Thursday, July 05, 2007

George Will on the Dismantling of Desegregation

I just read this op-ed piece by George Will, praising the US Supreme Court's recent decision ruling the formerly court mandated school desegregation plan in Louisville unconstitutional. Suffice it to say, Mr. Will disagrees with Michael Westmoreland-White, who argues here that the Supreme Court's decision could amount to a re-segregation of public schools.

While George Will argues passionately and somewhat persuasively that considering race when determining where a child will go to school is in and of itself an act of racial discrimination, and while his position seems both reasonable and ethical, he overlooks an important fact from the ground: Here in Louisville, we already live in a mostly segregated city, with decidedly unequal public education opportunities. In a city where, by and large, the money (and, not coincidentally, the white people) live on the east end, and the poverty (and, again, not coincidentally, the black people) live on the west end, the only thing keeping us from having a de facto segregated public school system is the sort of plan that the Supreme Court - who initially imposed it on us - has just struck down.

I don't believe that either George Will or the five members of the bench who voted to overturn Louisville's desegregation plan are consciously racist. And, I do believe that they really believe that the best thing, in terms of both ethical ideals and real outcomes, is to have color-blind public policies. In a color-blind world - the world that, I hope, most of us wish to live in - public policies that considered race would be the abomination that George Will and Clarence Thomas declared them to be. But we don't live in the world we wish for; we live in a messy and complicated world, tainted by a long history of discrimination and oppression, in which racism is an entrenched institutional reality. And, in such a world, color-blind or race-neutral policies only contribute to white privilege.

Being willfully blind to the entrenched institutional racism that ensures that blacks have neither equal educational nor economic opportunities in a "color-blind" Louisville will not, despite the high ideals of Mr. Will, help create an actually color-blind world. It will simply help those of us who benefit from such a fundamentally unjust and unequal society sleep better at night. Pretending that we're all already equal will not help bring about racial equality. It will simply baptize the inequalities that are so painfully evident in our society.


Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Will makes the same mistake that the Roberts plurality on the Supreme Court makes: That one can make fair and just legal decisions on matters like race WITHOUT paying any attention to history. It's a neo-platonic view of law and legal justice.

On the positive side, I was pleased to see in the C-J that the School Board is already thinking along the lines I suggested for keeping racial diversity in light of this new ruling, viz., use income-based affirmative action. Our city is segregated by class as well as race and, since there is a CONSIDERABLE overlap, class-based affirmative action ought to keep racial diversity in the schools for several decades, at least.

Anonymous said...

I think you should question what diversity accomplishes. Studies have consistently shown minorities perform better as a group when they are in the majority. As Justice Thomas' opinion pointed out, Seattle ironically has opened up an all black charter school to serve blacks better than the integrated system. Diversity has also been shown to heighten racial tension and reduce group cooperation. The best solution seems like a formula for equal funding by student regardless of race.

I think "liberals" need to show that school integration will lead to eventual neighborhood integration, if not the "problem" persists and is just a neutral function of race sociology at which point one needs to question what "good" we are pursuing with these policies.

More importantly liberals need to bring themselves to admit race exists. The court wouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole, but differences in IQ exist and are stubbornly consistent. This will lead to different outcomes across groups always which will lead to income disparities, different neighborhoods, criminal rates, etc.


Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Anonymous, I think this is a more sophisticated kind of "stick to your own kind" comment. Absence of diversity reinforces stereotypes. Also, the fastest way to make sure that black majority schools get no new computers, 2nd hand books, etc. is to resegregate the schools. As Brown showed, separate is never equal. If the wealthy whites have their kids in the same schools as the poor and those of other races, then those schools will get funding they need, teachers they need, etc. If they are segregated by law or de facto then the powerful will make sure their kids get funding and everyone else's goes to hell in a handbasket!

I think Will and Roberts, etc. know this and WANT this to happen. As for Thomas, he constantly got where he was by affirmative action and then tried to cut the ladder out behind him. He's an uncle tom that should never be taken seriously.

School integration will NOT automatically lead to neighborhood integration. Other things need to happen such as stopping bank redlining practices, etc. I always think its funny that right wingers think that problems caused by 300 years of slavery and another century of segregation can be solved in a few decades and keep asking "when will we no longer need affirmative action." Morons.

Anonymous said...

