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July 02, 2004
It Was 40 Years Ago Today

A couple of months ago, NPR had some fascinating audio interviews around the Brown vs Board of Education decision. This one and this one were particularly good.

Actually, I understand Eisenhower's stance (see previous post). You cannot, in fact, legislate how someone thinks, although I do believe that mandating equality of treatment can gradually build a new mindset in most people.

Sadly, then entire process is taking a lot longer than most of us had hoped.

Oh, yes, you can't discriminate against someone because they're female, or black, or asian, or whatever, but Eisenhower was right. A legal ban on openly discriminating against someone doesn't mean you can't find sneaky ways to block them, if you're so minded. And far too many people in this country are still so minded.

(The most interesting site I've found is this one. Read it and scroll through the links at the bottom to read the other pages as well.)

And yet….

If you listen to Integration's Unfulfilled Promise (and Part II), you might find yourself wondering.

Are black people better off today than they were forty years ago today?

Economically…yes. Most of them. A lot of them.

Another bunch of them…not so much. (It has to be said that there isn't a public restaurant, bus, or hotel in the country that any one of us can't walk into a demand service from, though. That was worth doing.)

Spiritually/Emotionally? If you listen to those audio programs, you might have your doubts.

No, I'm not advocating a return to segregation, but I'm looking at the history of 'integration' in this country and starting to wonder about some things. We did the best we knew how at the time and I really believe that. But I'm speculating if a different path might not be more suitable from today on.

This question is all tangled up with the frustration I've posted about recently, about how I don't understand "ethnic" and "religious" wars and simply can't understand why someone wants to kill someone else because they're too tall/too short/too brown/too white/too different.

I've been reading a book on the "roots" of mass movements. It talks about the personality types that are attracted to mass movements, from religion to totalitarianism, and about how there are basic personality similarities in the people such movements originally attract.

I'll do a proper review after I finish the book, but I happened to read something relevant to the last two NPR audio stories above last night and I wanted to mention it. There's a significant passage in the book about "community" identities and what they mean to people.

People part of a solid, defined community are allowed to abandon a certain amount of personal responsibility for their own success or failure; they're not required to face the world on their own merits.

Further, the book goes on to discuss how the USofA standard of "individualism" is largely what's so offensive to less-developed countries. (Published in 1951, the book is still relevant today.) We're trying to impose economic prosperity, using our model which means reorganizing at the cost of their tribal or extended family affiliations, which not only erases their culture, but forces them to face the cold, hard world on their own two feet.

(The author's premise, though he tries hard to write from an objective perspective, seems to be that "worldly" success is hollow and meaningless, that it's only in these group affiliations that true fulfillment can be found…but that at the same time, you have to give up some freedoms to be a member of such groups as well as giving up what we think of as "personal ambition.")

The point is, that his idea about the importance of community or family affiliations in people's sense of identity and happiness dovetails very well with the regrets about the dissolution of the 'black community' (can't remember the exact words used in the audio, sorry) in the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Ethnicity exists. I may not understand it, but I accept that people find comfort and security in their ethnicity.

I'm just saying, if that kind of thing is of value to people, then we shouldn't throw it out.

Is the "melting pot" really the best solution for stabilizing a society made up of as many nationalities and ethnicities as this country is? Should we be struggling for assimilation...or should we be looking at something more like a jigsaw puzzle? Complementary sections, not erasing the edges.

(If we changed to a jigsaw model, would the country gradually lose its overall identity as people identified more with their chosen community group and less with a government that wasn't, quite, able to service that community's needs because of the pressure of needs from so many other communities?)

On the other hand, of course, I'm also considering some of Bill Cosby's latest speeches.

I'll have more to say on these ideas in the near future, I hope. These are just some preliminary musings.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:30 PM


Hi Anne,
Might I also direct your attention to the Brown v. Board of Education 50th Anniversary Digital Archive establish by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History? The archive and its associated blog have a lot of artifacts and links that may be of interest.

Archive: http://kpearson.project.tcnj.edu. You can get to the "Before Brown, Beyond Boundaries" blog by clicking on the "What's New" Link on the archive homepage.

Posted by: Kim Pearson at July 7, 2004 07:35 AM

Excellent site! Thanks very much for the link.

Posted by: Anne at July 7, 2004 09:30 AM