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A rare liberal acknowledgement of the failure of liberal race policies.
February 6, 2014 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Part 1 of a series by Slate: "Resegregation is a misleading term because it implies that the left’s large-scale integrationist schemes were working, and would have continued to work, if not for the meddling of Republicans. But to believe that premise, you’d have to accept the assertion that the peak year for school integration happened 25 years ago. Does anyone remember the mid- to late-1980s as a flowering of adolescent racial harmony in America? I don’t. The truth is that the left has crafted a narrative about the death of Brown v. Board, a convenient one that serves its own ends. The reality is much more grim, and it starts in the place where Democrats drove the school bus into the ditch: Detroit."
posted by bookman117 (91 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Does anyone remember the mid- to late-1980s as a flowering of adolescent racial harmony in America?
I do. I remember that's what the campus preachers were railing against in 1984 in Chapel Hill, NC, and I remember interracial couples making out in front of them, almost exactly like how gay couples make out in front of the Westboro Baptist Church folks nowadays.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:39 PM on February 6 [27 favorites]


I tend to hate this sort of contrarian "I tell hard truths" story, which generally dismisses or ignores facts to make point, and this did not fail to disappoint. He utterly failed to mention Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the first school system to use busing for integration, which surely would have been worth a mention in an article primarily about busing. In Charlotte in the 1970s-1990s, all involved agreed busing for integration was an overwhelming success. My high school was 60% white, 40% black, and the cafeteria was never segregated, in the early 1990s when I was there. His omission is most likely because it does not fit his premise--in Charlotte, conservatives who had recently relocated there successfully sued to dismantle integration and to intentionally resegregate the schools.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:49 PM on February 6 [27 favorites]


However hamfistedly integration was done, let's not get the idea that segregation just happened naturally.
posted by whuppy at 1:50 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


HAH--hydropsyche, I started school in Charlotte in 1972, and stayed in the system until graduation. Independence!
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:55 PM on February 6


There is a whole spectrum between "failure" and "success." Not fully succeeding isn't the same thing as failing.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:57 PM on February 6 [16 favorites]


However hamfistedly integration was done, let's not get the idea that segregation just happened naturally.

That's hardly the thesis of the piece. The writer is opposed to busing on the grounds that it was always going to be an ineffective solution, not that there was no problem to address. If you look at the end of the piece he's saying the real solution is at the level of zoning, housing, property taxes etc. etc. In other words, far more radical approaches to integrating whole neighborhoods rather than attempting to use the schools as integration-incubators.

He may or may not be right in his criticisms, but we shouldn't engage in a knee-jerk dismissal that frames him as simply some kind of Nixon-apologist.
posted by yoink at 1:57 PM on February 6 [16 favorites]


He may or may not be right in his criticisms, but we shouldn't engage in a knee-jerk dismissal that frames him as simply some kind of Nixon-apologist.

That's really the M.O. of the modern Right though, isn't it... Elaborate concern trolling about methods, instead of just owning not liking the aims in the first place...
posted by stenseng at 1:59 PM on February 6 [16 favorites]


If I had a nickel for every time someone pointed at Detroit to illustrate the 'failure of liberalism', I'd be rich.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 2:03 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Still reading the FA but my first thought on reading the first paragraph was "so they hired a white dude to write a series on integration for Black History Month?". Maybe they could do something really radical like ask a black writer to weigh in.
posted by immlass at 2:04 PM on February 6 [16 favorites]


That's really the M.O. of the modern Right though, isn't it... Elaborate concern trolling about methods, instead of just owning not liking the aims in the first place...

I can't believe anyone who actually read this entire piece would consider it, at all, typical of "the modern right" or would imagine that any contemporary right winger would take comfort in it beyond the thought "ha, those liberals won't like this." It is clear that the writer things the aim of a desegregated society is entirely laudatory. Again, you may or may not agree with him that busing was a mistaken step in trying to achieve that aim, but it seems to me just absurdly uncharitable to read this as being some kind of crypto-racist "we were better off when the blacks knew their place!" piece.
posted by yoink at 2:05 PM on February 6 [11 favorites]


HAH--hydropsyche, I started school in Charlotte in 1972, and stayed in the system until graduation. Independence!

Crazy. I'm 10 years younger than you. Started kindergarten in 1982 and graduated from North Mecklenburg. I still get frustrated tears in my eyes just thinking about what has been done to my school system.

In response to a question that he could have raised in his article, but didn't, one reason Charlotte was more successful than other cities was that although there certainly was historic segregation of housing, in general it was more integrated than many other cities. In short, there were still plenty of white people living within the city limits, and there were always black people in the small towns outside the city that became suburbs. Busing for integration was largely a matter of pairing up two already existing schools in adjacent neighborhoods, so students rarely had super long bus rides. Families were likely more accepting than in a situation where large number of black kids were being bused from the city into the suburbs and in return large numbers of white kids from the suburbs to the city. Equalization of facilities and resources happened rather quickly between former "white schools" and former "black schools". The faculty were also integrated, transferred from one school to another so that all schools had a mix of white and black teachers.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:07 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


In response to a question that he could have raised in his article, but didn't, one reason Charlotte was more successful than other cities was that although there certainly was historic segregation of housing, in general it was more integrated than many other cities. In short, there were still plenty of white people living within the city limits, and there were always black people in the small towns outside the city that became suburbs.

Er, that seems like a central part of his argument:
In the South, where busing originated, most people lived in small towns and cities. Even the biggest metro areas, Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., weren’t really that big at the time. Though thoroughly segregated, blacks and whites lived in relative proximity in the South, and moving a couple hundred kids this way or that wasn’t a huge logistical obstacle. That wasn’t true in the bigger cities of the urban North and sprawling West, where massive, isolated ghettos had been formed by redlining and other discriminatory housing policies. In those cities, busing proposals reached great heights of absurdity.
posted by yoink at 2:10 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


At a deeper level, the author's uncritical notion of "in and up" as the only true mobility speaks to a real inability to see how race and class intersect. Sending middle-class white kids into majority black schools might just as well have created links between those kids and their experiences and networks -- through family and neighborhood, if nothing else -- and the kids in the black school.

But of course that doesn't happen, because of an assumption Colby clearly shares: those black kids in their poor people school just have nothing at all to offer the hard-working descendants of harder-working white immigrants, no sirree. Sending white kids to black schools is, for Colby, "sending them away from centers of power." By regurgitating this sort of myth uncritically rather than, I don't know exploding it, Colby recapitulates the exact racist-classist logic integration would have to overcome and pretends it's just common sense. Her talks about black agency, but his only answer is some vague handwaving about blacks joining the middle class..which, int his series, will apparently have to happen without school integration and affirmative action, among other things. It's bootstrap and market-magic arguments as the unspoken default position.

Because, the thing is, Colby is right that the problem is less conservative courts than white flight. But he's got nothing to push back against white flight. If whites fought school integration by opting out, how the hell are they going to respond to even more social engineering? In fact, we know what happens when black families moved into formerly white neighborhoods: house fires, and when that stopped working, the ext wave of the exurban move. That, plus Colby's acceptance of the somewhat too-pat "government programs take away minority agency" notion, which is itself a way to take away minority agency both directly -- do minorities not have the ability to form political groups on their own? -- and indirectly -- since it also implies that the political will to provide minority agency must still rest with the decisions of whites in power. (Colby imagines he's criticizing this sort of thinking, but note carefully that one he's done complaining about minorities being shut out of running integration, he quickly moves on to rationalizing the decisions of the white racists who made damned sure than *any* integration wouldn't work.)

Despite a few feints, Colby doesn't really end on a call for even more sweeping reform, he ends with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. for people to be "willingly obedient to unenforceable obligations," a strange thing both in light of King's documented support for forms of government support for minority communities and Colby's own documentation of just how entrenched white racism really is. It's a Tinkerbell solution that conveniently discards the possibility of effective government action *and* minority group agency. Let's just hope they come around on their own, right? Surely that won't take long.

This is pretty well disguised, but yeah, it's simply the Right's position that government needs to get out of the way, after which masses of heretofore stifled good ordinary folks will just do the right thing. The old "patient and cautious and modest" integration idea, the bulwark of states rights dog-whistlers, characterizes the one positive mention of school integration in Colby's piece. It all comes down to what those white folks will tolerate. He's definitely not arguing that government should gain the power to reverse white flight; his busing examples point to the exact opposite conclusion.
posted by kewb at 2:17 PM on February 6 [26 favorites]


If I had a nickel for every time someone pointed at Detroit to illustrate the 'failure of liberalism', I'd be rich.

