CHAINED TO THE PAST: Race and Integration

Wednesday, October 21, 1998

Wave after wave of immigrant groups has followed a path of increasing economic success and integration into the American mainstream. African-Americans have not. Why? Is integration the means to equality or actually the result? Dinesh d'Souza Media Fellow, Hoover Institution, John M. Olin Scholar, American Enterprise Institute, Author, The End of Racism, and Tamar Jacoby, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Author, Someone Else's House ask if affirmative action is not the answer, just what is?

Recorded on Wednesday, October 21, 1998

ROBINSON Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today: Race in America. Some critical documents from American history: The Declaration of Independence. More than two centuries ago it declared that all men are created equal, and it promised Americans life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But of course, black Americans remained enslaved. The Emancipation Proclamation. More than a century ago it abolished slavery in the southern states, and a few years after that the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery altogether. Yet black Americans continued to face discrimination and to live under Jim Crow laws.

In our own time, the 1960's, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. These pieces of legislation at last gave black Americans substantial legal equality. Centuries of oppression, about three decades of legal equality, and today? Today, black Americans continue to lead lives that are in many ways separate from those of the rest of the country.

With us today: two guests. Tamar Jacoby is the author of Someone Else's House: America's Unfinished Struggle for Integration. Dinesh d'Souza is the author of The End of Racism.

The issue before us: integration, the dream that animated so much of the civil rights struggle. Why has it failed, and can it ever be achieved?

YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE

ROBINSON Wave after wave of immigrants come to this country— Italians, Poles, Jews— they learn the language, they get educations, they move right into the American mainstream. Within a generation or two, they've moved up to somewhere in the middle or above. Black Americans are different. Why?

JACOBY They came three hundred years ago in chains, and were kept back and down for certainly two hundred plus years, basically until the beginning of this century, and then to some degree and then to the middle of this century.

ROBINSON So the point would be that black Americans, although they've been here for three centuries, lived in pretty substantial oppression until just thirty years ago.

JACOBY You know, I sometimes, when I think about it as an immigrant, think about the immigrant analogy, I think of 1954 as the moment in a way when...

ROBINSON 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education.

JACOBY ...and then ten years later the civil rights laws when blacks got to start to climb that ladder that other immigrant groups had climbed, but with a lot of baggage.

ROBINSON But both of you in your books write about very dramatic shifts in white attitudes, so that, Tamar, you note that as recently as 1940 more than two thirds of white Americans believed that blacks were in some way inferior. And today that proportion has shrunk all the way down to just six percent. So you see racism really shrinking according to all the polls and so forth, and yet the black conundrum remains unchanged. Is that a fair statement, Dinesh?

D'SOUZA You know, I'm a first-generation immigrant. If I had come to this country in 1930, my life would be a lot more difficult than it is today. So in some ways, someone like me owes a debt to the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement was based upon the slogan of Frederick Douglas, which is "agitate, agitate, agitate." And under the conditions that Tamar describes, that was necessary. But I think after the '54 Brown decision, the '64 Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Bill, and so on, essentially what happened is America said, Okay, we're going to make blacks and whites equal under the law. The immigrants then began to march in the '70's and the '80's. They saw windows and doors that are open of opportunity and they began to march through. Meanwhile, the civil rights leadership became habituated to the strategy, and they kept going on, as they are today, "agitate, agitate, agitate." They're using barricades, in a sense, to try to break in an open door. So this is what's happening. The immigrants are taking advantage of the opportunity that there is now.

ROBINSON The more recent immigrants. Hispanic immigrants, you yourself...

D'SOUZA Yeah, I emphasize that the new immigrants are non-white. They are— we're talking about Koreans, Laotians, Vietnamese, also black immigrants, West Indians, immigrants from Nigeria and so on. And this is creating some confusion in the civil rights camp. It's a little bit like— the old orthodoxy was you had to be white and preferably male to succeed, and now we're seeing that all kinds of other people are doing it too.

ROBINSON All-right. Now, Tamar, you write about, your book is devoted really to the notion of integration. At the time of the civil rights movement, you write (quote): "Like most whites of my generation, I had always thought the goal was integration." You'd buy that— that was the dream of the civil rights movement?

D'SOUZA I think that was, in a sense, King's— Martin Luther King's— vision of it. I think in retrospect, and I've thought hard about this, that the vision itself was a little bit flawed. And by that I mean that I think the lesson of the immigrant generations is that integration is not the means to success, it is the fruit of success. So integration is not the way you get there, it's what you get once you've arrived.

ROBINSON Integration is the fruit of economic success? What can Tamar tell us about our attempts to achieve integration through political means?

IF YOU CAN MAKE IT THERE...

ROBINSON Your book is fascinating in that it takes three prototypes, so to speak, three different ways of attempting to achieve integration, and charts them. Number one: New York City. What took place?

