Modern Day Racial Segregation in Long Island

Racial disparities have affected the resources that blacks are offered due to systematic oppression and discrimination. The idea of keeping blacks and whites separate was introduced to the entire United States and was adapted by Long Island, New York (although it was declared illegal). Tactics such as redlining and housing discrimination reinforced racial segregation keeping it alive for decades, affecting people living in underserved communities of color across Long Island. Advertised as a land of opportunity and convenience, Long Island has a system created to destroy and oppress people of color living in underserved communities. This modern-day segregation has led to a lack of funding for schools and communities of color, a lack of diversity in communities, and missed opportunities. Modern day segregation is a deliberate tactic to keep blacks and whites separated. Thus, creating a negative trickle-down effect tainting the futures and integrity of certain communities and areas across New York.   

The demographic makeup in many areas of Long Island are disproportionate. Segregation in Long Island has introduced lasting effects on its communities. The reason behind the beginning of segregation in Long Island was due to the fact that realtors and banks believed that selling a home to a family of color in a predominantly white neighborhood would lower the costs of the area and would drive White families out.  Maya Brown of The Statesman offers her firsthand experience with the issue; she explains that as a child driving through the surrounding communities, she wondered why they had drastically different racial makeups than her community. “I realized that the adjacent town of Merrick has a White population of 88%, while Freeport has a White population of 24%. How is it that two towns right next to each other could have such a different racial population?” says Brown. Brown also explained her experience while attending Stony brook university located on Long island in Suffolk county, she explained how the university in itself was very diverse but the communities surrounding it like East Setauket and Port Jefferson for example, weren’t, due to racial segregation across the region. 

Systemic racism refers to how ideas of white superiority/supremacy are captured in everyday thinking at a systems level, thus taking in the big picture of how society operates into account, rather than looking at one-on-one interactions. Racial privilege has allowed whites to advance easier in terms of economics and education. Which is why modern-day segregation is an issue that must be put to an end. One of the earliest examples racial segregation in Long Island would be the historic development of Levittown. This community was built in 1947 mainly to create affordable housing for returning soldiers of World War II but were only built for white families. Although black males were amongst this group of soldiers, their families were turned away due to their skin color. “The whites-only policy was not some unspoken gentlemen’s agreement. It was cast in bold capital letters in clause 25 of the standard lease for the first Levitt houses, which included an option to buy” according to Bruce Lambert of New York Times. This may not seem like much of a disadvantage, but these families of color missed out on economic advantages that could have benefited themselves and generations to come. The homes being sold in Levittown   cost around $6,900 with nearly no money down and were later sold for more than seven times their value in today’s economy.   

The school to prison pipeline is also a result of modern-day segregation in Long Island. The school to prison pipeline refers to the disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. It is also said that Benchmark exams given to children in elementary schools are used by prisons to prepare how many beds they will need in the future. Meaning that if a child scores a low grade they are statistically more likely to end up in prison.  The children who usually score low are often victims of poverty, abuse, and are often victims of underserved communities of color. For most students, the pipeline begins with inadequate resources in public school. “Overcrowded classrooms, a lack of qualified teachers, and insufficient funding for “extras” such as counselors, special education services, and even textbooks, lock students into second-rate educational environments.” With a lack of resources students are put up against many disadvantages encouraging a lack of interest in school. Zero tolerance policies also encourage the school to prison pipeline because it allows schools to enforce strict rules and consequences regardless of a student’s circumstances. This policy results in at risk students being left without support pushing them farther down the pipeline.  

 Students also learn better when their teachers look like them.    The majority of students in public school are students of color, while most teachers identify as white. And this so-called teacher-diversity gap likely contributes to racial disparities in academic performance. Students of color are more likely to succeed when their teachers look like them, making it easier to view them as role models. Black students who have even one black teacher by third grade are 13 percent more likely to enroll in college, according to research from Johns Hopkins University and American University. 

Certain communities like Cold Spring Harbor benefit from a lack of diversity and segregation across Long Island. In comparison to other districts in Long Island like Wyandanch, they had more money and funding than they could spend. According to Jaime Franchi of Long Island press, Money was spent on Astro turf fields, a “t-shirt shooter” for use at pep rallies, coffee machines and freshwater coolers for staff. “Parents spent an untold thousand on private tutoring and private counselors to help students transition through common difficulties that may affect kids” such as divorce, drug abuse and learning disabilities. The school district does not need to provide the student with basic needs such as counseling and tutors leaving a surplus of money that can be spent on almost anything for the school. This is not a luxury for underserved communities such as Wyandanch with a large minority population and low-income high tax paying parents. Often, underserved communities of color tend to have higher taxes and lower rates of increase in property values in order to fund public school education. Many communities benefit from segregation allowing them to put money into the aesthetic and efficiency of their schools. Meanwhile other schools are suffering to provide basic supplies and necessities for their students. 

So next time you drive around your town pay attention to the scenery changes as u go from one part of town to the next. Pay attention to the stores and the schools around you. You may realize as you get closer to the better funded part of town you will see fewer black people and people of color along with fewer cop cars. 

Questions to ask yourself: 

How old were you when you first had a teacher who looked like you? 

How many black teachers have you had in your lifetime? 

What age were you when your school began to prepare you for college?