Yea, really. I'm not buying what they're selling here.

This entire piece strikes me as weird concern trolling. There's absolutely a place to criticize the democrats/"american liberals" without going in to this weird "But did you know they actually suck ass and lie or spit weird half-truths in a lot of the same ways republicans do?".

A lot of it struck me as really weird and limp dicked reaching stuff, and sort of solving for a predetermined solution kind of thing. Like, "Find facts to prove this point" not "See what points the facts make"

It's bootstrap and market-magic arguments as the unspoken default position.

Yea, exactly, this.
posted by emptythought at 2:19 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


The writer is opposed to busing on the grounds that it was always going to be an ineffective solution, not that there was no problem to address. If you look at the end of the piece he's saying the real solution is at the level of zoning, housing, property taxes etc. etc. In other words, far more radical approaches to integrating whole neighborhoods rather than attempting to use the schools as integration-incubators.

This country is full of orphaned initiatives that were meant to be just the start of some even grander, far reaching program that never came to be because of unforseen opposition, changes in politics, and/or a sudden lack of interest. It really wouldn't surprise me if busing was supposed to be followed by all of those things, but the strong reaction to busing suddenly rendered them politically infeasible and made busing the only tool available.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 2:20 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Still reading the FA but my first thought on reading the first paragraph was "so they hired a white dude to write a series on integration for Black History Month?". Maybe they could do something really radical like ask a black writer to weigh in.

A white guy who doesn't know any black people, too! I mean, of all the white people to pick.

A white guy who also has not read any James Baldwin and appears to think that "left" and "liberal" mean the same thing. Now it just so happens that I am a white person who has read quite a lot of James Baldwin* and I happen to know that he draws a sharp distinction between white radicals and white liberals. He does not necessarily have a whole lot of time for white people - given our track record, that seems reasonable - but it's white liberals that he criticizes, in the same vein as Martin Luther King talking about the white "moderate". My point isn't "oh white radicals would have done everything better", since as a white radical I know from bitter experience that we fuck up about race just as completely as anyone else, but more that I am not sure how much to trust someone's history writing if they don't get that this was an important distinction through the sixties and seventies, one which recurs in significant pieces of writing by black writers. It is as if because he cannot conceive of any policy position farther left than, say, welfare-reform-era Bill Clinton, there cannot actually be any such positions.

The whole thing about busing and school integration, when it was critiqued at the time, was that it didn't seriously redistribute wealth and put a huge social burden on black students, plus broke up existing social networks. This critique was articulated by radicals - both black and white - at the time.

*James Baldwin is one of the greatest writers in US history and a master of writing interesting non-fiction, and he was one sharp-dressing fellow. Everyone who has not read James Baldwin should read him at once, perhaps starting with his nonfiction.
posted by Frowner at 2:26 PM on February 6 [35 favorites]


The writer is opposed to busing on the grounds that it was always going to be an ineffective solution, not that there was no problem to address. If you look at the end of the piece he's saying the real solution is at the level of zoning, housing, property taxes etc. etc. In other words, far more radical approaches to integrating whole neighborhoods rather than attempting to use the schools as integration-incubators.

The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Great Society were aimed at doing exactly those sorts of things; they were first steps towards exactly what yoink suggests. And they were foiught tooth and nail in and out of the courts, decried then in explicitly racist terms and today as regulatory capture and impositions on the magic of the markets.

By the way, assimilationism is explicitly Colby's shtick. Here's a quote from his article on the dearth of black cast members at SNL, which he extends more generally into a discussion of TV and diversity as a whole:
When racial-justice advocates call for more diversity, what they’re saying is that the hiring pipelines into America’s majority-white industries need to be expanded to include a truly multicultural array of voices and talents from all ethnic corners of America; they want equal opportunity for minorities who don’t necessarily conform to the social norms of the white majority. When exasperated hiring managers use the word diversity, what they really mean is that they’re looking for assimilated diversity….Faces and voices that are black but nonetheless reflect a cultural bearing that white people understand and feel comfortable with.

The exasperated hiring managers aren’t entirely wrong, by the way. In order to create a functional multiracial environment, the people in it need to have at least something in common. That’s probably truer in comedy than anywhere else, where racial politics must not only be discussed, but lampooned as well.
See, black people just need to make white people more comfortable if they want progress!

Sorry, yoink, this isn't the droid you're looking for.
posted by kewb at 2:26 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


My high school in southern md in the 90s was about 50% black. The honors program was about 95% white though. I almost never interacted with a black person in school outside of home room. I don't think that it just happened to end up that way.
posted by empath at 2:27 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Also, can I just say how fucking awful and stupid the title of this fpp is?
posted by empath at 2:27 PM on February 6 [22 favorites]


yoink: I would agree with you that he made the briefest passing acknowledgement of the success of busing for integration in the southeast. Which he follows by dismissing and minimizing that success. He spends a long time talking about his childhood experience in Birmingham, including claiming that the black middle class also fled the Birmingham public schools to the Catholic schools, only mentions Atlanta in passing, and fails to mention Charlotte at all.

If he was trying to say that the southeast was successful at busing, why does he spend the entire article dismissing busing and integration in general as a failure of white liberals?

I just spent my day, as I do every weekday, teaching at a Georgia public college that is 30% black, 30% white, 30% latino, and 10% asian. My students mostly graduated from public high schools in Georgia that look more or less the same. Nobody's lunch table is segregated. Interracial dating is a given. Whatever may be true where this dude lives, integration continues where I live.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:31 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


It's simply the Right's position that government needs to get out of the way,

So, you're saying that he wrote this conclusion to the piece, which is in no way, at all, reconcilable to such a position, by accident?
If we want any kind of long-term solution to this problem, we have to look at housing, zoning, mass transit, property taxes. That’s where the roots of our racially balkanized and economically stratified cities lie. We can hack away at the branches all day long, but if we don’t deal with the root of the problem, we can’t expect anything different to grow back in their place. We won’t solve the problem of segregated schools by shuffling black kids around the map. We have to give black families the agency and the opportunity and the leverage to decide where on the map they want to be. “True integration,” King said, “will be achieved by true neighbors who are willingly obedient to unenforceable obligations.” That may sound like a lofty mountain to climb, but if we set our sights on anything less, we’re not attacking the right problem.
So far this thread is doing a great job of demonstrating the writer's point that busing remains a sacred cow on the left and that if you dare to question it you're going to be branded as a evil reactionary. It may be that you know something of this writer's positions from other pieces. This is the first thing of his I've read. All I can say is that if you're going simply by this piece, you are imputing positions to the author which simply cannot be found in the piece itself. Nowhere does he suggest that the magic of the Free Market would have solved everything if the government had simply stepped out of the way.
posted by yoink at 2:31 PM on February 6 [7 favorites]


I see, you're reading "look at" very wishfully. Can you show me where, in that or any other paragraph, he actually says that we need to expand or apply government power to these areas? Because "look at housing, zoning, mass transit, property taxes" and "give black families the agency and the opportunity and the leverage to decide where on the map they want to be" is just as easily read as a call for deregulation from the Right.
posted by kewb at 2:35 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


The exasperated hiring managers aren’t entirely wrong, by the way. In order to create a functional multiracial environment, the people in it need to have at least something in common. That’s probably truer in comedy than anywhere else, where racial politics must not only be discussed, but lampooned as well.
See, black people just need to make white people more comfortable if they want progress!


Man, did this guy cheat on all your sisters or something? He just can't get a fair reading from any of you. He goes on in that piece you quote from to say:
Which will require a greater commitment on the part of government to create housing, education, and other policies that allow for greater social mobility for minorities,
Yeah, he's putting it all on those pesky minorities to shape their game up according to the dictates of the Free Market!
posted by yoink at 2:38 PM on February 6 [7 favorites]


I see, you're reading "look at" very wishfully.

So...you are seriously suggesting that he means "we have to look at housing, zoning, mass transit, property taxes...and do nothing about them because they're great just the way they are"?