JACOBY Liberals in government and in the foundation world thought they could solve the problem from the top down. Throw a little money at it with a good idea, you could fix it for people.

ROBINSON So you're talking about John Lindsay...

JACOBY Mayor John Lindsay and McGeorge Bundy, the President of the Ford Foundation. And the trouble was, instead of— they had an idea that maybe it would take development. You know, Dinesh laid out a model here that there was, the "agitate, agitate, agitate" model, and then there's the development model which is really that growing into a place in the system is...

ROBINSON Acquiring the skills, economic standing.

JACOBY ...jobs, schooling, jobs, a stake in the system. And there was a little inkling of understanding in the '60's that maybe it was about development. That was the wisdom at the heart of the war on poverty. But they couldn't make it a reality, partly because they thought that government could do it for people.

D'SOUZA The assumption was, if we give this group a push, we will hope that over time, and a short period of time, that in a sense, to put it bluntly, blacks would start becoming more middle class and less black. And I think what's happened is that the opposite has occurred. Essentially, when you come to college, and you realize that affirmative action helped to get you there, and then you want to go to graduate school, and you'll need affirmative action for that, and then you want it for a job, and a promotion, and a government contract, your fidelity becomes to affirmative action. You become a political activist.

JACOBY Things began to go wrong in New York well before affirmative action because they couldn't make this developmental idea a reality because they didn't know how, and they didn't have money, and they got distracted by other things. And they started making alliances with the black power wing of the movement, which had this "agitate, agitate, agitate" strategy.

ROBINSON The idealism of Lindsay and the other liberals quite quickly becomes a matter of power politics.

JACOBY Yes. One of the most interesting people I interviewed about my New York section was Al Sharpton, the activist, who said what he learned was that confrontation works. He learned the "agitate, agitate, agitate" strategy, not education, not a job, not a stake in the system, but confrontation. You know, I can't imagine a worse lesson. But I think a lot of his generation learned it because they saw these powerful whites legitimizing these confrontational black power leaders, and they said well yeah, that's the way, you know, we'll get ahead in America.

D'SOUZA Confrontation does work for him. That's— we're talking about him on the show.

(several voices)

JACOBY It doesn't work for his followers, and it doesn't work for your average middle class black in a corporation who, instead of like doing a good job in a corporation, thinks that he should hold his boss' feet to the fire on affirmative action.

ROBINSON Thirty years later, thirty years after John Lindsay, New York has had a black mayor, David Dinkins. It's my impression, just from strolling around New York when I get there, it's not an integrated town.

JACOBY I don't think any place in America is really integrated.

ROBINSON Oh you don't?

JACOBY No, I think what we have, even the best places, is peaceful co- existence.

ROBINSON But your book comes back again and again to the still noble goal of integration. You still want to see it achieved. Now what do you have in mind?

JACOBY One community where we all feel we belong, where we feel we're in it together, with some kind of common loyalties and sense of a common destiny. Not the sense of sort of armed camps where you think the other group is basically different, that your interests are basically different, and that only you can be a role model for your kids. You know, Sammy Sosa can't be a role model for a white kid, and Mark McGuire can't be a role model for a black kid.

ROBINSON You go for that— is that a goal?

D'SOUZA I think it is a goal. I think that the ultimate test of integration is intermarriage, because to allow someone to marry into your family is the full acceptance that people— that's the last barrier, if you will.

ROBINSON Stop action...you buy that? Integration means intermarriage ultimately?...

JACOBY I think if you have intermarriage it's a symptom— high rates of intermarriage— it's a symptom that things are pretty relaxed. I don't think it's the solution, and I think lots of people won't want to.

D'SOUZA See, we have fairly high rates of intermarriage between whites and Hispanics. We have very high rates of intermarriage between white men and Asian American women. We have high rates— in other words, what's happening is, America is becoming a multi-ethnic society, and then African Americans, or blacks, are being left out of that. You have very low rates of intermarriage between blacks and anyone else. And what's particularly interesting within the black community, is that you have a high proportion of educated black women who don't have young men to marry. The young men are in prison or on parole or unemployed. And so you think these young black women would marry outside the race. But they don't, they never do, there have very low rates of intermarriage. And so, that is— I think Tamar is right— it's a kind of symptom, it points to a broader problem, and that is that essentially Americans of different backgrounds are beginning to feel comfortable with each another, but not with blacks.

ROBINSON On to another of Tamar's integration case studies.

BLACK POWER, WHITE FLIGHT

ROBINSON Now Detroit. In New York you have white liberals trying to pull it off, and in Detroit, blacks actually achieve political power right at the top of the city structure, right?

