rights movement, that became the shift. And so, like the women in Boston would say, “Well, I'm not a segregationist or I'm not a racist. I never made anybody sit at the back of the bus”. Okay, but you want your kid to go to a school that's maybe not completely segregated. But you are, in fact, working for a school that replicates the same kind of racial inequities. Even if you say that you're not like those white Southerners who did this.

Andrew: You talk about it differently, you may even be like, adamantly opposed to making somebody sit in the back of the bus, you would never. And yet when it comes to your kids, I mean, I think this idea, I think you also mention, like, that after Brown, the mobilizing of children as political actors. 

 

Mcae: Right.

 

Andrew: I think there's a lot of pushback today about, you know, I don't want my kid to be sacrificed. We have a whole episode. Don't sacrifice your kid on the altar of social justice, you know, making your kids a guinea pig and social experiments. And there's this idea, you know, I don't want to bring politics into my kid's education. And, and yet, no matter what school choice you make, it's a political choice, right? So either you choose to ignore segregation or you choose to support it. But choosing to ignore it is, is, you know, a, is only possible for privileged people in the first place, white people in the first place, but also is just as political a statement as choosing to do something about it.

McRae: Right, I mean, it is so interesting. I think I can’t figure out how I would do this research, so I don't know that I will ever do it but I think the way that we begin to envision what good schools are and how that's rooted. What do you define as a good school? Is it that your kids are with a certain class of people? Right? Is it that they learn a curriculum that their parents are familiar with? Is it that they read the same authors that the previous generation did? Is it that they have more AP classes offered and that makes it a good school, ‘cuz then they're going to get into a good college. Is it sort of about the politics of consumption, right? I think it has been separated from like a larger eschew of democratic values, like small “d” democratic values. If school is only thought of as a way to enrich, literally, your financial life, our definition of good schools is so narrowly defined.

Andrew: I mean, I would, I would argue that that research has already been done. The people who have the ability to make choices about education, about what kind of schools they want, people who have the ability to direct change in school systems are white, privileged people, and we see that when that happens, they create schools with more white and privileged kids for themselves. So I think we've done a natural experiment on that, and I think the results are pretty clear what people think of when they think of a good school, is a segregated school.

 

Courtney: With a STEM program.

McRae: Yeah, I'm pretty, I'm kinda in the historical roots of this kind of school choice debate.

Courtney: Yeah, I mean, I think that goes back to the historical roots that you talk about a lot in this book in terms of protecting this idea of parental authority. School as kind of a domestic space and as an extension of the domestic space, I need to have control over that, is part and parcel of this history.

McRae: Right. And it needs to reflect my values. And in the South, right, legal segregated education allowed some of that to happen. But then once the Brown decision, although the Brown decision didn't do it, it had to be the mobilization of people trying to enforce the Brown decision which took years and years. But that then was like, My values aren't going to be taught in this school. And so I'm going to move to a place that my kids go to school with people that think just like them.

Andrew: It seems like there's like, there's this underlying issue of racism, and there are these various sort of tropes that the white women who you researched relied on as what the threats of desegregation were…

 

McRae: Right. right.

 

Andrew: What were those tropes that people often pointed to?

McRae: You know, again, they change over time. So pre-World War II, the reason that Black and white schools could be funded in really different ways was that Black Southerners were going to do particular jobs, and so they didn't need the same kind of education. So they didn't need Latin that the white schools might need because what they were going to do when they grew up, because of the larger sort of labor politics, what they were going to do were these particular jobs. So why would you put people that were going to do these particular jobs into a school with folks that were gonna be doctors and lawyers and teachers? So that would diminish the sort of economic training, right? The training grounds for the kind of jobs they would do. But after Brown, and I think this surprised me: what white women were concerned about, I was prepared for them to be concerned about sexual violence.

 

Courtney: Yeah.

 

McRae: Because of the sort of stories that come out of the 1890s, and the, the role that white women as an idea played in lynching.

 

Courtney: Right.