I give up.
posted by yoink at 2:40 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


I remember a 2005 Jonathan Kozol article in Harper's, Still separate, still unequal, that depicted the same issue as more of a public vs private school thing - with a brush that smeared the problem equally over conservatives and liberals. The issue seems to be mainly "who has the money to send their kids where" - either by bus, or by purchasing a house in the right 'burb.
posted by kneecapped at 2:47 PM on February 6


Here is Colby describing his book:
But if you read more to the individual story of what people like Geoff Edwards have done and even the other chapters [about] the neighbors and the schools and the churches, you see that integration is much more about your personal choices and anyone can, as long as you have some measure of mobility, you can make that effort to reach out and try and understand other people tomorrow. You can start educating yourself as a human being right now, so I think the book is kind of a Rorschach test for what you believe.

If you believe that race is an individual human-level problem that we need to take steps with people to try and deal with, then I think you come away with the idea the book is very hopeful. If you are more of an institutional-racism and structural-solutions person, then you're going to come away with the feeling that the book is very bleak.
He explicitly rules out structural and institutional solutions and suggests the whole thing is about "personal choices."

Again, if you can find something where Colby specifies that change means "intervention" or "direct assistance" you have something like counterevidence. But again, talking about changing pr creating policies to improve matters is something both sides do. Here, for example, is Ted Cruz:
The reason why I'm a conservative is because conservative policies work and they improve opportunities. They are the avenue for climbing the economic dream. And what I have been talking about for many years is opportunity conservatism, that every policy should focus like a laser on easing the means of ascent up the economic ladder. Look, the great thing about Americans -- Americans don't want to be dependent upon government. Dependency saps the spirit, it doesn't work. Americans want to stand on their own two feet and the best way to do that is to have policies that allow entrepreneurs and small business to thrive and to create jobs and advance the American dream.
The language of "government action can help create opportunities" is a pretty universal anodyne, and indicates support for anything from socialism to deregulation. Does anyone have a more direct statement of what kind of action Colby intends, or not? (Not that this will in any way improve the article, which singularly fails to explain the policies Colby actually supports in any detail.)
posted by kewb at 2:55 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Still reading the FA but my first thought on reading the first paragraph was "so they hired a white dude to write a series on integration for Black History Month?" Maybe they could do something really radical like ask a black writer to weigh in.

Well, he did write a book.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:00 PM on February 6


A rare liberal acknowledgement of the failure of liberal race policies.

Gosh, how did they manage to find it among all the conservatives' acknowledgements of their policy failures?
posted by benito.strauss at 3:04 PM on February 6 [8 favorites]


This essay is a freakish and incoherent jumble of radically different kinds of positions that the author has unselfconsciously stuck together. I mean, it's entitled "The Massive Liberal Failure on Race," which already and disingenuously characterizes the problem as essentially partisan instead of technocratic, which is unfortunate since the majority of the essay is about how actual policies fared in achieving their goals. How can anyone think this is really about Black people's struggle and not party politics with a title like that?

He can't decide if the point here is to attack in bad faith the long-standing Leftist commitment to social justice as a position that was "ceded" in some kind of suspiciously vague fashion, presumably from the political faction that never wanted to give slavery up in the first place, or if he wants to make a technocratic critique of the ways in which specific policies have failed to achieve their goals. The former endeavor is shamelessly, obsessively tendentious and only intended to serve the purpose of gaining power for the Republican party, while the latter is not only very worthwhile but badly-needed, for all legislation that aims to ameliorate social problems.

The reason this guy fails is that he doesn't see or doesn't care how incredibly counter-productive it is, in terms of the impact on actual people's lives, to fuse critical-technocratic discussions with partisan skirmishing or revisionism. You cannot serve social justice and factionalism at the same time. Either commit to working in the interest of making things better for people, and work with whoever else shares that commitment and against those who stand for oppression and inequality, or get out of the way. The kind of sophistic logic employed in claiming that the problems associated with some legislation = Leftist failure on race itself = maybe vote Republican, Black people? is just moronic and transparently self-interested.
posted by clockzero at 3:08 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


I grew up and live in Milwaukee, which has traded places over the years with Detroit for the awful title of most segregated metro area in the United States. I was born in the city, and my parents hightailed it to a suburb before I started first grade. I don't think my parents' motivations were racist, definitely not explicitly. Moving was a decision that made lots of sense on our individual level, but it's tragic in the aggregate. The city's tax base was destroyed by white flight in the 1980s and 1990s.

Black kids were bused in to my elementary school in the early 1980s; I don't really remember how they were treated or what their names were, which I guess says something in and of itself. My mom got a job with the city right before I started high school, so we had to move back from the 'burbs, but she sent me to a Catholic school, specifically to avoid the public system. That school had a scholarship program and actively recruited black students, but they mostly kept to themselves. Oddly, high school was the last time I can remember having more than one close black friend.

You cannot talk about racial segregation without talking about class divisions, at least not here. There are practically no meaningful job opportunities in the majority-black areas of town, and public transit is not adequate to get to suburban jobs. The graduation rate is abysmal. All this results in practically no integration in the job market, and that is self-reinforcing as minorities don't get enough opportunities to network.

I work in a huge office building with over 1000 people. It is easily accessible by public transportation. And I can count on one hand the number of black people that I see in a typical day. I've been there for three years and only now do we have one black person in my department (and one maybe mixed-race). I don't have much occasion to talk to them in the course of my job, and it's not common for people in my department to socialize after work. So months will go by when I don't have much of a conversation with a black person beyond "Have a nice weekend," through no conscious effort on my part to avoid them.

By contrast, I used to live and work in the Chicago suburbs, where there is a significantly larger black middle class, hence much higher levels of integration (though it is still a problem). My husband grew up there, and he was shocked at the casual racism he was exposed to from other whites when he moved to Milwaukee. Not that Chicago doesn't have plenty of racists, but being more likely to encounter middle-class black people on a regular basis seems, at least, to blunt what white people feel comfortable saying to each other about black people.

So -- there aren't any easy solutions, but my proposed first step is to cut the ties between property taxes and school funding. That should be handled at the state level and per-student spending should be close to equal across districts. Graduation rates need to be higher, period, and more funding can't hurt. Higher graduation rates lead to a larger middle class, more purchasing power to move around, etc etc. More positive encounters with people of other races = less racism. Jamming people people in the same building doesn't automatically produce positive encounters. Instead, we need to give people opportunities for those encounters.
posted by desjardins at 3:45 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Man, I am so sick of hearing how "the left/liberals are the real [X]" where X is something bad or counter to the supposed aims of the left, while "conservatives are actually, secretly, better at [Y] than liberals," where [Y] is something that aligns with beliefs of the left and also something that pretty much every prominent Republican politician speaks out against and acts against at every opportunity.

Liberals are the real racists!

Liberals are the real warmongers!

If there's a war on women, it's definitely coming from the left instead of the right!

All too often, these criticisms seem to spring up from the fact that whatever proposal "the left" has put forward to combat X or ensure Y cannot be done within a budget of exactly $0 dollars, in a timeframe of instantly, with absolutely no inconvenience or change in lifestyle for any white person. The slightest hiccup on any of those fronts and all of a sudden it's time to declare the left's approach an utter failure and consider a solution from the right. A solution that typically preserves the status quo (that is, it ossifies things in a wonky not-all-the-way good, not all-the-way bad state) or rolls back hard won gains.

Good God, I've had enough of this to last me a lifetime.
posted by lord_wolf at 3:48 PM on February 6 [37 favorites]


Does anyone remember the mid- to late-1980s as a flowering of adolescent racial harmony in America? I don’t.

Glad I'm not the only one saying "I do." Really glad I went to school in a very mixed-race, intercultural environment in New Jersey.
posted by Miko at 4:16 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


>He may or may not be right in his criticisms, but we shouldn't engage in a knee-jerk dismissal that frames him as simply some kind of Nixon-apologist.

That's really the M.O. of the modern Right though, isn't it... Elaborate concern trolling about methods, instead of just owning not liking the aims in the first place...


So, apparently y'all missed the part about the guy being a card-holding member of the Democratic Party who actively worked with the Obama campaign. This isn't concern trolling, because the guy isn't a conservative. He's as progressive as the day is long. Automatically assuming that because the guy thinks that some of liberalism's dealings with race have been problematic means the guy must be a conservative concern troll is stunningly ignorant.