JACOBY The black mayor: Coleman Young. And this was the hope in that era, in the '70's, that black politicians could bring about integration. And you look at... Detroit was already in a bad way in the '70's— oil crisis, the car industry was hitting bottom, people were moving to the suburbs— so the city was having trouble. But my argument is that if the city and the suburbs could have pulled together during that crisis— and that would have been the definition of integration there: we see ourselves enough with a common destiny, and a common problem, we're going to have some common solutions— you know, would have solved the problem, not maybe solved but certainly weathered the crisis in a very different way. Instead, Coleman Young made a career out of thumbing his nose at the white suburbs, would not pull together with them, even when they were willing to, to try to deal with the problems. First of all, there was booming economy in the suburbs, and workers in the city, but couldn't bring it together.

ROBINSON So you got white flight?

JACOBY You had white flight, much exacerbated by Young and by a big busing case...

ROBINSON So you end up with Detroit itself overwhelmingly black...

JACOBY Poor...

ROBINSON ...poor...

JACOBY ...paranoid about white people, about the law...

ROBINSON ...crime rates...

JACOBY ...crime rates— one of the ways that Coleman Young's, basically, racial animus played itself out was in undermining what had been a largely white police department, and this sort of took the lid off the crime problem.

ROBINSON So what you have is, in one of America's major cities, black leadership achieves the kind of pinnacle of legitimate, in-the-system power, and catastrophe is the result.

JACOBY Uses it to remain separate. Again, you know, the problem is, not kind of... granted, you know, getting elected mayor is entree into American society, but instead of using it as entree, used it as a way to maintain a separate fiefdom, and the separate fiefdom from that unfortunately, you know, sank, turned into...

ROBINSON Now Atlanta is the happiest— it's not an altogether happy story— but it's the happiest story that you tell. What happened in Atlanta?

JACOBY Well, it is the quintessential example to me of this peaceful coexistence. It is a majority black city like Detroit, but it is a much happier one, it's a booming one economically. And unlike in Detroit, middle class whites have stayed in town. But the two sides still live basically in camps. There's a white side of town and a black side of town, and the suburbs look almost identical— you know, beautiful suburbs with literally four-car garages and private schools and fancy clubs...

ROBINSON On both sides.

JACOBY On both sides. Whites in the north, blacks in the south. And they're indistinguishable, but they're still color-coded. And affirmative action was the idea there; that was the way the well-intentioned people thought they were going to bring about integration.

ROBINSON It occurs to me that since, as we said at the beginning of the show, blacks lived under pretty material oppression until very very recently— legal oppression, formal oppression, black drinking fountains, black hotels— that in Atlanta, two prosperous communities living peacefully side-by-side ain't bad...

JACOBY But it's not good enough.

ROBINSON ...and maybe we're just impatient

JACOBY It's not good enough.

ROBINSON But you consider it a failure and not a success as far as...

JACOBY No, I consider it that we've come ninety percent but we haven't gone that last mile, and that last mile is key if what you want is that one community.

ROBINSON Does she want too much?

D'SOUZA What really holds a society together is the conviction that everyone is playing by the same rules. This is why affirmative action is such a powerful attack on that notion, because in effect it's trying to correct for the sins of history by establishing a race in which Fred is asked to start three yards ahead, and Suzie three yards behind. You can't judge a policy like that simply by its material gains. It's true, it has helped to consolidate a black middle class, and that is an achievement...

ROBINSON Not just in Atlanta, but elsewhere.

D'SOUZA But I think nationwide. But also, the black middle class is a little fragile, it's very dependent on government. It's essentially a governmentalized middle class. A very large percentage of black professionals and the black middle class either does business or is dependent upon or works for state, federal, or local government in some way. And all that means is that in an era of downsizing government, ironically it's the black middle class that gets somewhat polarized.

ROBINSON What do Dinesh and Tamar want to do about affirmative action?

COLOR BIND

ROBINSON Both of you would be willing to eliminate affirmative action tomorrow if you could.

JACOBY Preferences. I'm for outreach, you know, the old definition of affirmative action, outreach...

ROBINSON Okay, let's make the distinction. What is the old definition?

JACOBY The original definition was, when Kennedy began the idea, was that companies and universities would make a special effort to find and recruit people of color. I'm all for that.

ROBINSON Of their own volition. It wouldn't be government mandated efforts.

JACOBY I wouldn't even mind government pressure to find and recruit— I don't mind that. It's when you start putting your thumb on the scale that I think...

ROBINSON Okay, so at what point did it become corrupted, did affirmative action become...

JACOBY Very early it became corrupted, because they very early began to count by numbers [

ROBINSON Quotas.] and as soon as you count by numbers, you have to be putting your thumb on the scale, unless the applicants really are absolutely equally qualified, and then you don't need affirmative action.

ROBINSON All-right. You'd go for that, you'd be in favor of the original uncorrupted view of affirmative action?

