Brown v. Board of Education: 50 years later
May 16, 2004
A snapshot into Tucson high schools shows that 50 years after a landmark Supreme Court decision to integrate public schools, students still separate themselves into groups. But they say it's less about race than about where they come from, their interests, music, clothes and neighborhoods.
The court made its decision on May 17, 1954.
Arizona Daily Star reporters talked with a sample of high school students about matters of race and with three adults who lived through Brown.
Race doesn't matter much on the surface, according to students at local high schools. But dig a little deeper and students talk about black culture, white culture, Mexican culture. Some students think that time will erase racism, but 50 years after public schools were integrated in the United States, students still report hearing racial epithets on their campuses.
Students also report stereotypes and different expectations for different kinds of people.
Race is what you look like, they say, but culture is who you are and what you believe, and that's what's important.

Tucson Magnet High School

Marcus T. Coleman, 18, senior
I'd define myself as an American but as far as ethnicity, I consider myself American of African descent. But if I was to focus on that, I'd be putting a barrier between myself and another person and say "You have to be one way and I have to be another." Focusing on race seems to make it seem like one person is superior to another.
In general, race does matter when you first come to Tucson High. You're very in the box and you go around with people who are your race. You go by race, then by neighborhoods. As you get older you expand your comfort zone and see people more as people, not by color.
When I first started at Tucson High I wasn't recommended to go to honors classes. My eighth-grade year I had a lot of stuff going on at home but I still met the criteria for honors classes.
When I registered my freshman year they looked at me for five minutes and tried to talk me into regular classes. But white kids with the same grades were told to go to honors classes. Regular classes aren't me, they're not challenging to me. People need to respect challenges.
If you look at the school at lunch you see groups of people. And if you look at it, it looks like it's race-based but it's more interest-based. It's more that people appreciate and respect people for who they are, not that you have to be together all day. My crowd is more who I grew up with.
Charise Talamantes, 17, junior
I define myself as Mexican-American. I never really thought about race as an issue until I came to Tucson High and realized how different people are. I don't like "race," I think it's a dumb term. I think people are equal no matter what race you are.
I came from St. Ambrose Catholic School, where everyone wore uniforms and were pretty much on the same level. Here there are no uniforms and you see people as they really are.
I had honors classes, mostly with Anglo people. I was one of the only Hispanics in my classes. I didn't feel comfortable around them because I thought I was less than them because there were more of them than me.
In classes, though, walls fall down. You don't get to pick who's in your classes. But at lunch, when you first come to Tucson High, it's scary.
When I first came to Tucson High, I hung out with Catholic schoolgirls, mostly Hispanics, because we had something in common. But as we grew up we made other friends, too.
People hang out more with people from their neighborhoods. It's not race, it's more their style, the music they listen to.
I wish we had more Chicano and African-American history classes so we can learn about each other.
Joshua Chaney, 17, senior
I'd define myself as a mutt, since I have different types of cultures in me. We're all different and if you let race separate you from someone else because of a color or a difference, you're losing out on people you could meet. If you let race be an issue, then something's wrong with you.
I've never had a problem with race - if you're cool with me, I'm cool with you. A lot of times we live in the past with it, and the more we hold on to it, the harder it is to move on.
I've never had been in a situation that drastic to where I felt that people were singling me out because of race.
It's not a race issue - jocks will hang out with jocks, for example.
Sabino High School
Wade James, 17, junior
Race is just a visual thing. Culture is different. Race doesn't matter. If people are separated, it's because of culture. I don't find race important - it's more hip-hop culture, Mexican culture, white culture, but it's not based on race. There are black people who fit into white culture and white people who fit into black culture.
I could say I have a friend who's Mexican but he acts white and people would know exactly what that means.
It's about your clothes and music here, not race. Sabino definitely has cliques, but it's not defined by race.
I think it's more people without money or who are uneducated who perpetuate racism.
Shelly Thomas, 17, junior
Race to me is what you look like and where you come from and your background. No matter how I dress, I'm going to be black. You can't put me in a category.
Race is the color of your skin and culture is beliefs and what you do and how you act.
I don't think there's racism here. But there are people who have stereotypes. I've had people who have problems with other people and they come to me and ask if I can help them take care of it. It's a stereotype - they think I fight, that I'll have an attitude. I've never been in a fight in my life.
You run across problems with what people have been taught, because people can be ignorant, money or no money.
People don't use words against each other here, I haven't heard it. I have had people ask me why they can't say certain words when it's in songs and other people say it. That word offends me. I feel like they shouldn't say it in music, I don't think anyone should say it.
I think integration has worked and I'm grateful for it. But I don't think there is equal access to education because if you don't have a lot of money, you don't have the money for education.
Zachary Dowson, 17, junior
Race is really how you define yourself. I define myself as normal, but if I have to fill out a form or something, I say Asian/Pacific Islander.
I think race does matter, because it's how you categorize yourself. Like here, there is nothing for me to categorize myself with because there are so few Asian people here and I don't even know all their names.
