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John Oliver takes on America's school segregation problem

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HBO

After previously using his airtime to address televangelists, tobacco, and climate change, amongst other such hot-button issues, John Oliver spent a segment during Sunday’s Last Week Tonight discussing the continued prevalence of segregation in the United States’ school system.

“They don’t know how to act because they believe that they’re better than us. And we don’t know how to act because we believe that they’re better than us.”

These are the words of a young woman who has struggled with her self-esteem due to racism in schools. Oliver aired her perspective, originally featured in a MSNBC report, showing segregation still exists in U.S. schools decades after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted.

Oliver kicked off his deep-dive with some alarming statistics: In 2011, the number of apartheid schools (where 1 percent or less of student population is white) totaled 6,727, an increase from the 2,762 apartheid schools in 1988, according to ProPublica.

“Even as our society has grown more diverse, nearly 7,000 schools have the racial makeup of the audience of your average Tyler Perry movie,” said Oliver, drawing laughs. “And that one white guy is [film critic] Leonard Maltin, and he has to be there — it’s his job.”

Oliver wasted no time tackling an assumption people make about segregation in schools. “Now at this point, if you are in a city like New York, you’re probably thinking, ‘Oh splendid. I know where this is going: a story vilifying the backwards and racist American South. Let me just grab a handful of kale chips that I can munch on while feeling superior.'”

That’s not going to happen because the South is the “least segregated region of black students, and in fact, New York state is now the most segregated system in America, in large part due to New York City,” explained a MSNBC anchor featured on the show, who cited the UCLA Civil Rights Project.

Quoting a report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Oliver pointed out that black and Latino children “are more likely to attend schools with higher concentrations of inexperienced teachers” who, according to the National Journal, are “less likely to… offer a college-prep curriculum.”

Oliver continued: “On top of which, because race and class are inextricably linked, those students are six times as likely to be in high-poverty schools. And while there are teachers and students working incredibly hard in those places, they’re often doing so with fewer resources.”

Watch Oliver’s full exploration of segregation in schools in the video below.

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