“How is this possible, that people are saying we’re segregated, we’re Jim Crow,” Kim told the Times. “These words are too harsh. It makes me feel like I’m a bad person.”
This is a striking and revelatory assessment of what’s happening. New York City officials admitted long ago to having a segregated public school system, and committed to integration. A 1955 study — conducted the year after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education — found that 42 city elementary schools were more than 90 percent black and Puerto Rican, and nine middle schools were more than 85 percent. Though these 51 facilities comprised just 8 percent of the city’s elementary and junior high schools at the time, the extremity of their divisions fueled some soul-searching by the board of education, which committed itself to change. “[Public] education in a racially homogenous setting is socially unrealistic and blocks the attainment of goals of democratic education,” New York City’s Board of Education declared.
Segregation is a matter of fact, not of feeling, and Kim’s claim that it is too harsh a descriptor because it makes him feel bad belies that it is the literal state of affairs, not a rhetorical effort to assign guilt to him personally. Yet his assessment is indicative of a broader cultural trend, most prevalent among white conservatives, that considers being called “racist” worse than actual racism.