Mr. WW

Surely disparities in funding within districts should not be tolerated or even be legal in light of Brown or most state laws. No one is reversing Brown. Integration was not the goal of Brown but rather reversing forced segregation.

"Absence of diversity reinforces stereotypes."

As common-sensical as that sounds, it is not born out by studies. One need not form any negative views of another group because one doesn't interact daily with them on a "properly" proportioned basis. As I stated, studies have shown that diversity often leads to negative outcomes socially. The courts have been asking for a metric of diversity and evidence it is a "good" worth pursuing for years now. And that "you see the face of God" stuff won't cut it. Self-segregation in churches and neighborhoods should at least give one pause before messing with schools. Is an all-black neighborhood inherently inferior? An all-black church if separate can't be equal? Hogwash!

Speaking of stereotypes, some people who advocate for "diversity" won't tolerate the opinions of blacks who don't fit the stereotype of a race-baiter. Stereotypes die hard among the left too. Blacks apparently must always be patronized by white liberals or they are not acting black but rather like Uncle Toms. White liberals show their viciousness when their darkie won't perpetuate their system of condescending patronage. Bishop Spong had a similar blow-up Michael, but at least you didn't reference "chicken and watermelons."

It's precisely because Thomas doesn't want this crap thrown back in black people's faces to remind them of their "place" that he opposes AA. Thomas didn't need AA to be successful in life. He would have been successful at being a lawyer, businessman, teacher or whatever and he wants the world (and particularly blacks) to know they can do it as well. He took advantage of his early education not integration.

This "healing the scars of slavery" is a bit of a stretch, but in any case education and not integration is the key there. Indeed I believe even single gender schools help tremendously with young black girls. I don't see where forcing integration does anything but communicate inferiority to blacks. The Seattle school district seems to agree despite themselves as Thomas had to embarrassingly point out.

Particularly when African immigrants can arrive and succeed it seems external factors like white stereotypes or segregation are not the problem, but rather something internal (IQ or family breakdown,etc). How the latter issues are helped by integration is the unanswered question. Poor achievement can't be cured by (supposedly) "healing stereotypes".

Charmed I'm sure,

Sandalstraps said...


Thank you for your insightful comment about the necessity of considering history.


As much as I enjoy being lectured (and seeing one of my cyber-friends lectured) in the comments section of my own blog, I'm going to have to respectfully ask you to consider posting on your own blog (if you have one) if you wish to leave such long comments.

I welcome contributions from anyone, but in the interests of space, and of keeping the conversation going, I prefer for comments to be no more than a few paragraphs. Your first comment was an appropriate length. Your second, however, was not. If you continue to post such lengthy comments, I will have to edit them for space.

If you have that much to say, the best way to do it is to write your own blog-post, and then leave a link here, along with a brief summary.

I've been on vacation, and so willl weigh in on the substance of your lengthy comments later. For the moment you may anticipate my response to you from reading my above comment to Michael. In light of the fact that, especially with respect to education, in American histoory seperate has been decidedly unequal, I find your digression in your last comment to be, to say the least, unpersuasuve.

Sandalstraps said...


While your comments here show some attention to racial dynamics in this country, a few of your comments reflect what can be most charitably described as an ignorance about the "black" commmunity, a commmunity that can certainly not be described as monolithic (any more than the white community can be).

A few points you made struck me as particularly problematic:

Is an all-black neighborhood inherently inferior? An all-black church if separate can't be equal? Hogwash!

This kind of rhetoric, divorced as it is from historical reality, only reflects the danger of thinking of race apart from history. While it may not be the case that a black neighborhood or a black school (I'm leaving church out of this because what counts as success or failure for a neighborhood or school is very different than what counts as success for a church; a point which is so obvious that I won't waste space arguing for it here. There is not enough in common between the goals of a neighborhood or school and the goals of a church for any meaningful analogy to be made between them) is not, by virtue of its being "black," inferior to a "white" neighborhood or school. So, on the theoretical level, that looks like a good argument. But it is divorced from any concrete reality.

The fact is, there is a strong correlation in our culture between being black and being poor, and that correlation is not accidental. That doesn't mean that by nature blacks are inferior to whites. Rather, it means that we have a lingering, persistent racism in our country that needs to be aggressively combated. In a culture where being white is normative and where blackness is defined in opposition to whiteness, the best way to get whites to consider the well being of blacks as being an equal concern to the well being of whites is to more overtly tie the fate of wites to the fate of blacks. This is one of the goals of integration.

