Sunday, July 15, 2007

Blind justice, revisited

Sailorcurt posted a new comment on this post from a few weeks ago. I suggest that you take a couple of minutes to read it; he has some good points.

I agree with a lot of what Curt has to say. In particular, it's pretty clear by now that there are elements of culture that hold African-Americans (or blacks, if you prefer) back. It's still hard for a white person to say that without being thought racist, but more and more people in the black (African-American, if you prefer) community have accepted this as fact.

(I first encountered the idea that black American culture was holding people back in the book called More Like Us, written by James Fallows in the late 1980's. He pointed out that African immigrants to the US progress at pretty much the same rate as immigrants from other nations. That still seems to be the case--as it is with Afro-Caribbeans. What, then, holds American-born blacks back? The answer seems to be--let me know if you believe there are other causes--cultural.)

On one level, the idea that culture is part of the problem is encouraging, because it means that black Americans have more control over their destinies than a theory blaming racial disparity on white society would suggest. On the other hand, changing culture is a very tall order.

Still, to the extent that Curt suggests that the need for cultural change means that integration is not needed, or no longer needed, I think he is wrong. To begin with, the elements in black culture still hold Americans back, those elements were created by three hundred and fifty years of slavery and one hundred-plus years of segregation. To walk away from integration is for white society (and I include myself in that, although none of my ancestors came to this country until after 1890) to ignore its role in what happened.

Of more immediate moment, while blacks need not, indeed should not, simply imitate white manners and mannerisms, the dominant culture of this country--the one that African-Americans must be able to succeed in--is one that is largely a "white" culture. (The idea that the dominant culture is predominantly white is a less and less accurate statement in literal terms., because that culture is shifted by its association with immigrants. The "white" culture of the 19th Century regarded the Irish and Italians, for instance, as being of a lower order, but today's "white" culture contains important elements picked up from Irish, Italian and many other immigrant groups. Today, the culture contains elements from Hispanic and Asian cultures, and the dominant "white" culture includes many contributions from African-Americans, of which jazz is only the most obvious. Still, for convenience we might call it white, if only for historical reasons.) If we believe that cultural change would be beneficial, it is important to give African-Americans, particularly children, the chance to understand and come to terms with that culture. Segregation--whether by choice or by law--inhibits that opportunity.

We cannot force a cultural change upon the black community, but we should recognize that it is in our interest--the interest of the people of the United States as a whole--to have the African-American community succeed. So far as I know, no responsible element in any part of our society wants to continue as we are today, when more young African-American men to to prison than to college. Integration is still a most important factor in allowing and encouraging such success; segregation, whatever the cause, will ensure failure.


TheRiver said...

Excellent! I wouldn't change a thing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your observations but I think we're going to have to agree to disagree about the conclusions.

There was a time when forced desegregation was necessary. That time has passed. Forcing "white" public schools to accept black students who desired to attend them was completely justifiable and proper. Forcing black students to attend "white" schools "for their own good" is neither justifiable nor proper. If blacks are going to improve their culture and their station in life, they are going to have to do it of their own volition and under their own motivation. We cannot force it upon them. Forced ANYTHING just adds to resentment and the feeling of being controlled and manipulated.

To that end, there are other means of instituting de-segregation on a voluntary basis. The "magnet school" program under which my son attended a majority black elementary school is one.

Basically, I am pro-choice. If a student of any racial background desires to attend a school that offers better academic opportunities, they should be free to do so. If a student desires to attend a less reputable school closer to home that better fits his cultural mores, he should be free to do that too. Forcing a student into a school that he doesn't want to attend, won't force him into becoming a model only encourages resentment and disruptive behaviors that negatively impact the students who DO want to be there.

I agree that integration can be a crucial element in growing the black culture in America, I just don't believe that forced integration is the answer.

On a separate point, the idea that the "elements in black culture" that hold them back were created 350 years ago is, in my humble opinion, fallacious.

Once upon a time, back in the late 19th and early 20th century...even while still being actively oppressed by both governmental and private actions, black culture was not in the dire straights of today. The black illegitimacy rate was no-where near what it is today, family units were cohesive and lasting, blacks had a strong work ethic and, when the opportunities presented themselves, excellent academic achievements.

The downfall of black culture is much more recent than you infer and has manifested for the most part in the past 50 years.

Even were it true that the cultural forces holding blacks back have been present for centuries, that is nothing more than an excuse. History cannot be changed, only the future can be affected by what we do in the present. No one can change the future of black culture in America other than blacks. They must recognize the futility in living their lives based upon the grievances of the past and decide for themselves to improve their future. No one can do it for them.

As I always told my kids: recriminations don't matter, blame doesn't matter, bad luck, good luck, fate, and the hand of God don't matter. We are where we are. How we got here has no importance. We are where we are. The only thing that matters is where we WANT to be. How we can best get there from here. And then starting the hard work necessary for the journey.

But no one else can do it for us...or force us to do it if we don't want to.

TheRiver said...

I agree that integration can be a crucial element in growing the black culture in America, I just don't believe that forced integration is the answer.

After 300 plus years of forced enslavement and segregation we have but 40+ years of "forced integration" to ameliorate this shameful human tragedy. And while this "forced integration" was happening, unwritten rules of where blacks could live, what clubs they belonged to, weather they could get a fair loan, what jobs they could obtain, who they could marry, and frankly weather or not they were good enough to hold the highest office of this land were still being actively enforced.

So white Americans participate in redressing a cruel 300 year wrong for 40+ years while still keeping many of the effective barriers to equality in place. And when only a small fraction of black Americans get out of the cruel spiral of self hatred that comes from being told you are worthless, they then claim: "We've done our bit, now it's up to them."

If after 300 years of trying to fix that brutally inhumane behaviour whites decided we've don our bit, they might have a point. But in less that half the lifetime of a person they've given up. Yea it's tough to live in the shame of 300 years of enslavement. Well tough, deal with it. Pretending the problem is gone will only make it worse - and blaming victims is just plain wrong. This is not to say that Blacks can't do more to help themselves. Of course they can, but 40+ years of a half hearted "enforced integration" after 300+ years of an abomination is a joke.