While reporting a story, Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter at the New York Times Magazine who's written on school segregation for ProPublica and This American Life, met a student she described as an all-American girl. This girl was at the top of her class, the homecoming queen who dated the football star — "the kind of girl," Hannah-Jones said, "for whom we believe the doors of opportunity will fly open."
But they didn't, Hannah-Jones said, because this girl's name was D'Leisha — inciting all the connotations of race and class that a name with an apostrophe implies.
There are plenty of studies on how having a stereotypically black name can close doors and raise the hackles of implicit bias. Over 10 minutes at a Longreads event in New York, Hannah-Jones uses D'Leisha's story as a searing indictment of how American schools segregate poor black children so that even the most promising among them can't achieve their potential.
D'Leisha never had a white classmate in 13 years. While the wealthier, whiter school in her district had plenty of Advanced Placement classes, hers didn't even teach physics. Although she was at the top of her class and took preparation courses, she failed her ACTs, getting only a 16, and learned that colleges didn't have much interest in someone like her.
Hannah-Jones's full story is very much worth watching. But at the end, she calls out everyone who perpetuates the way education works, particularly white people who think of themselves as liberal and progressive: "People who embrace integration and equality as an ideal, as a belief system, would fight tooth and nail to avoid putting their kids in a school full of children with apostrophes in their names. And these good people want to believe that the modern version of separate but equal isn't nearly as terrible as that old Jim Crow version it replaced," Hannah-Jones said.
"They insist that they really do believe the D'Leishas of this world are just as worthy as their own children — even as they admit they'd never put their kids in the schools we build for kids with apostrophes in their names."