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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

May 17, 2004
May 17, 1954

I was going to talk about Brown vs. Board of Education today, but I haven't figured out how I feel about it all.

Obviously, on the face of it, I'm all about equality and integration and treating people fairly and equally.

But looking at the last fifty years, I'm a bit worried.

For one thing, the trend toward resegregating schools worries me.

On the one hand, I oppose it because some of the resegregation is the result of wealthier parents of white children enrolling their children in schools outside of their residential district. Once their child is safely enrolled in a private school or a public school in a "better" district, I wonder how many of those parents are going to be voting for ballot measures that call for school funding in their residential districts? Not many, I'd imagine. Even today, it's like pulling teeth without an anesthetic to get people to vote money for education. When only the poorest 50% of the families in the district are actually using the schools in the district, what do you suppose the odds are that school funding will remain even at the current pathetic level?

On the other hand, I've been hearing some stories about how desegregation might not be working. Over the last couple of weeks, I've been listening to radio programs where African Americans mourn the loss of some kind of group identity they used to possess when they were segregated.

Maybe it's because I'm white but I don't accept that whatever that identity was, it was worth preserving at the cost of creating a second society in the USofA when that society would, today, still be mired in poverty.

(Not, now that I think about it, that a lot of the USofA's minority population isn't, in fact, still mired in the poverty of a second-class society, even with desegregation.)

Still, I also doubt that "separate but equal" would have produced any kind of equality. Short of a federal mandate forcing banks and businesses and schools to treat minorities exactly the same way white people are treated, how, precisely was this equality to have been achieved?

I've listened to lawyers and experts who argued Brown talk about how it was all pushed too fast and consider that the drive for speed in integration is what fueled the civil rights violence. It should have been done more slowly, southern states should have been given more time to adapt.

I wonder which USofA they're living in. As I recall, it took years and years and repeated court action to implement desegregation. The Supreme Court ruling was handed down in 1954. Fifteen years later, it took a direct order, desgregate now, to make the ruling a reality across the country.

Maybe it's because I'm not from the south, but I also doubt that, allowed to "take their time" the southern states would have gradually and peacefully implemented desegregation. It's been 50 years and a lot of people in the southern states still haven't accepted the ruling, okay? And little of their racial hatred is the result of violence around equal rights. There's an ingrained bigotry in the very fabric of southern society and I can't believe that giving them five or ten or twenty more years to "adapt" to integration before it became a reality would have produced any better results.

(I heard someone arguing on the radio that northern integration would have pushed integration in the "border" states and then eventually the far south would have become integrated and I wonder precisely how many centuries the speaker thinks that might have taken?)

Is segregation a A Promise Not Kept? After the initial push, (conservative) courts have repeatedly scaled back on the scope of the argument. I wonder how much of the 'failure' of integration is the result of this kind of action?

I dunno. I'm a bit disillusioned at the moment. I'm working on a sort of personal research project about human rights and conflict in the (relatively) recent history of the world since WWII and, as it turns out, the world is an ugly place full of people who want to kill each other for what seems to me, no reason at all.

And as for the place of the USofA in all of this, well, we're not who I thought we were, and that further depresses me. Turns out that we're only a shining example of democracy and liberty because most of the rest of the world is a sinkhole.

We're not that good, we're just better than the average.

You know how I feel about grading on the curve, okay? It's just so totally not good enough.

Posted by AnneZook at 12:13 PM


Comments

We associate desegregation with the 1950s and 1960s but people forget how long it lasted. A good friend of mine, David Biggs, went to middle school in 1979 in Wilmington, North Carolina. That was the year that the schools there were desegregated. There was a great deal of violence and the National Guard was brought in, and stayed for several months.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at May 17, 2004 12:26 PM

"I'm working on a sort of personal research project about human rights and conflict in the (relatively) recent history of the world since WWII "

If you're serious about your subject, I think you'll find that 1932 makes a less arbitrary date than 1945, because, in a quiet way, the civil rights movement started in the 1930s, not 1954. It's interesting to read about the cases Thurgood Marshall worked on as a young lawyer in the 1930s.

"And as for the place of the USofA in all of this, well, we're not who I thought we were, and that further depresses me. Turns out that we're only a shining example of democracy and liberty because most of the rest of the world is a sinkhole."

Well said. This week I was reading Ward Churchill's book, A Little Matter Of Genocide, about the obliteration of the American Indians. It is funny to think that Hitler only killed 6 million Jews, yet we think of him as a very bad person, whereas America killed (very roughly) 10 million Indians, yet our self-image remains relatively pure.

I plan on posting some long excerpts from Ward Churchill's book on my weblog, probably tomorrow. It is depressing stuff. It is like a horror movie, full of murder, and you keep waiting for a good guy to show up and save the day, but there is no good guy, no rescue, just more murder, until finally one tribe after another disappears into extinction. Then the winners call themselves heroes.

I've been wondering, for awhile, how anyone can read a book like Howard Zinn's book, A People's History of the United States, and see it as a progressive book. The book seems designed to induce despair. In my personal experience, those of my friends who like Zinn the most tend to be the most nihlist in their politics.