 

McRae: Oh, they're gonna be afraid that their white daughters are gonna get raped by their fellow Black male classmates. That's, that's what I expected to see. I did not see that. I almost never saw that, What they feared was that a racially integrated, more equitable education would mean that there would be marriage across the race lines. 

 

Courtney: Right.

 

McRae: Over and over, it was marriage. So I think they were worried about marriage. And then because, and this was their logic, because African Americans were not as sophisticated or intelligent, that when they entered the schools they would bring down the test scores. Teaching would have to move towards the kids who were not prepared and could not meet the level of the kids who had had a better education, were more prepared. I mean, right? The irony of their arguments are because of segregation, had meant that white education was maybe better. And that's debatable, certainly in different places. But the idea was that because it was better than when you integrated, that the white students would suffer ‘cuz of a dumbing down of teaching. 

 

And then the final sort of, one of their other concerns was that Black teachers who had been trained differently would indoctrinate their white students, their white children, with different ideas about America, about the past, about the Constitution. Right and the language they use was that they had been indoctrinated in a more subversive education and therefore would translate that and erode, sort of, the values and the ideas that these white families wanted to promulgate. 


Courtney: Indoctrination is such an interesting term to me because, because we talk about indoctrination like, you know, in these ways, like I don't want the Black teachers to indoctrinate my children with, you know, with, like, Black histories or stories of like Black folks who have done good things. Like, I'm worried about them being indoctrinated into this New World Order. But yet all of the work around textbooks is another form of indoctrination that doesn't get pulled under the label of indoctrination. Right? Indoctrination is a weapon.

McRae: Right. And yet, yeah, that whole sort of crafting of curriculum and curricular materials. And the segregated South had been really powerful in doing that. I know everybody talks about California and Texas today. But the South was the first states to go to a centralized textbook selection committee. And white segregationists women, like the United Daughters of the Confederacy. They knew that that was happening, and they made sure their people either were on the committees or communicated with the committees. And so early on, textbook publishers nationwide began to publish the textbooks that Southern states selected because of economics. They were going to make more money on a state-wide selection, so that’s the books they produced. Yes, there was a long indoctrination. 

 

There's this crazy case in West Virginia in the ‘70s, and like the curriculum debate comes down to if their children are going to read Black authors, they want them to read Booker T. Washington and not Eldridge Cleaver. So it’s that specific, right? Because Booker T. Washington, they thought, was an accomodatist and reinforced the kind of economic hierarchy, that he was who their students could read. Their children could read Black authors, but they want them to read Booker T. Washington and not Eldridge Cleaver, who’s coming out of this Black Panther, Black Power trajection.  So it's always pretty knowledgeable. Like, like…

 

Courtney: They did their homework. 

 

l know as a historian, and I'm sort of trying to push you out of history, and bring you into the present day, which isn't probably very fair. But, you know, do you see anything happening today that feels like it's a pushing back against the segregation, or is there any hope that you're seeing?

McRae:  Oh yes, I think there's hope.


Courtney: We don't usually have a lot of hope in our podcast, too much. So we're trying to bring back hope for 2019.

McRae: Um, I think, you're doing this podcast. That seems to me to be hopeful, that people are interested in talking about it, that there's groups like the National Coalition on School Diversity. 

 

But I think on a more local level, that one of the things right in this book showed, was that these women worked locally down so many different levels, right? Like, having essay contests and working on their textbook committees and working on teacher selection and restoring particular historic sites. There's so much work to be done, that for those of us that want a more equitable world, there's something that all of us can do. And I know we want it to happen right now. But I think that maybe before I wrote this book, I was committed to public schools, but I didn't know how much changed. And now I realize that these segregationist women worked for a long time. It changed just at their local level and that change mattered. 

 

Courtney: Yeah.

 

McRae: So I think people can change the world that they live in. That sounds so idealistic and I’m not really that, generally. 

 

Courtney: It does. I like it though. I mean, it's a long game, right? Like we have to be in this for the long game. I think is…


McRae: It's messy. If you're gonna get your feelings hurt every time you step out, then it's probably not the game for you, but not everybody's a producer of the system. And so there's a lot of people that could be worked on that have sort of accepted the system but aren't actively producing it. Right? They might be replicating it, but they aren’t like the main women in my book that were constructing it. And so I feel like those are people whose minds can be changed. 