Despite a few feints, Colby doesn't really end on a call for even more sweeping reform

It's the first in a series. He hasn't reached a conclusion. I think there should be at least three more pieces.
posted by valkyryn at 4:19 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


I don't think he's a conservative so much as a neoliberal wonk with "good" intentions and really bad methods.
posted by kewb at 4:25 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


If he was trying to say that the southeast was successful at busing, why does he spend the entire article dismissing busing and integration in general as a failure of white liberals?

He explicitly deals with the fact that the Southeast was not like the rest of the country in terms of its geographical and demographic makeup. Specifically, in the 1970s--when Milliken v. Bradley was decided--the population of Detroit was an entire order of magnitude larger than Charlotte was at the time. The metro area was three times that. Busing in Charlotte? Not that big of a deal, logistically speaking. Busing in Detroit enormous f*cking deal. It's simply apples and oranges in terms of actually executing the project, and that difference is what caused the desegregation project to falter.

The entire point of the article is that the Left's assumption that because busing worked so well in the South that the obvious thing to do was to export it to the rest of the country was exactly the thing that destroyed busing as a project. Obviously conservatives and most whites didn't want desegregation at all. But by insisting that the way to accomplish desegregation was school busing and only school busing, the Left shot itself in the foot. They were the only ones who could have done something about it, and they screwed it up.
posted by valkyryn at 4:27 PM on February 6 [7 favorites]


All too often, these criticisms seem to spring up from the fact that whatever proposal "the left" has put forward to combat X or ensure Y cannot be done within a budget of exactly $0 dollars, in a timeframe of instantly, with absolutely no inconvenience or change in lifestyle for any white person. The slightest hiccup on any of those fronts and all of a sudden it's time to declare the left's approach an utter failure and consider a solution from the right. A solution that typically preserves the status quo (that is, it ossifies things in a wonky not-all-the-way good, not all-the-way bad state) or rolls back hard won gains.

Good God, I've had enough of this to last me a lifetime.


So on point it hurts.
posted by cashman at 4:31 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Good God, I've had enough of this to last me a lifetime.

You are so not the Slate demographic.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:43 PM on February 6


Automatically assuming that because the guy thinks that some of liberalism's dealings with race have been problematic means the guy must be a conservative concern troll is stunningly ignorant.

See though, IMO, this is exactly the sort of "GOTCHA!" bullshit this article was carefully crafted to create. Like, you're just his work for him here. this is a blueprint, and you're building his dick castle.

I always have a hard time putting my finger on it, but i have a distinct hatred of these kinds of "You have to agree with me about $LOADEDVOLATILECHERRYPICKINGPREMISE or you're the one REALLY doing some chicanery here" posts/articles/etc.

Taking it at face value, as if it's only what the title and your little summary sentence declares it to be, is just allowing this to fly through trojan horse style.

There's plenty of worthwhile criticisms of this article in here explaining exactly why it stinks around the edges, and even in the center. And swatting back at those people with this "no YOU'RE the wrong one" is exactly the club he was attempting to hand people with his weasel-words message here.

Like, this i exactly the response/discussion i groaned when imagining upon first seeing this article.

I fully expect a "unless you can tell me EXACTLY how i'm being an asshole, then you're the asshole!" response to this too, by the way.
posted by emptythought at 4:49 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Well, he did write a book.

Which is part of the overall problem: that a white guy is writing the book on this topic solo and getting called on as the sole expert. The fact that it's Black History Month is just the cherry on top.
posted by immlass at 4:51 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


My observation, as someone from outside the USA, is that a lot of good policy decisions are stymied when authority is delegated to lower levels of government. Delegation is not always a bad thing, but when local government boundaries track demographic boundaries you end up with (e.g.) local schools in one area being vastly different to ones that are only a few miles away. If education were funded at a State or Federal level then you'd have fewer legal impediments to integration, and a more equitable allocation of resources would help eliminate the obvious and reasonable objection to integration, in which parents say that their child shouldn't be sent to an inferior school for the sake of a social benefit that accrues to everyone else.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:57 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


This reminds me of an article or blog post I read a long time ago that made a similar point about gender parity in the US Congress. Something to the effect that the centers of power simply shift elsewhere when oppressed/minority groups start to gain ground. In that article, it was about growing numbers of women in Congress and it was pointed out that as they increased, lobbying firms and think tanks gained more influence (that's where all the straight white dudes went). There's some parallel there that I'm not smart enough to articulate.

Anyhow, the point of this part of the full article seems to be that 1) the technocratic approach can only do so much to solve existential and relational problems (this is the point of the "unenforceable obligations" quote); and 2) bussing basically failed as an integration technique, especially in the north. I don't see what's so controversial about either of those. Speaking as a guy working in Detroit and living in the suburbs, #2 seems obviously true
posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:06 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I grew up and live in Milwaukee, which has traded places over the years with Detroit for the awful title of most segregated metro area in the United States. I was born in the city, and my parents hightailed it to a suburb before I started first grade. I don't think my parents' motivations were racist, definitely not explicitly. Moving was a decision that made lots of sense on our individual level, but it's tragic in the aggregate. The city's tax base was destroyed by white flight in the 1980s and 1990s.

I was born and raised in Milwaukee and attended MPS K-12 in the '70s & '80s and there was no "flowering of adolescent racial harmony" in Milwaukee that can be attributed to the Chapter 220 program that I'm aware of. I don't know how Milwaukee compared to other cities as far as how "smooth" desegregation went. There were tensions but not as bad as other cities as best I can remember. But...busing absolutely devastated the tax base of the city and even members of the Committee of 100 that helped plan out the desegregation plan didn't foresee the fallout that was coming (and in retrospect some have had regrets about how things were handled). You don't have segregated schools in Milwaukee anymore because, well, there aren't enough white public school students left in Milwaukee to have segregation. And with the rise of voucher schools and statewide Open Enrollment MPS is losing students, of all races, by the thousands and closing schools left and right. The idea was good, the implementation was a disaster.
posted by MikeMc at 5:21 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


He could just as easily approached it as "the failure of America's race policies", as opposed to "the Left's". He chose not to. I think it's a combination of grar-link-bait and Slate's typical wise-ass attempt to appear contrarian.

It also helps statements like "They [the Left] were the only ones who could have done something about it, and they screwed it up." slide past a little too easily. Is it true that the Left is the only one's who can do something about racial problems? Is the implication that the Right is implacably racist? Why aren't we dealing with that?
posted by benito.strauss at 5:23 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


From the FPP:

Which is not to say I was becoming a Republican. Because how could I? At this point, the GOP’s rap sheet of racial offenses is almost too long to recount. Pushing undemocratic voter ID laws, trotting out candidates like Herman Cain, calling Barack Obama the “food stamp president” … if it has to do with race, you can count on Republicans being wrong early and often.

Clockzero: The kind of sophistic logic employed in claiming that the problems associated with some legislation = Leftist failure on race itself = maybe vote Republican, Black people? is just moronic and transparently self-interested.

If you or anybody else here read the entire post and believes he is suggesting or implying that black people should vote Republican to make our race problem better, then this discussion is done. That is probably the most absurd misread of an FPP in MF history.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:31 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Dude was born in 1975, he has little chops to talk about the mid 80s as though he was politically astute enough to know what was happening on a first hand basis.
posted by edgeways at 5:33 PM on February 6


Jamming people people in the same building doesn't automatically produce positive encounters. Instead, we need to give people opportunities for those encounters.

Let's not forget to talk about zoning. Large minimum lot sizes or other requirements that effectively shut the door on building smaller, more affordable homes is a killer. Propose building moderate, not low, income multi-family housing and watch the sparks fly (I'm looking at you New Berlin). It's just a mess all the way around and the only logical first step, IMHO, would be regional government and that's not going to happen in my lifetime.
posted by MikeMc at 5:35 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


From the FPP:

Which is not to say I was becoming a Republican. Because how could I? At this point, the GOP’s rap sheet of racial offenses is almost too long to recount. Pushing undemocratic voter ID laws, trotting out candidates like Herman Cain, calling Barack Obama the “food stamp president” … if it has to do with race, you can count on Republicans being wrong early and often.

Clockzero: The kind of sophistic logic employed in claiming that the problems associated with some legislation = Leftist failure on race itself = maybe vote Republican, Black people? is just moronic and transparently self-interested.