Churchill and Zinn both present an American government that is only capable of evil. Zinn is slightly more hopeful than Churchill because Zinn seems to suggest that if only the people could get together and overthrow the government, then they could build a really progressive America. Churchill takes even that hope away, because he makes damn clear that most of the killing of Indians was done by the white settlers themselves, banding together in informal groups to wipe out local Indians. This was an ethnic cleansing where the people, not the government, lead the way.

I don't know enough about Churchill to know what allows him to drive such a bleak narrative, or what he wants us to take away from the book, other than despair. I suspect despair is not his goal. With Zinn, I know enough to suspect that in the background, unsaid but waiting to be deduced, is revolution. That is, I suspect Zinn wants us to conclude that the American government is hopelessly evil and the only way forward is to overthrow it and start over with a clean slate.

If I'm reading Zinn right, then I think he is a hopeless idealist, with a rather incredible innocence about his fellow citizens. My sense of my fellow Americans is closer to Churchill's - there is some real evil out there, not created by the government or by the capitalists, but existing there just because in every generation there will always be some real evil - people who like to murder and rape and torture and get hailed as heroes for doing so.

As such, Churchill's book strikes me as an argument for libertarianism, in the most liberal sense that the Enlightenment might give the term. Since government is so often used to grant legitimacy to evil deeds, perhaps we should hope for a very limited government, somewhat isolated from the impulses of the majority, focused on nothing but protection of the basic rights.

Since 1954 we've seen an increase in the importance of courts relative to the legislatures. I'm sad about the loss of the populist element in American politics, but the extinction of the Indians was a populist cause, so maybe there is no way to protect basic rights except non-elected courts. If true, that would be sad, but I've yet to think of anything better.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at May 17, 2004 12:49 PM

On the issue of schools, I'd like to present you with a failed experiment in weblogs-as-journalism:

http://freetheschools.typepad.com/free_the_schools/

I started this weblog with the promise that I would never link to other articles, but instead every post would be original journalism, actual interviews with parents and students about their experiences with public and private schools. I did not get very far. I think there are only 6 actual interviews up there. Then I started linking to other articles, like a normal weblog, and then I had to give it up.

Any attempt at real journalism is tough. You've got to think of good questions, track down people willing to answer them, edit the replies, and ask follow-up questions. Even doing just email interviews was still a lot more time consuming than your average weblog post. I would very much like to get back to it, if only I could find the money and time.

School choice is one of those issues where my libertarian instincts override my left-leaning tendencies. I do think the American Left should look at this issue again and think about whether it needs to be opposed to this idea. Personally, I know a lot of very progressive moms who decided to send their kids to private school, or who home school. They themselves are ambivalent about vouchers, but their remarks on the subject are more complex than anything the right-wing has produced on the subject.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at May 17, 2004 01:01 PM

"There's an ingrained bigotry in the very fabric of southern society"

It's worth noting that till 1965 America had a high murder rate only because of the South. Outside of the South the American murder rate was less than that Italy or France.

Slavery is a system built on violence, and Jim Crow is only a slight improvement. There is no way to keep such an inhumane system going without a whole lot of murder.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at May 17, 2004 01:04 PM

"I also doubt that, allowed to "take their time" the southern states would have gradually and peacefully implemented desegregation"

I recall being a young kid, maybe 13, back in the early Reagan years, and my brother, age 23, had just joined coporate America and, partly in reaction to our very liberal mom, he had decided to become a raving right-winger, very much in favor of Reagan. He still stopped by for dinner in those days, and I remember hearing this line of reasoning from him. Discrimination, he said, is economically inefficient, therefore the free-market, if allowed to operate freely, would have ended all discrimination on its own. This was, I think, the standard line in corporate America at that time.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at May 17, 2004 01:08 PM

Okay...let's take them in order.

1. (Research) Yes, I'm serious about the research project and, as you could tell, I did pick an arbitrary date. Thank you for the advice and I'll start in the 30s instead. (Nothing that gives you an excuse to read about Marshall can be at all bad.)

2. (Books) Not having read either the Churchill or Zinn books (and not tempted by them, based on your descriptions and in my current mood), I'll save any thoughts I have for your blog.

3. (Free the Schools) Thanks to the link to your other blog. I'll read and make any comments that might occur to me over there. I think it's a pity it turned out to be a "failed experiment" but I certainly understand the time problem.

I'd certainly be interested to know what the progressive moms you know say about private schooling their children.

4. (Discrimination and the market) That was a bogus argument. While ours is a market-driven society, I think we all know that the market is flexible enough to develop a two-tiered approach to selling to accomodate a segregated society.

Indeed, it would be to the market's advantage to have the population demographically segregated so that ads could be more narrowly targeted to each segment.

I can just imagine the glee of the advertising execs if told that the mass of potential consumers they want to reach was voluntarily segmenting into tidy groups for them.

Posted by: Anne at May 18, 2004 08:30 AM

#4 - agree that it is bogus, but it became the standard line and I think still is. Didn't Newt Gingrich just recently come out with a novel suggesting how wonderful everything might have turned out if the South had won the Civil War?

#3 - I think the tone of Laura Brown's comments were very much in line with what I hear from a lot of parents who are both liberal in their politics and exasperated with the public schools. You can find those remarks here:

http://freetheschools.typepad.com/free_the_schools/2003/09/_laura_brown_on.html

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at May 18, 2004 08:51 AM