A study by USC Assistant Professor Ann Owens published on March 17 showed that white families live in more racially homogenous areas than other racial groups. According to the study, white families aim to send their children to predominantly white schools. Thus, white children are less exposed to children from minority groups, and low-income minority children are given limited educational opportunities.
It is important to recognize this issue of modern-day racial segregation as not only a race problem, but also as an economic one in terms of the quality if education that children receive. It also affects people’s ability to empathize with different communities. USC plays a role here — in its mission of promoting racial and economic diversity in education, the University must work against these forces and promote interaction between students and the community in order to foster cultural understanding.
White children — as Owens points out — will lose out on exposure to minority races, potentially undermining their cultural sensitivity and knowledge about other cultures, and thus increasing the likelihood of future prejudicial attitudes. This segregation further entrenches a familiar cycle, wherein low-income minority children go to schools with less funding than those that wealthier white children attend, thus jeopardizing the quality of education they receive and subsequently their future opportunities.
Take the stark difference between the racial composition of two public school districts in Los Angeles County: Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. In Los Angeles, according to census statistics that Owens compiles, 73.7 percent of students are Latino, while in Beverly Hills, 74.7 percent of students are white. According to Owens, these dramatic differences are primarily due to white families who choose — whether consciously or not — to move to majority-white neighborhoods. This decision segregates schools not only racially but also economically, due to the role that property taxes play in school funding.
Neighborhoods with a concentration of wealthy, white families have higher property taxes, and thus a higher likelihood of schools with better funding and resources. On the other hand, low-income neighborhoods with minority children would see the reverse effect: Schools with less funding and thus an inequality of opportunity for children in these areas. This is a problem that can occur regardless of race — for instance, low-income and racially integrated neighborhoods with a lack of proper funding for schools do exist — but it is one that racial segregation certainly exacerbates.
This then ties in with the lack of exposure that white children have to children of other races. This lack of diversity, while seemingly intangible, is one with very real consequences. The roots of racial prejudice often lie in ignorance. By not acknowledging or being exposed to the experiences of the oppressed, or even seeing how minorities are oppressed at all, it is easy to assume that the status quo of racial discrimination is acceptable. The interactions between white children and children of other races are thus important in shaping their early attitudes toward cultures other than their own.
When neighborhoods are segregated in the way that Owens highlights, these interactions are limited, if not lost altogether, and characteristics such as cultural sensitivity are less present in the daily lives of white children.
Los Angeles is especially famous for being a melting pot of people of an endless range of different cultures, identities and backgrounds. But despite this narrative, the city is divided into pockets of communities centered on their ethnic identity. In fact, the area surrounding USC features much of Los Angeles’ famed cultural diversity, but the University must do more to promote interaction between USC students and faculty and the community around them in order to foster less homogenous, socioeconomically segregated communities.
A step toward solving both these issues — the racial and the economic — lies in dismantling the segregation that occurs when white families specifically choose majority-white schools for their children. By promoting racial diversity in both predominantly white as well as predominantly minority school districts, children can interact more frequently with peers of other races, and those who are currently at the mercy of funding imbalances between schools can receive higher quality education.