Particularly when African immigrants can arrive and succeed it seems external factors like white stereotypes or segregation are not the problem, but rather something internal (IQ or family breakdown,etc).

Within the black community there is a great deal of division between recent (and voluntary!) African immigrants and the decendants of slaves. So much division, in fact, that it does not make much sense to speak of the two populations in the same terms. The only reason to do so is the inherited legacy of scientific racism that views "race" primarily in terms of biology rather than sociolology.

As for IQ, anyone who repeatedly cites what "studies" show (without referencing any particular study) should recoginize what many, many studies have long shown, which is that tests of IQ are poor measures of intelligence, and that any standardized test is inherantly racist because it assumes that white experience is normative. There is simply no meaningful way to measure "black" intelligence against "white" intelligence, because the tests that measure intelligence assume a normative whiteness that disadvantages blacks.

When looking for the roots of the disparities between black and white performance, however, critically engaging the assumptions that underlie any standardized test is quite helpful.

As for the extent to which "liberal" improvement projects reinforce black inferiority, I have to agree with you, though with a few subtle disagreements. That white "liberals" are often paternalistic and condescending is not in doubt. The question is: what should we make of such paternalistic condescension? You seem to imply that because liberals are no less immune to subconscious racism than conservatives, the programs that liberals propose to combat racism are as racist as the conservative refusal to acknowledge persistant instiutional racism.

But the liberal sin is not one of policy, though no policy perfectly addresses such a complex problem. Rather, it is one of standing outside and apart from disadvantaged populations, refusing to recognize the extent to which all populations are interconnected and interdependent. As such, de facto segregation is no answer to the sin of liberal paternalism. Rather, true integration, and not just the cosmetic integration of purely public space, is the answer.

That an integrated public school system will not solve all of the problems of our collective racism does not mean that it doesn't help solve some problems. Rather, it means that we cannot stop with integrated public space - we must also integrate our private space, and our very lives.

Anonymous said...

Indulge me one LAST reply/lecture please...its only you and me it seems.

If I am ignorant of the black (no quotes, their skin rally is darker) community it is not for lack of trying. I have parented 18 teenage black girls (Americans and also Ethiopian immigrants to boot)from junior high to graduation at an orphanage. They have all graduated from integrated diverse schools.

I suppose I disagree with the "lingering persistent racism". I know granting and bemoaning its existence is something like our only agreed upon public liturgical rite (everyone frown and nod together), but that merely proves systemic racism is over. What remains is largely individual, largely inconsequential biases and some lingering effects of past widespread racism.

These lingering effects can be addressed through funding equality. Special admissions based on income also corrects a social wrong that we can all mostly agree on, but basing it on race is merely perpetuating an evil. Particularly when it helps a successful African(pick your race, they are all there) immigrant or already privileged minority individual at the expense of others who have genuinely earned it. That quite obviously breeds racial antagonism.

On tests, Asians and Arabs and other nationalities victims of racism and not part of the "white" experience do as well or better than whites. The tests may privilege education background of the parents however which is clearly independent of race. The use of "race" uses a hammer to kill a fly. Limited use of income would work much better to achieve the diversity that our society has an interest in.

As for attention to history and racism, that is precisely what is being ignored. This is a different age and this policy is stuck in the Jim Crow era. (Liberal politicians hit their heyday of relevance in the Great Society/MLK days. In their nostalgia they are now tilting at windmills.) Black presidential candidates, elected leaders at every level, celebrities, cultural artifacts etc. are almost entirely embraced by whites.

Integration is achievable yet not(in their observable behavior) perceived as a necessary good to most. Churches are an indicator of this. Again we bemoan our division, but few laity genuinely want to integrate churches though it could be done in an afternoon. The divisions have become (maybe always were) ethnic yet now not antagonistic. Indeed integration is perceived as a loss of ethnic character to all church groups involved. And I don't think God requires or desires it.

Finally and most scandalously, race(ancestral breeding group) is real not socially constructed. The implications of this are not clear admittedly, but if it means different heart and diabetes medication (as it does) could we not also imagine that differences in brain functions are conceivable.

I'll read your reply and go away. I promise.