 

I think that there is, there's so much work to be done, and I think the other thing is if it took that much work to build a system that secured kinds of racial inequities and built it into our system, that, that means it took that much work. So every bit of work you do to dismantle that is really, you know, subversive and revolutionary, I think, right? I mean, if it takes that much work generation after generation to create and sustain and replicate a system, that every person that begins to challenge that I think chips away at that.


Andrew: Wow. That was great. So thankful to Dr. McRae for spending time with us. 

 

Courtney: Yeah, it's really always good when people who are smarter than me are doing the talking. Um, what's so important, and I think it's not really surprising. But it's really important, is how critical the playground is, like it's all the daily work, the mundane, the prosaic. And I mean, we talk about this all the time, Andrew. 

 

Andrew: Yeah, I mean, I think she, she shows us that the history of segregation is on the playground, but like it takes intentional work, right? Like, the women she researched felt like they had to stir it up. People left to their own devices may not have felt so angry and…

 

Courtney: Motivated, right? 

 

Andrew: Motivated, right. The tending to the garden, that segregation needed to be supported. It wasn't the natural state of things. It took work to make it happen, and I think we, we think of it as a naturally racist story. And  there's like some natural racism, for sure. But it wasn't just that. It took work. They had to keep talking about a day to keep protecting this natural segregation that, that they had. 

 

Courtney: Yeah, I want to just talk about this all the time, right? Like how meaningful, how meaningful the idea of the natural is for white and or privileged parents, right? Maybe it's that way for all parenting or all of everything. I don't know, but I'm just talking about the white and privileged parenting. You know, like it's only natural that parents want the best for kids. All parents are trying to find the best schools. No one can blame parents for trying to get the best for their kid. And like we take this kind of capital T truth that this is the way to do parenting. This is, you know, this is like this good natural parenting that we can talk about best schools in these very specific, sort of agreed upon ways that are segregated… racist. 

 

Andrew: Yeah, I think, the legacy of separate but equal, right? Like the story of Nell Battle Lewis. Working hard to keep things equal but definitely insisting that they also be separate. And I think, I think it's interesting cuz it's like there’s still some Nell Battle Lewis in, in a lot of people, right? Like those tendencies still show up. Maybe not as sort of explicit in how racist their language is. They, people may not say that they think society should be or could be organized around segregation. But there's still a lot of people who are willing to work on the equal, but maybe not address the separate. 

 

Courtney: Right, and I think we see that both in our policies and in our playgrounds, right, like they’re in our PTAs and booster clubs and zoning meetings. Separate but equal is everywhere. But I think, right, if the women that McRae studied, if it took them doing this much work, if this is what segregation required, then imagine if we flip that script. Imagine if we were working in the opposite direction and then imagine if we worked in the opposite direction alongside parents of color. 

 

Andrew: Yeah, yeah, that's what gives me hope in this work. So, how about you, listeners? What gives you hope? Let us know at Hello at IntegratedSchools dot org. And keep sending us your voice memos, they are so fun to hear. We've got a great one from Sarah from Houston, sharing about why she cares about integration. 

 

Sarah: Hi, my name is Sarah, and I'm a white parent, and I send my kids to an integrating school in Houston, Texas. We started out at a highly sought after magnet school. And thanks to the work of Integrated Schools and others, a couple of years ago, our kids enrolled in a school that is hopefully gonna integrate. So, um, we're happy to be there, thrilled with our choice and have no regrets about leaving the bubble. Thanks. 

 

Courtney: Thanks for sharing that, Sarah. And, you know, for those of you listening in real time, be on the lookout for a book club session on Mothers of Massive Resistance Coming soon, soon, soon in 2019. 

 

Andrew: Yes. Check the website. Integrated schools dot org. That will be a great one. 

 

Courtney: So thanks to everyone who has emailed, rated, reviewed, we love your feedback. We really, really do. It means a lot. And as always, we are grateful to be in this with you as we try to know better and do better. 

 

Andrew: See you next time.