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Cruel ironies in ebb and flow of integration over the decades
SOMEONE ELSE'S HOUSE: AMERICA'S UNFINISHED STRUGGLE FOR INTEGRATION
When Martin Luther King, III was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he was interviewed by Cokie and Steve Roberts. At the end of the interview, they asked him what question he would ask his father if Dr. King returned from the grave. He responded, "I would ask him, ‘Where did we go wrong?'” Mr. King doesn't have to wait for his father's hypothetical return to get the answer to his question. He can find it by reading Tamar Jacoby's outstanding Someone Else's House.
Miss Jacoby begins by asking, "What ever happened to integration?" Her question was prompted by an experience that she had while working at Newsweek in the late 1980s. As Miss Jacoby was finishing up her work late one Friday night, she stopped at the desk of her researcher—an "attractive, able, personable" young black woman who was on a fast track up the corporate ladder—to look something up in a reference book.
What Miss Jacoby found on the computer screen at her researcher's desk were about a dozen e-mail messages sent and received over the past few weeks. Each of the messages evidenced a woman who saw all of her Newsweek experiences in terms of color and racial paranoia. "Accomplished as she was," notes the author, this co-worker "felt deeply alienated, an unwelcome visitor in someone else's house."
Thus began Miss Jacoby's journey back to the early 1960s to determine how America got off track in its quest to fulfill Dr. King's dream of a "beloved community,” a community in which "little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."
Operating on the theory that the best way to determine what went wrong is to "look up close," Miss Jacoby traces race relations in three cities: Atlanta, Detroit and New York. What she finds and shares with the reader is enlightening and instructive. I found myself nodding in agreement as I read her recollection of historical events and the way they shaped current thinking about race in America.
The birth of racial preferences and the infrastructure necessary to support them can be traced to the era and the cities selected by Miss Jacoby. We can find elements of John Lindsay—the liberal, white Republican mayor of New York, and his refusal to confront those who wanted special treatment because
of race—in Democrats and Republicans alike who are currently captives to political correctness.
The legacy of white guilt, which the author found present in white business owners in New York, Atlanta and Detroit, continues. Miss Jacoby reminds us that the legacy had its origins in the shake-down tactics of "Black Power" advocates and other racialists who threatened to call anyone who did not concede to their demands a "racist."
The book illustrates why affirmative action is a "Band-Aid on the cancer of black underdevelopment." It also underscores the fact that minority preference contracting programs largely benefit a small, elite group of people who should be able to compete without preferences.
The book is a useful journey back to the future, as Miss Jacoby documents for the reader the consequences of race consciousness: color-coded hiring, the concept that our children cannot be taught by teachers who do not "look like them," lowered standards to quiet those who want guaranteed outcomes rather than a fair competition, race-based scholarships, black alienation and a nation deeply divided along racial lines, just as Atlanta, Detroit and New York were divided on such lines.
The book is a must-read for any student of race relations. It brings into sharp focus the national aspiration for an integrated nation that Americans once embraced. It illustrates how white guilt and political correctness joined forces with black impatience and militancy to alter radically not only our national goal but also many elements of our culture. Miss Jacoby reminds us that things are not going to get better in American race relations unless and until we confront the same forces which we ignored about 35 years ago: white guilt, political correctness and identity politics.
One paragraph in particular succinctly sums up the lesson of the book: "The misguided white impulse to win blacks' favor by dwelling on their alienation is more common than ever now.... and the nation as a whole has even less idea today than in the sixties if it wants the future to be color-blind or not. No wonder we aren't sure if we still believe in integration as an achievable goal."
After reading the book, I have a mind to run out and buy copies for President Clinton and every member of his Advisory Panel on Race. If they want to know what's wrong about race in America and how to fix it, a few hours journeying through Miss Jacoby's book is guaranteed to provide insight and direction.
Ward Connerly is a member of the University of California Board of Regents and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute.
©1998 The Washngton Times
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