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The New York Sun


Hangover From Brown

July 19, 2007

By John H. McWhorter

There are quite a few comic strips one would think that had given up the ghost decades ago that are still running. Andy Capp, Momma, or Broom Hilda about the little wart-nosed witch and her companions, an erudite vulture, and a winsome troll. I read that one online daily, I must admit.

I remain stunned, however, that the Katzenjammer Kids is still with us. It began 110 years ago this year, and hasn't changed a whit. It's all about two mischievous German tykes of a Bart Simpsonesque sensibility, their Momma, and a certain "Captain" living with them in an unclear relationship with her—in narrative essence, spouse.

The characters speak in an old-style "Dutch"—gaslight-era for German—accent: last Sunday's installment had "Der Captain" defending his fervent pursuit of an errant golf ball with "Iss you crazy? Dot's mine lucky ball!" This strip, the only one to straddle three centuries, has lasted so long that there is no longer a community of recent German immigrants alive to be offended by the cartoon accent.

Not that they'd likely even come across the strip if they were still around. Only about 50 papers take the Katzenjammer Kids, and it is safe to say that the number of people who eagerly anticipate catching up with Hans and Fritz over their morning coffee these days are few.

The Katzenjammer Kids lives on not because anyone actually likes it. It lives on because of a sense that to discontinue it would be disrespectful in a historical sense. It is the longest running comic strip in America, and was even the second comic strip in a form that we would recognize. King Features Syndicate keeps it around out of a sense of tradition. It makes the folks there feel, passingly, a little good about themselves, despite the fact that the strip is hopelessly unfunny. This brings to mind a certain platitude among the punditocracy over the past two weeks. We are told that the Supreme Court's ruling against busing students to ensure a "diverse" mix is a reversal of Brown v. the Board of Education.

Get it? Brown was intended to work against segregation. Ergo, the Supreme Court's ruling, in banning modern efforts to get black kids and white kids into the same rooms, takes us back to the Eisenhower era. But clearly, the segregation of 2007 is qualitatively different from what was going on back in t h e day. Then, whites were opposed to their kids sharing space with people they regarded as less than human. Today, when a school is all black or brown, the reason is that the neighborhood is, not that there is a white school in the same neighborhood that blacks are not welcome in. And meanwhile, there are, of course, countless schools nationwide where white students and an ample number of black students attend together, the sociological results of which are endlessly chronicled by journalists and academics year after year. That was not true in 1954. Yet our wise folk insist that whenever black kids are surrounded by people who look like them, we are still faced with "segregation," with implications as ominous as black kids being spat on in Little Rock. Pretending that the word segregation applies to all-black schools in 2007 just as it did to those of 1957 allows people to show their bonafides as Good People, saluting a tradition of racial enlightenment, of a sort that went national starting 50 years ago. It's like King Features keeping the Katzenjammer Kids on life support as a genuflection to the past. However, just as few are actually paying attention to what Hans und Fritz are pulling week to week—and many who took a peek would be starkly unimpressed with what they saw—few are seriously engaging what they are implying in smacking the sententious "segregation" label on all-black classrooms without a thought.

"All black means all bad." Talk about back to the past. What about the increasing numbers of all-black schools where kids excel, as I wrote about a few weeks ago?

What about the fact that black kids are much more likely to tar high achieving ones as "acting white" in integrated schools, something amply confirmed now by several academic studies?

And never mind that no one seems to have any problem with all-black universities, even the ones that are not exactly up to snuff academically. Why, precisely, is it okay for black students to be surrounded by people who look like them when they are 18, but not 17?

Instead, there reigns a tacit sense that intoning the word "segregation" is more interesting, more useful, more moral than engaging any of the above issues. This is what George Orwell termed "gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug."

Katzenjammer is German for hangover. The notion that the Supreme Court has undone Brown is the result of a hangover from the narcotic victories of the Civil Rights movement, which still leaves many of us unclear on the difference between progressivism and self-medication.

Original Source:



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