If you or anybody else here read the entire post and believes he is suggesting or implying that black people should vote Republican to make our race problem better, then this discussion is done. That is probably the most absurd misread of an FPP in MF history.


Listen, you can think whatever you want. When someone says "...the left is nothing if not arrogant when it comes to constantly and loudly asserting its place as the One True Friend of Black America," then I am going to think that the implication is clearly being made that Blacks are perhaps being fooled by the Democratic party, and that Blacks might have other friends if only they'd give Republicans a chance. I really don't think this loser's rhetoric is even very ambiguous, but again, you're free to think what you want.
posted by clockzero at 5:44 PM on February 6


Listen, you can think whatever you want.

Or you could read what he very plainly and unambiguously writes. Just a thought.
posted by yoink at 5:48 PM on February 6 [7 favorites]


Really? I thought it was pretty clear that this guy doesn't think Republicans are any kind of friend to black people. His point is that the left is not the best friend of Black America, but their only friend (there's a difference).
posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:49 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


which traced the history of the color line back through all the places I have lived and chronicled the various efforts to erase it: school busing, affirmative action, fair housing, etc.

He appears to not understand that these programs were created to address discrimination against blacks, not as integration for the sake of integration.
posted by desuetude at 5:50 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Listen, you can think whatever you want.

Listen, I just don't understand the automatic binary you are suggesting here. It is possible to critique the left without that meaning the correct answer must fall on the right. In fact, if you actually read his words he is pretty clear about placing blame on the right and the left.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:50 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Joe certainly has a point that state control of education can result in enormous disparities which produce appalling difficulties. New Orleans city schools suffered a huge hit to its tax base during white flight in the seventies and eighties and the rise of a range of charter schools since Hurricane Katrina has only intensified the educational disparity. Getting your child into the 'right' pre-K is now a necessity for enrolling in a educationally sound kindergarten and being eligible to compete for a spot at a good elementary school--and the costs are shocking. The price goes up constantly. All of this for schools of less educational quality--and quantity, for that matter--than the excellent tutelage I received for free in public schools in midcentury.

Another problem of this seemingly hodgepodge "teach to the test" educational system is the way it burns through idealistic, social-justice minded young people who give all their energy and time to discovering the system is completely broken and they not only don't know how to teach in these conditions but also they are not going to be allowed to teach by administrators and bureaucrats who judge everything by standardized test results. New Orleans is a magnet for some really good and smart young people and they do get chewed up.

As far as the success of integration outside the school system, in the community and in hearts and minds, I think New Orleans is becoming successful, save for the hugely disproportionate incarceration of black males. Many other dysfunctional aspects of life in New Orleans are due more to classism, than to racism. This is a strange little city, Catholic, black, and Democrat in the South which, like the rest of this state is majorly Baptist, white and Republican.

I believe that the moral conquest of hearts and minds, together with the institution of laws, and the actions of our young people will finally overcome racism. When the whole country can no longer tell by looking whether a person is black or white, when our grandchildren and our neighbors are multiracial, when our teachers are respected and paid for their talent, knowledge and commitment, when we care more about what we are for than about what we are against, then maybe we won't be racist anymore. Many of us share MLK's dream and I see a little, tiny bit of it sometimes in the faces of New Orleans.
posted by Anitanola at 6:15 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


there is rarely any thoughtful critique of the left when it comes to race.

And there goes the bullshit alarm.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:28 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Or you could read what he very plainly and unambiguously writes. Just a thought.

Is it really good to post snotty little digs aimed at other users like this, yoink?

We obviously have differing interpretations of the article. You think it's plain and unambiguous, and I disagree.

Really? I thought it was pretty clear that this guy doesn't think Republicans are any kind of friend to black people. His point is that the left is not the best friend of Black America, but their only friend (there's a difference).

I disagree. I don't think that's his point, nor do I think he really has a single point, but if he did I would imagine it might be related to the title of the article: The Massive Liberal Failure on Race. People who write headlines like that aren't making subtle critiques. He makes leftists sound worse than right-wing types:

if it has to do with race, you can count on Republicans being wrong early and often...The pernicious effects of Republican attitude on race are plain to see.

Hmm, so he doesn't say anything about lynchings or Jim Crow being, like, the result of White, right-wing attitudes, conveniently. Jim Crow just appears in his version of history, totally divorced from any kind of cause or political orientation. He characterizes Republicans as being "wrong" and having "pernicious" effects in their attitudes. But what does he say about Leftists?

They create ossified institutions, paralyzed by groupthink and incapable of self-reflection. To the extent that liberals are willing to be self-critical, it’s generally to flagellate themselves for not being liberal enough, for failing to stand fast with the old, accepted orthodoxies... The truth is that the left has crafted a narrative about the death of Brown v. Board, a convenient one that serves its own ends.

He subjects the Left as a whole to endless and varied critique, even while claiming that he's merely discussing policy failures. All of this gratuitous and tendentious description of the Left -- paralyzed by groupthink, constantly blundering, nefarious and self-interested -- is an attack, pretty clearly, and not constructive criticism about legislation. He could have easily left all of that out and his points about policies that don't work wouldn't have been weakened even a little bit, but he didn't. One must attend to a writer's actual choices, not merely their own claims about what they're saying. His insistence on attacking the Left constantly throughout the piece renders it far less unambiguously pro-Left and anti-Republican than he tries to make it seem with some vague assurances about his allegiance early on.

Listen, I just don't understand the automatic binary you are suggesting here. It is possible to critique the left without that meaning the correct answer must fall on the right. In fact, if you actually read his words he is pretty clear about placing blame on the right and the left.

You're quite right, that is possible. But it's not what this person is doing here. And he really lets the Right off the hook completely for being the political orientation associated with the causes of the problems under discussion. So I think it's kind of silly to say that he places blame on the right and the left, when the former's espousal and institutionalisation of racism and White supremacy gets no mention whatsoever while the latter's attempts to improve and secure the dignity of Black people earns it a hundred tendentious jabs set incongruously within a technocratic discussion of policy failures. That's just my opinion.
posted by clockzero at 6:29 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


It was intended as a critique of the left's race policies, not the right's. As they say, this is not a bug, this is a feature. You seem to be criticizing him for not going after the right with the same vigor that he attacks the left. But that is not what this piece is about. I think it is fair to say that within the mainstream media anyway, the right gets bludgeoned pretty regularly for their perspectives on race. And he quite clearly states that they deserve it. But the left doesn't receive much scrutiny in that specific regard. I read this piece through that lens.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:59 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


The only thing I have against this guy is that he keeps saying "try and [x]" rather than "try to [x]".
I can't believe the uncharitable readings the piece is getting otherwise. And someone suggesting the reading of the actual words is not a dig. Holy shit already, he's just saying we can do better, and it starts by looking at what we've done wrong. The article may not be perfect but I can think of a lot of people I wish would read it. I'd steer them away from this thread though.
posted by hypersloth at 7:00 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


He subjects the Left as a whole to endless and varied critique, even while claiming that he's merely discussing policy failures.

What are you talking about? It's a critique of policy (integrative busing) advanced by the Left. Policy and politics are inseparable.

Hmm, so he doesn't say anything about lynchings or Jim Crow being, like, the result of White, right-wing attitudes, conveniently.

What's your point? He is addressing post-Jim Crow integration efforts by the Left and the ultimate failure of those policies. That is what the article is about. Not every criticism of the left, by a leftist, has to be qualified by a criticism of the Right. We know right-wingers are terrible, it's not necessary to say that when talking about ourselves.

All of this gratuitous and tendentious description of the Left -- paralyzed by groupthink, constantly blundering, nefarious and self-interested This is how a lot of disgruntled leftists see the Left (i.e. politically powerful liberals), these descriptions are hardly "gratuitous and tendentious"
posted by mrbigmuscles at 7:33 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


It was intended as a critique of the left's race policies, not the right's.

I think it goes well beyond the critique of policy. If it were merely that, I wouldn't find it objectionable. It might even be productive.

As they say, this is not a bug, this is a feature. You seem to be criticizing him for not going after the right with the same vigor that he attacks the left. But that is not what this piece is about.