People here dress to fit in. Clothes really do separate people.
The only time someone said something racist to me was when I was 13 and first moved to this side of town and some older man at Safeway asked me if I was on the wrong side of town.
There are kids here who mostly speak Spanish and wear lots of jewelry and hang out together. They're not being segregated against, they sit together - it's a choice. ...
I think racism will go away over time, because over time these opinions just go away. I think interracial relationships destroy all barriers. But if you're separated when you're young, you'll be separated when you're older.
I wouldn't mind if anyone of any color or culture or birth defect sat down next to me, I'd be their friend.
Cherisa Ard, 17, junior
I see race as a matter of heritage and background. Any person of any race can have any kind of personality. Race shouldn't matter and I don't think, on average, it does matter here.
At lunch there's a Mormon table, a band table, but it's not based on race.
I can't imagine a society with separate schools for different races. That would be very, very weird.
I think it's a matter of equalizing the economy. It's seems kind of ridiculous that some people have more money than they could ever spend in their life and other people don't have enough.
Brandon Black, 17, junior
It's hard to define race in modern American society. I'm white, but I'm also a quarter Comanche Indian. But truly I define myself as an American.
I don't think race matters anymore. The sad truth is that we could all be the same race, the same culture, live in a gray and white world, and we would still hate each other. That's human nature, we find a reason to hate each other.
Desert View High School
Ariel Monzon
18, senior
My mother is from Chile and my father is from the Dominican Republic. They come from South and Central America. I'd put myself under Latino.
Race to me is really nothing more than a skin color - it doesn't define who you are. Desert View is mostly Hispanic. Everybody gets along with everybody. People don't keep themselves apart. There's the boyfriend-girlfriend thing: African-Americans with white girls, Hispanics with white girls, Hispanic girls with white guys.
Racism differs from person to person. A lot of kids refer (negatively) to the people who come here from Mexico. They judge them based on the fact that their first language is Spanish. They say those words (racial slurs), but they add a vulgar, obscene word in front of them.
The teachers here treat the students equally. The only time a teacher has a problem is when the student makes themself out to be a problem, not because of race, background or the fact that they can only speak one language.
In some cases integration does still need to be enforced, primarily based on the location of the schools. Desert View's community has many different races, whereas in the foothills community, the race is predominantly white. If they were to put more cultures in there, like more of the Hispanic culture, maybe they'd get a different perspective of the Mexican culture.
Kimberly Ortega
17, senior
I am of Tohono O'odham descent.
Race is your ethnic origin and what you believe in. Racism is really not a problem here. You just get influenced by other people, by what they know and not what they look like. There's a lot of cultural diversity here. Everybody interacts with everybody. I think racism probably means the same thing to everybody.
The classroom is the biggest example of how students interact. You can't separate everybody. They have to learn together and from each other. At lunch time, there's no different groups. It's just all one basically. I really don't hear anybody classify anybody by their race. We really don't call each other anything other than our names.
The teachers believe everybody can learn the same things. They may learn at different times, but our teachers don't prefer one group over another. Their work ethic is based on the students' work ethic. You can only expect what you put forth.
Integration is still needed because with it you get to meet people from different races and learn about other cultural backgrounds. Without integration, you don't get progress. You're stuck where you're at. There's always going to be that one person who thinks integration's not working. So it's better to keep it in place.
Marana High School
Trevor Carroll , 17
Race is your color but it's also your background. It's not a big issue at this school because it's mostly white and Hispanic. I don't think race really determines anything at this school. Race is never really brought up.
Some people might think race is more important than other people. They might stereotype people based on race. There are a lot of instances of people of the same race hanging out together. I think they feel more secure with their own race and more at home with people of their own race. But I think they mostly mix. Everyone kind of gets along. There are not really any problems between students based on race.
I don't think race defines how people are treated at this school. I think most teachers don't determine things on race. I haven't had any teachers that hold judgments or have expectations based on race. I think other facts are more important, like grade level and age.
I think integration has definitely worked here or else I'd have to go to school across town. I think it adds more diversity to the school. You don't want a school with all the same people. With more diversity you get more ideas and more culture and more understanding of other races."
I think (Brown v. Board of Education) was definitely a landmark case and it got things rolling. I think that it definitely benefited all of the minorities. But integration is still something society should be working toward.
Ashley Schmeltzer, 17 junior Marana High School
I would define race by the color of your skin and by your ethnic background. Race doesn't matter because it doesn't make up the person you are.
Race doesn't matter here as much as people might think. We are all people and we have different opinions. For the majority, they don't take race seriously. There are some that do think race matters. You can walk around school sometimes and you can see people putting other people down. But for the most part people get along. Race isn't as important at our school as it is in the world.
Integration has worked. I think integrating schools definitely matters now. Different opinions come from different people and we need to value that. Integrating schools teaches a valuable lesson to students on how to look past the color of skin or ethnic background and know people are people.