Classist or Racist?

I experienced a great deal of integration and diversity at my alma mater, Newbury Park High School, deep within what I like to call a suburb within a suburb. At least, that was how I experienced it. Many of my friends were white — I would say about half. But within my closest circle, there existed a strange mixture. Lebanese, African American, Vietnamese, and me — a mix of Tejano, Japanese, and white.

My experience conflicts with much that I know of Newbury Park. We’re possibly one of the least integrated places in Ventura County, which is not very integrated to begin with. The UCLA Civil Rights Project data will confirm this: of the counties it mentions, Ventura has the highest population of white enrolled students at 41 percent. It also mentions that school integration has dropped since busing ended, and I can substantiate this from personal experience.

My experience with integration was that there has been no effort in Ventura County, at least within my lifetime, to integrate schools or bring disadvantaged students to schools with more opportunities. Is this because white parents in my hometown are classist, wishing to associate with people of their own socioeconomic status? Or is there a more racially charged reason?

The answer to this has a lot to do with race and income being often inseparable. While I knew of a significant subset of diverse students at my school, they were all wealthy.

Race and income are linked, as seen in this LAUSD plan to bus poor minorities to wealthier white neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley from 1978–1980. Map courtesy Bustop Collection at California State University, Northridge.

Even more disturbing than this is that our small county, with a tenth of that of Los Angeles County’s population, has a lot of school districts, sometimes multiple for one city. Those school districts are highly racially segregated. Growing up, I heard my mother discuss how badly Rio School District in Oxnard was. She would talk of corruption, and I would feel this sudden urge to invite every student from Rio to come to Conejo Valley Unified.

But that’s the thing. Conejo Valley Unified, which protected my school from integration in a way, has a story today that is virtually unchanged since the 1970s historical data I found was published. There are no school buses in my school district. Underprivileged kids that live too far away to walk to school are sometimes given city bus passes. And there are kids that come from out of district, but they are overwhelmingly white, from the district next to ours that has a large Hispanic population. Their official reason for enrolling out of district they say is because our drama program is better, but my mother always told me a different story about their motives.

The district’s Latino population has increased since 1979–1980 when his school district performance profile was published, but white students still make up a majority. Performance profile courtesy Bustop Collection at California State University, Northridge.

Would our district be as inviting if they had a different face, or spoke a different language? Or are we an island of the wealthy, acceptable only to those who pass an unwritten test?

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