I can see how what I said comes across that way. Let me put it this way. If he wants to critique certain pieces of legislation or policy initiatives because they didn't work the way they were supposed to, that's excellent and I think there should be more of it. If, however, he's going to explicitly compare the right vs. the left on a certain issue, which he does quite clearly early in the essay, I think it's utterly disingenuous to let the former off the hook while lambasting the latter, considering the history of race and politics in the US.

I think it is fair to say that within the mainstream media anyway, the right gets bludgeoned pretty regularly for their perspectives on race. And he quite clearly states that they deserve it. But the left doesn't receive much scrutiny in that specific regard. I read this piece through that lens.

I think it's worth considering why the left doesn't get bludgeoned on that issue by the right. I don't share his belief that the left doesn't produce scrutiny on race or on its own stance toward issues of race. That's pretty much the only place such critical thought comes from in America.

I can't believe the uncharitable readings the piece is getting otherwise. And someone suggesting the reading of the actual words is not a dig. Holy shit already, he's just saying we can do better

Sometimes things are not as simple as we might like. It would be great if he were merely describing some policies that didn't work as it was hoped they might and concluding that we can do better, but I don't think that's what this piece is, and insisting that it actually is that doesn't make it so. Frankly, I share your (apparent) desire to see more critical discussion of failed or unsuccessful policy initiatives with discussion of why they failed and what else might work, which is why this essay is so frustrating.

What are you talking about? It's a critique of policy (integrative busing) advanced by the Left. Policy and politics are inseparable.

I'm talking about the extent to which his critique of policy becomes a critique of the left itself, which I regard as extraneous to his ostensible point.

What's your point? He is addressing post-Jim Crow integration efforts by the Left and the ultimate failure of those policies. That is what the article is about. Not every criticism of the left, by a leftist, has to be qualified by a criticism of the Right. We know right-wingers are terrible, it's not necessary to say that when talking about ourselves.

My point is that he's being revisionist when he talks about history, not that he must critique the right if he's going to critique the left. He reifies Jim Crow and thus elides its true history and political affiliation during an argument putatively dedicated to a critical historical analysis.

All of this gratuitous and tendentious description of the Left -- paralyzed by groupthink, constantly blundering, nefarious and self-interested This is how a lot of disgruntled leftists see the Left (i.e. politically powerful liberals), these descriptions are hardly "gratuitous and tendentious"

Democrats may or may not be Leftists. I don't like Democrats necessarily either, which is why it frustrates me when people unthinkingly conflate the two. Notice that this writer constantly refers to "the left," which means he's not simply talking about corrupt, venal career politicians. That's what I take issue with.
posted by clockzero at 7:54 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


The other thing that occurs to me on reflection is that this piece is written as if "the left" (or "liberals") were exclusively white people - as if there are no black voters or activists. It's really written with a tone of "politics is something done by white people, either in the interests of black people or against their interests". I don't mean "oh there are black people in the voting process so whatever happens is okay", just that this article does not seem to pay much attention to black citizens as political subjects.
posted by Frowner at 10:48 PM on February 6 [12 favorites]


"That's hardly the thesis of the piece. The writer is opposed to busing on the grounds that it was always going to be an ineffective solution, not that there was no problem to address. If you look at the end of the piece he's saying the real solution is at the level of zoning, housing, property taxes etc. etc. In other words, far more radical approaches to integrating whole neighborhoods rather than attempting to use the schools as integration-incubators."

I grew up a white kid in a predominantly black neighborhood, and the whole reason that I lived where I did was because it was subsidized housing that was on the sliver of my neighborhood that was bused to a good elementary school. Coming out of rural poverty, it was a fantastic opportunity — my parents had bounced me and my brother around Montessori, Steiner and home school after figuring out that our town's elementary was not gonna work.

So I do kind of remember the '80s as a time of adolescent racial harmony overall — I used to get the shit kicked out of me for being white, but pretty much all of my friends were black, too (a fantastic lesson in "not all X are the same").

After that, I got into the magnet schools, which had far fewer black kids (though we read about black people more) while most of my friends trundled on at the (still good) local schools. But by the time we were in high school together, most of them had been held back at least once — something I try to keep in mind when people complain about social promotion — so we didn't have many classes together. One of my best friends, Darius, he was born like four days after me, so we used to share birthday parties, he got held back a couple years, in significant part due to being a huge black dude with ADD. As a big white guy with ADD, shit that might get me detention got him suspended. My parents had the time and ability to fight for me when I fucked up, and more than once I saw Darius get thrown out for being "threatening" when he was asking legitimate questions.

I do think it's a shame how the author decided to frame a lot of his thesis — he did a lot of needless nose-tweaking and thumb-biting — and I think that folks here have brought up how he elides instances of busing success (possibly for other articles), so that he can stick to his simplification of "busing fails." He could have done better on some of the bald assertions, since if you, for example, did think that busing worked in your circumstance, it's an immediate shoe in the gears.

(Finally, as an aside: This article and the responses here are a good example of post-modernism, in critique of modernist technocratic projects. Just putting that out there.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:23 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Or you could read what he very plainly and unambiguously writes. Just a thought.

Is it really good to post snotty little digs aimed at other users like this, yoink?


Glass houses and stones, dude.
posted by valkyryn at 2:17 AM on February 7


I appreciate this article laying out how Nixon campaigned against desegregation and followed through with his court appointments, and how those appointments played out in Milliken v. Bradley. One sees the "southen strategy" mentioned, but less often described in how it played out this way.

I did not appreciate the caption using "paddy wagon".

Most of my elementary school years I spent in metro Dayton, Ohio schools, either walking in pale northern 'burbs or being bussed. I was shocked to learn just a few months ago that the first court-appointed architect of that bussing, Charles Glatt, was assassinated, one of several people gunned down by a racist parent opposed to his 12-year old being bussed.

There's was some discussion of me going to magnet schools back then, but nothing came of it, and I didn't get what the deal was.

I'm not sure I can do justice to the complicated mix of thoughts and emotions I have at the intersection of race, opportunity, bussing, lead poisoning, white flight, sprawl, school funding, North v. South.

Equitable funding seems like it would be a good place to start, though. Iowa tries to do it. New York is supposed to, but doesn't. I can't help thinking Raleigh/RDU's currently expanding sprawl is in large part still white flight. And Atlanta gridlock? Hmm.
posted by one weird trick at 2:17 AM on February 7


Oh, and add gentrificcation to that list.
posted by one weird trick at 2:43 AM on February 7


Large minimum lot sizes or other requirements that effectively shut the door on building smaller, more affordable homes is a killer. Propose building moderate, not low, income multi-family housing and watch the sparks fly (I'm looking at you New Berlin).

I've seen Colby proposing mixed-income housing development elsewhere; that seems to be the one policy fix he explicitly advocates. But pretty much everything else he writes is about how "the Left" -- by which he really means federalist liberalism -- failed historically and how institutional solutions are inherently doomed because they cannot be perfect. His argument really does seem to be that you don't fight racism by focusing on race, but rather through economic policy aimed at importing minority communities into the existing social and financial networks of the white middle class. (The interview I linked above is quite direct and explicit about this.)

So, again: a neoliberal wonk with "good" intentions but really bad methods. A guy who has given up on convincing the Right to be less racist and focuses entirely on Left-wing imperfections, which cedes a lot of ground to the Right by default. And a guy who has a curious blind spot regarding black agency and has made repeated comments across multiple platforms that underprivileged minorities need to assimilate culturally as well as economically to the white middle class.
posted by kewb at 4:48 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


One does wonder how you can talk about the "failure" of integration through busing when it was deliberate sabotage from the start that destroyed it.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:17 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


I read the whole thing, and then I read the (up to this point) 68 comments debating Colby's intent and message.

It's a multi-part series. Perhaps we should wait and see what conclusions he presents at the end.
posted by Thistledown at 5:22 AM on February 7


this article does not seem to pay much attention to black citizens as political subjects.

He does not that 47% of black people polled opposed busing, yet white liberals pushed ahead with it. So I'd say he's not the worst offender in that regard.

