Friday, March 30, 2018

Trepidation Now, Trepidation Forever

I think it's Hindi. From somebody's tumblr.

David Brooks's headline, "Integration Now, Integration Forever" (which I'm pretty sure he wrote himself, as marked by the fact that it's in the url), composed by palimpsest over George Wallace's famous cry of defiance of 1963, sounds like a pretty stirring call to action that I wouldn't want to be arguing with, but what he came up with is more ambivalent, on more than one dimension, indeed so ambivalent that it doesn't make any sense at all:

The prospect of racial integration in the United States, which seemed so promising in the 1960s as the integration of the school system began, has clearly failed, gone the way of the gramophone and the nylon stocking, as people failed to create intimate bonds across racial lines, as Tamar Jacoby observed 20 years ago. This depressing outcome is probably because integrating schools was the wrong way to go. The authorities should have begun by integrating neighborhoods instead. This is proven by the fact that neighborhoods have become more integrated over time, and people have created intimated bonds across racial lines, as intermarriage rates have climbed and churches have become multiracial. Therefore we need to integrate neighborhoods by building public housing in low-poverty areas, eliminating exclusionary zoning, and more gentrification, and schools will integrate themselves. Also everybody should join an organization where they meet once a week with people who are different from themselves.
Terrifyingly, this glass is half-empty! Fortunately, it's half-full! We must do something to rectify this situation by making it more the way it already is, I think!
If you had pulled somebody aside in the mid 1970s and asked him to predict how racially integrated America would be in 2018, he would probably have said: pretty integrated. American schools were integrating very quickly back then. The subject of racial integration was on everybody’s tongue.
I don't know. First thing Dr. Google came up with, from Cincinnati in 1979, was kind of a downer:

What I remember is intense white resistance throughout the decade, through the building of "segregation academies" in the South and white flight to the suburbs and anti-busing agitation in the North (one of the leader of the last being young Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware). The attempt to desegregate housing, meanwhile, was going on at the same time, beginning with the 1968 Fair Housing Act, against similar opposition. Things are much better now, as far as I'm concerned, though they're still terrible.
Unfortunately, the mid-70s were, by some measures, a kind of a high-water mark. School integration peaked then, and American schools have been resegregating since. Measured by Google Ngram, the phrase “racial integration” was used most frequently then; people have been using the phrase less and less ever since.
Not exactly; it began rising around 1990 and seemed to peak ca. 1996 at the same point it was at in 1964. What's maybe more interesting is that "racial segregation" began an upswing in 1984 that hadn't stopped by Ngram's default terminus of 2000 (there's a featuring allowing you follow it out to 2008, where it turns out both seem to have declined through the end of the Bush administration, but "racial segregation" was still at historic highs).

Characteristically Brooks is looking only at the hortatory language, addressed to telling people what they ought to be doing, rather than the descriptive language addressed to how things actually are, and thus missing the indication that people are becoming more and more aware of segregation as a persistent problem.
By the late 1990s, passion for the cause had been lost. As Tamar Jacoby wrote in her 1998 book “Someone Else’s House”: “If integration is still most Americans’ idea of the goal, few of us talk about it any more. The word has a quaint ring today — like ‘gramophone’ or ‘nylons.’ 
Now we seem to have entered a phase of trepidation, or even passive segregation. Race is on everybody’s mind, but are there enough efforts to create intimate bonds across racial lines? Jacoby emphasizes that there are two kinds of integration, objective and subjective. The former is about putting people of different races in the same classroom, office and neighborhood. The latter is about emotional bonds of connection, combining a positive sense of pride in group with an overall sense that we are a “we.”
I don't want to think about whether Brooks is worried that our schools and neighborhoods could be racially trepidated, or what that means if it means anything. I can confirm, however, that Jacoby's Someone Else's House does not use the word "subjective" once, and "objective" only to describe her ambitions for her own writing:

That's bad. He's making up stuff again!

And he's making stuff up specifically in order to introduce his usual objection, that you may be able to solve some problem at a material level, but if you haven't solved it at a spiritual level it won't matter. Therefore you shouldn't bother? I'm happy to hear David Brooks speak out in favor of racial integration, but I'm completely unsure that's what he's doing.

And then there's the little poem at the end. What? (Dr. Google thinks it's a slogan of the Church of England.)

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