Over six decades after Brown v. Board of Education ruled separate public schools for white and black children unconstitutional, the U.S. is still battling with educational segregation. As John Oliver noted on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, in 1988, there were 2,762 schools with one percent or less white children; by 2011, that number had ballooned to 6,727 (via Propublica). The host examined the causes for this imbalance throughout the episode.
Oliver noted that the South is America’s least segregated region for black students, with New York City among the most. (“Of course racism exists in New York. Have you never seen West Side Story?” he cracked.) The comedian argued that many cities “never really bothered integrating in the first place” since the 1964 Civil Rights Act didn’t target the “racial imbalance” found in northern schools.
Sadly, it’s often only when white students are placed in predominantly black schools that money and resources start to flow. “Funding tends to follow white people around the way white people follow the band Phish around,” Oliver cracked.
“The only solution here is to be proactive,” Oliver said. “Remember, if you just assign kids to their neighborhood schools and their neighborhoods are segregated, you will have a segregated school.”
The host argued there are “massive and multiple benefits for all of us” when children of all races start interacting more at an early age.
“While this always gets framed as an issue about parents and their children, it’s actually about adults and everybody,” he said. “Because kids grow up, and those little doctors, soldiers, police officers and superheroes asking you for candy [on Halloween], why, in a decade or so, they might be actual doctors, soldiers, police officers and assistant directors of human resources.”