I'd agree with the author that busing was pretty much where the integrationist project ran aground. Before that, contested successes, after that, failure and retrenchment. It's important to figure out what went wrong, and I think too self-exculpating to blame it exclusively on racists (the same racists opposed business desegregation, yet lost, so why did they win here?). The carping about tone or the ridiculous mind-reading about intent is just a way to avoid the necessary self-criticism being engaged in.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:57 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


Folks, it's Slate. it has become a site of shameless link-trollers. This is more of the same - of course the article has factual errors and a flawed general premise, that's part of the indignation draw. The fact we all clicked through and saw the ads on the web page and their corporate owners earned some money off the views is the actual point.
posted by aught at 7:11 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


"One does wonder how you can talk about the "failure" of integration through busing when it was deliberate sabotage from the start that destroyed it."

That's kind of what the article does, arguing that busing was never a good solution in the first place.

"He does not that 47% of black people polled opposed busing, yet white liberals pushed ahead with it. So I'd say he's not the worst offender in that regard."

Wouldn't that mean that 53 percent, or a majority, of black people were for it? And without knowing exactly what questions were asked, isn't it a bit tenuous for you to argue that's white liberals treating black people as mere political subjects? Doesn't that, maybe, show more about the axe you grind than the subject at hand?
posted by klangklangston at 7:41 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Or you could read what he very plainly and unambiguously writes. Just a thought.

Is it really good to post snotty little digs aimed at other users like this, yoink?

Glass houses and stones, dude.


I just want to say that I didn't mean to attack any other users in the course of this discussion. I have strong opinions about this piece and rhetoric like it, and I apologize if I was rude to anyone. Carry on.
posted by clockzero at 7:54 AM on February 7


Yes, a majority were for it. A very, very slight majority. Which was part of the problem---if you're going to massively upend how people's children are taken care of, you'd better have a lot more buy-in among those it's supposed to benefit.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:01 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I guess I think that bussing was doomed to fail because it was really a bandaid for an underlying situation created by redlining. If we don't solve that (it still exists in the de facto sense) and its remaining legacy, we won't have integrated schools. But that won't be because people can't get along with people of other racial identities. It's structural. It's tied to equitable funding, because as long as we cling desperately to our national passion for local control, where you live is going to remain the single most important factor in determining what your schools are like.

Redlining by the HOLC/FHA was also not a Northern problem only, despite the author's characterization. It resulted from a Federal program and happened in cities across the entire nation, South included (Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlestown, Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke, Austin, Kansas City, etc).

If a school is 20 percent black but all the black students stay on their own side of the cafeteria and then get bused home at 3 p.m. every day, then there is no integration taking place at that school.

I totally contest this assertion. It's not as ideal as if those students did not have to leave before extracurriculars, and not as ideal as if there were more social integration at free-choice times. At the same time, there is appreciable benefit to going to school with a diversity of people. Having experienced this - even including some self-segregation of the races - I can still say that there was benefit in simple exposure to difference, a curricular emphasis on inclusion that accompanied the presence of a diverse student body, and the awareness of the individual variation among people who look different from you - all things that I see as relatively poorly developed in people I knew who grew up in racially homogenous communities and schools.

This author has looked at a shit-ton of source material, but is essentially presenting an apologetics for racial segregation. I have my own critiques of the busing era, which was a shallow and unsustainable solution to a deep problem the nation was not able to fully confront, and he raises some good points, but I think he is so mistaken about both motivations and outcomes that it's a little futile to take on the argument. He's not even wrong. What I see most profoundly missing in this discussion is outcomes for individual students who experienced integration - outcomes in affect, attitude, and educational achievement.
posted by Miko at 9:48 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


"Yes, a majority were for it. A very, very slight majority. Which was part of the problem---if you're going to massively upend how people's children are taken care of, you'd better have a lot more buy-in among those it's supposed to benefit."

Point taken, but I'd again point out that we don't have any other information about that survey, and that you have to go back about 30 years to find a president that got over 53 percent of the vote. Staking too much of the legitimacy of busing based on that factoid is pretty tenuous.
posted by klangklangston at 11:03 AM on February 7


But of course that doesn't happen, because of an assumption Colby clearly shares: those black kids in their poor people school just have nothing at all to offer the hard-working descendants of harder-working white immigrants, no sirree. Sending white kids to black schools is, for Colby, "sending them away from centers of power." By regurgitating this sort of myth uncritically rather than, I don't know exploding it, Colby recapitulates the exact racist-classist logic integration would have to overcome and pretends it's just common sense.

I think there's a difference between "black schools are not centers of power" and "black kids in poor people schools have nothing to offer." Is there anyone who can make a serious argument that underfunded schools are centers of power that everyone should be scrambling to get into?
posted by corb at 11:55 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I will say, though, there's some really gorgeous language in this piece. "Yes, conservative judges were out looking for ways to kill integration in any way they could, but integration was hobbled and bleeding by the time those judges showed up. Rehnquist and Scalia just dumped the body in the river."
posted by corb at 12:03 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


This author has looked at a shit-ton of source material, but is essentially presenting an apologetics for racial segregation.

No, it isn't. If that's the conclusion you're drawing, you and I are not reading the same text.
posted by valkyryn at 12:47 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I will say, though, there's some really gorgeous language in this piece. "Yes, conservative judges were out looking for ways to kill integration in any way they could, but integration was hobbled and bleeding by the time those judges showed up. Rehnquist and Scalia just dumped the body in the river."

Gorgeous only if it doesn't remind you of actual lynchings, not metaphorical ones. (Note: not happy reading material.)
posted by MartinWisse at 12:58 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


If that's the conclusion you're drawing, you and I are not reading the same text.

That's not really a helpful thing to say, because of course we're reading the same text.

This author takes a particular point of view in arguing with himself. First, he defines something (idiosyncratically) that he calls "true integration." Then he decrees that a system doesn't result in his brand of "true integration," it is a miserable failure. He locates the crux of his story in post-riot Detroit, setting aside all the historical work on the causal factors in America's deindustrializing cities that meant that riots were actually the last domino to fall - that divestment, deferred infrastructure maintenance, ghettoization, poor policing, and federal home loan policy were the true destructive forces, the riots being only a small response to same. He implies that black people universally preferred segregated schools (something I know to be untrue). And he defines white-majority schoolsas "centers of power" in the beginning, only to later characterize them this way:

Those parents hadn’t marched on Montgomery just to have their kids bused off to marginal county schools full of C-average white kids in order to satisfy some arbitrary metric of racial balance in the greater metropolitan area.

Which is it? C-average country schools or centers of power?

Then he calls a busing program at his own Birmingham high school "progress" while denying that same judgment to the marginal successes of other integration projects.

But in the left’s narrative, the bad guy always stays the same: conservative courts killed the wonderful progress that was being made.

I'm not really sure why he thinks this is a "lefty" narrative. It seems to be kind of a bland-center, factual narrative. I'm a lefty, and this is not my narrative. It is not inaccurate but it is certainly incomplete in explaining why desegregation efforts have not been more productive of an integrated society. It's hard to dispute the fact that the court decisions happened, and had an impact on efforts to integrate.

We moved a lot of kids around for the sake of making things look good on a spreadsheet, but our communities and social networks remained largely unchanged.

That's just not true.

Essentially, he's overreaching in trying to make this a narrative about "the left." He's a sort of a sheltered-upbringing guy noting that a lot of other Americans are sheltered and shallowly informed and have an unclear and incomplete picture of this historical era. I agree with him insofar as to say the court-ordered integration system was inadequate and could have been done better. But it's what happened, and I would argue it was better than it not having happened. It made a permanent impact on certain aspects of school policy and was successful in many communities. Where it has not been successful, it merely points to larger structural issues in the American political and racial economy - most of them having to do with institutionalized racism preventing access to residences, schools, and municipalities that could and would devote resources to allowing black people access to middle-class ambitions. And I really don't like his implication - which honestly is there - that everyone would be better off just to racially self-segregate in communities and schools, and that that is a defensible position.

posted by Miko at 1:53 PM on February 7 [15 favorites]


Essentially, he's overreaching in trying to make this a narrative about "the left."

Thank you, Miko. This is exactly what I was trying to say when I referred to his tendentiousness.
posted by clockzero at 1:59 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Tendentious is exactly the word i was searching for with my earlier post. The level of that in there is at like, 9/11 truther or birther levels of groan inducing eye roll.

And I really don't like his implication - which honestly is there - that everyone would be better off just to racially self-segregate in communities and schools, and that that is a defensible position.

