What is it about “diversity” that seems to get conservatives’ nuts all in a knot? I can certainly understand the rational and legalistic arguments against say, “affirmative action,” but I have trouble grasping the vehemence in which some conservatives fight against any affirmative policy aimed at promoting racial equality and diversity in public services and facilities. They don’t only seem to disagree with the policy, but with the goal.
I got to thinking about this after laboring through the front page at (un)Sound Politics, which at last glance consists of forty posts over the past seven days, seven of which deal directly with racial integration at Seattle Public Schools, and three of which raise the issue peripherally. That’s ten out of forty posts, a full twenty-five percent of the past week’s drivel that just couldn’t stay away from the subject. You gotta love their passion.
To be fair, the posts occur within the context of Monday’s US Supreme Court hearing on Seattle Public Schools “integration tiebreaker,” but (u)SP’s contributors clearly show more than just a passing interest in the issue, coming back to it again and again. Our friend Stefan was so impassioned by the discussion that he had to comment on one Seattle P-I editorial twice. The offending passage…?
Unfortunately, the country has a long history of conscious, legal discrimination once justified by the pseudoscience of racial classification. The hateful, comprehensive U.S. apartheid system continues to affect how communities are organized, where families live and what schools children attend. Some Americans think that, because most apartheid laws were gone by 1970, the issue is closed. Ironically, at the same time, U.S. troops are at risk daily over issues dating from the Crusades.
It is preposterous to equate South Africa’s former enforced system of Apartheid and ethnic clustering in America, which is a function of non-race-based economics and voluntary home choices, and most importantly, permeable and impermanent. Any vestiges of legally enforced segregation were eliminated here decades ago.
Uh-huh. The impact of hundreds of years of slavery and nearly a century of legal apartheid was simply erased with a stroke of LBJ’s pen. To Stefan and his cohorts, the last “vestiges” of our nation’s long history of institutional racism “were eliminated here decades ago.”
But here’s the thing: it’s just skin pigment. We don’t “voluntarily” segregate ourselves based on hair color or height or breast size or any number of other physical characteristics. Only race. And while it’s true that much of the segregation has to do with economics, the fact that people with dark skin on average tend to be much, much poorer than people with light skin probably tells us something. I suppose it could tell us that people with darker skin are inferior. Or maybe — just maybe — these economic and educational disparities that so closely track along racial lines, are in fact a vestige of the “hateful, comprehensive U.S. apartheid system” that Stefan so snarkily dismisses.
Seattle schools are segregated, and in recent years increasingly so. That’s a fact. And to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what to do about the problem. It’s really, really complicated.
But the difference between me and the folks over at (u)SP is that at least I think it is a problem, whereas apparently, they don’t. They are certainly opposed to any sort of government sanctioned affirmative action or racial balancing, to the point that they would ironically argue that the 14th Amendment forbids taking race into consideration when attempting to correct racial inequality. Talk about a Catch 22.
But why so passionate? Well, I suppose it might be reasonably inferred that they are all a bunch of fucking racists. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way implying that they are a bunch of fucking racists, I’m just saying that I can understand how somebody else might infer that. Personally, I think their position is more reflective of the type of cold-hearted social Darwinism that seems to afflict the most rigid, free market ideologues. It’s not that 94 percent of the students struggling to get a good education at Rainier Beach High School are black or hispanic or asian… it’s that they’re poor.
People make choices. They compete. There are winners and losers. And hell if the children of winners should be penalized or even inconvenienced on behalf of the children of losers. Other poor people in previous generations struggled mightily to give their children a better life than they had, and any mollycoddling of today’s underclass does them more harm than good.
Or so the thinking goes.
Personally, I believe that institutional racism is still rampant in our nation even if legal apartheid is not. And I find it “completely unhinged” and “over-the-top” to imply that “any vestiges of legally enforced segregation were eliminated here decades ago.”
In Exodus, God had Moses and the Israelites wonder the desert for forty years, waiting for the children of slavery to die. I’m not much of a talmudic scholar, but I’d say that this Old Testament God was a helluva better sociologist than Stefan or Eric, or even Matt.