Yea. And i think he deserves to get roasted even harder for that portion of this. That's what really got me when i was saying this is a weasely pile of crap. When you approach it from that angle, it's really kissing cousins with an awful lot of the stormfront-y "Racism/segregation is the natural order of things and people will self select into it if not driven by ~social pressures~ and wanting to look PC and progressive. even liberals know it's true deep down!" and even the racism-is-biological-and-natural type of biotruths or racist versions of broscience kind of stuff.

Basically, i'm saying that implication pushes this piece across the line in to this being a sort of stealth promotional or indoctrination piece to try and normalize the ideas of racists and their hate groups.

I don't know if that was his intent, but even if it isn't he's making all the right noises to quack like a duck and do their work for them.

When you combine that implication with the tendentiousness that was previously discussed here, it really reads like some weasely WAKE UP SHEEPLE shit.
posted by emptythought at 11:03 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]


The next part of the series is now up: Part 2: Affirmative action doesn’t work. It never did. It’s time for a new solution.
posted by cjelli at 9:11 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Wow, I didn't think I could dislike Nixon more, but apparently there's no ceiling on that.
posted by corb at 9:55 AM on February 11


The author's proposed solution:
let state and local governments opt out of affirmative action mandates, but only in exchange for opting in on universal pre-K and other things that working families actually need.
Poor black areas don't need affirmative action and can't afford universal pre-K. Rich white areas don't want affirmative action and would be happy to swap it for universal pre-K. End result: affirmative action is replaced by middle-class welfare. Or am I misunderstanding this? Is there a way in which this isn't both evil and stupid?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:21 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


i'm openly admitting my bias here, but this only strengthens the points i made earlier about this guy sounding like a bizarre "racial realist" shill who knows to cloak his language.

i have never, ever heard anyone say "affirmative action is a shitty horrible thing" who wasn't a white neckbeard. Literally the only things missing from this is him calling it reverse racism. But as i said, he knows exactly what to say and more importantly what not to say to avoid sounding like a blatant shithead.

I can't help but read this second one as the saddlesore ramblings of some guy who thinks a black dude "stole" his advertising job, among other things like.

I also see a lot of the same "actually stuff the "good people" like is the same or was in fact created by the bad people! see! checkmate!" shit going on, what with the Nixon related diatribe trying to set up affirmative action as something actually created by racists, and therefor we shouldn't support it.

He tries to set up an overwhelming number of reasons why it's bad here instead of focusing on any one point, and it bugs me. Like, the entire thing as before seems like primer for a debate he wanted to super pre-prep his side of the fight on so they could just keep shifting gears to another front of the war whenever someone tried to actually pick them apart on one specific reason he puts forth. It just strikes me as not comprehensive, but more really scattershot, unfocused, at at times even somewhat contradictory with itself and its points. Especially since it'll flip flop to saying "Well the republicans did this, but it's the lefts fault!" essentially.

I will give a hat tip to this though, he knows exactly what words to use. He even has a little aside making fun of reverse racism! but it's like, a forrest for the trees thing. and i'm not buying it.

It also bugs the shit out of me how selectively he cherry picks talking about other races in certain scenarios, but then when it comes to silicon valley he then zeroes in on just blacks and ignores all other minority involvement. Like, pick one dude.

I mean, his final thesis that pre-k and elementary/highschool level affirmative action programs need to exist is sound, but getting rid of the other stuff is a classic white neckbeard talking point. So yea, my thesis is that he's dressing up shithead stuff in it's sunday best and handing it a box of chocolate of a couple good points to try and sell it.
posted by emptythought at 6:33 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


He created a "tell the TRUTH!! about race!" thesis and managed to get a book published on it. This second article clinched his insincere-dilettante status for me. It's not even worth critiquing with the same earnest effort we put into the first one. The guy started with a saleable idea for a book contract, and that's about as deep as all this goes.
posted by Miko at 7:29 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


This essay is just one stupid, badly-argued, incoherent mess and his argument fails on so many levels. I'm not even addressing whether he's right about pre-K being so vital (compared to, say, better libraries) and affirmative action being ineffective: once you say that you're willing to contemplate scrapping affirmative action you've already lost it, because you have signalled that it's not important to you. Furthermore, you can't do any sort of trivial deal, because you're changing the whole mix of costs and benefits between lots of different groups in unpredictable ways. The people who can decide one thing are not the same as the people who can decide the other; the people who would pay for one are not the same as the people who pay for the other; the beneficiaries of one are not the same as the beneficiaries of the other; and so forth. This isn't a single change; it's probably dozens or more.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:40 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


It also ignores the fact that any universal pre-K would be vulnerable to the same defunding attacks and general resource inequalities we have in the current public school system because of local control and the structural bias already in the school governance and municipal and state political systems.
posted by Miko at 6:18 AM on February 12


once you say that you're willing to contemplate scrapping affirmative action you've already lost it, because you have signalled that it's not important to you.

I think this kind of attitude is what he's pointing at, actually - the reflexive defensiveness of something that may not actually be the best option, because you don't want to lose what little gains have been made.

I don't know that universal pre-K is the answer - I think that gets held up a little too much as the end-all and be-all, while not actually being that much of a game changer. I definitely don't think better libraries are the issue - at least from here in NYC, it looks like the libraries, even in rough neighborhoods, are pretty damn good. But he's right that the problems that lead to the inequality often stem from the schools themselves, and fixing the problems in elementary, middle, and high schools would mean that by the time it got to employment, everyone would be competing on a more equal playing ground.
posted by corb at 6:25 AM on February 12


cjelli: "The next part of the series is now up: Part 2: Affirmative action doesn’t work. It never did. It’s time for a new solution."

Post-Political Politics, #slatepitch Edition
In fairness, he’s not exactly saying that it doesn’t work — “millions of people do well under affirmative action” — but rather that it’s not “an answer to economic discrimination and structural inequality.” This qualification has the advantage of being more accurate, but the disadvantage of countering an argument that for all intents and purposes nobody has ever made. Who thinks that affirmative action was a policy that could completely eliminate structural racial and economical inequalities, as opposed to something that could marginally alleviate them?
...
To state the obvious, the conservatives who want affirmative action gone so badly they’d embark on a massive jobs and education program in exchange for getting rid of it don’t exist. Any state government that would enact any of these policies could enact them while maintaining affirmative action. Considering liberal policies that might be more effective on net than affirmative action is an interesting parlor game, but in the context of American politics it’s no more than that. In the context of federal policy, the argument is as useless as the “we should oppose the ACA because policy x that has no chance of being enacted by the United States Congress is better” silliness. What you will actually get in exchange for eliminating affirmative action is “nothing.” Universal pre-K and jobs programs are good idea on their own merits, and they should be defended as such. But using them to attack affirmative action is silly and counterproductive. These kinds of hypothetical grand bargains aren’t how politics actually works.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:40 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]


corb: I think this kind of attitude is what he's pointing at, actually - the reflexive defensiveness of something that may not actually be the best option, because you don't want to lose what little gains have been made.

I think it's mostly because, besides what i said before about how these articles are designed to be weaponized in debates in this exact "see, you're doing that thing he said!" way... that it's just a really whiny, throw the baby out with the bathwater response.

Like, people are reacting so strongly to it because it's so take-ball-go-home. The solution to your car getting stuck in the mud isn't to take the wheels off and form a committee to spend a couple years figuring out if they should start over and bolt on tank tracks, it's additional assistance on top of your already attempted solution.

This is why a lot of people are reacting so strongly to his "throw out what already exists because it isn't perfect" premise. It's fucking childish, and dumb.
posted by emptythought at 3:31 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Yeah, there are deep problems with how affirmative action functions, but he wildly overstates the actual detriment of qualitative damage to elite reputations versus the broad gains for middle class blacks. He also perpetuates the myth that affirmative action is purely a racial initiative, and ignores that the biggest beneficiaries are women.

I dunno. I agree with some of the places he'd like to move toward, and some of the critiques he raises, but the whole package is so wrong-headed and muddled that it's worse than the sum of its parts. In fact, it has the same effect that he decries about affirmative action: I wonder how a guy like that got this published, since it clearly wasn't on merit.

(I'll note that the first article started with the premise that of course a middle class white guy wouldn't have any black friends — I think that he's studied black people like an entomologist, and still doesn't have any black friends. It's just so alien and alienated.)
posted by klangklangston at 6:07 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


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