D'SOUZA Remember, we're so far from that point. The original idea, by the way, was affirmative action was intended for blacks, I mean for one group, because of a very specific set of historical crimes: slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and so on. What happened in the late '60' and early '70's is other groups showed up— the Latinos, the women's rights group, the gay rights groups— and they basically said, We're the new blacks. And what's interesting is if you go back to the history, the original reaction of the black leadership was, Forget it. They said, Well, were you slaves? What comparable history of suffering can you show? But then a second group began to say, Wait a second, think about this. We blacks are ten percent of the population, whites are eighty. As long as we want affirmative action just for us, we've got to go to whites hat-in-hand and say, Please give us affirmative action. But if we let in the Hispanics, ten percent, the women, fifty-one percent, we have a majority. We can just vote these programs in as long as we feel like it.

ROBINSON Dinesh d'Souza in his book The End of Racism, quote: "The black problem can be solved only through a program of cultural reconstruction in which society plays a supporting role, but which is carried out primarily by African Americans themselves." White liberal: back off, your role in this is limited. True?

JACOBY I believe something like that, but I believe that it's personal change— Ben Lowry's description of the change...

ROBINSON Ben Lowry is, describe...

JACOBY Black economist. The name of his book is One By One: From the Inside Out. That is what the change that has to happen is about: it's personal development. It is about going to school, it's about wanting to go to school, it's about wanting to achieve, it's about getting a stake in the system, starting a business. But there can be incentives and prods along the way provided by white government, white business, black leadership, white leadership. Culture can stop sending the wrong messages and start sending the right messages...

ROBINSON Wait, hold on. Step A, you're talking about one-by-one personal change, all that is kind of exhortatory and really quite moving. You got me. Then you say, wait a minute, but we also need... [

JACOBY Head Start.] powerful groups like the government [

JACOBY No.], and corporations, to do prods, to send messages. But isn't that inherently racist? It just makes distinctions on the basis of race.

JACOBY No, I don't think you're doing it for... you're doing it for poor people, you're doing it for people who are having trouble in school, you do it in inner cities or in poor neighborhoods or where the schools aren't, the school reading scores aren't good. You don't do it by color.

ROBINSON Dinesh says we should eliminate affirmative action. But we ought to be doing something, right?

LEAD, FOLLOW, OR GET OUT OF THE WAY

ROBINSON There is still a large white majority in this country, and it is well- intentioned, and it is concerned about the plight of African Americans. And you're saying, There's not much you can do about it. Isn't that just politically untenable? People want to do something about it.

D'SOUZA That's true. And I think one of the problems is that you've got a destructive alliance between black leaders who stand to gain something by saying "pay me or else," and white liberals who want to feel good about themselves. And so, regardless of whether their programs are doing any good, they say "I'm happy to pay," and the black guy says "I'm happy to take." And as a result, no good is done, but neither side is complaining. This explains why affirmative action, although morally untenable— nobody can even make a sensible argument for it— continues institutionally. It's the suspicion of inferiority that drives racism, and to me, in a hard-headed way, the only way to refute that is through excellence, is through merit. I mean look, in the...

(several voices)

ROBINSON ...What does white America do to encourage that?

D'SOUZA Nothing.

ROBINSON Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in a memo that got leaked to the press, advised Richard Nixon more than thirty years ago to engage in a policy toward black America of, quote, "benign neglect." Daniel Patrick Moynihan is still trying to live that down to this day. I mean, that's what you want, benign neglect?

D'SOUZA I'm not saying in that sense whites should morally detach themselves, but I think we've got to learn from the last thirty years and realize that our role is not to be leaders, but cheerleaders.

ROBINSON All-right, now...

JACOBY You see, I think we should, you know... I think Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa should be able to go to the ghetto together and say, you know, Look at us: we accomplished this not because of our skin-color, but because of our skill and character. And with that... It shouldn't be just left to blacks because then what you see happening now in the ghetto with all the teachers that are role-models and et- cetera being black, is that kids think the important thing is to be a black success, not to be a success.

ROBINSON Tamar and Dinesh seem to agree on quite a lot of the fundamentals. So why was the reactions to their books so different?

COOKING THE BOOKS

ROBINSON Dinesh's book: The End of Racism; Tamar's book: Someone Else's House. Both, in my opinion, wonderful books. Dinesh's book was received with outrage; I mean, it was a kind of cause to attack Dinesh's book...

JACOBY I reviewed it more or less favorably.

ROBINSON Well, there were what, half-a-dozen sympathetic reviews. Tamar's book, the reviews that I've seen, have been purring with admiration, warmth. How come? Because the differences between you are relatively muted.

JACOBY (laughing) Which one of us do you expect to answer?

ROBINSON Well, let's go with you Tamar.

D'SOUZA Tamar's very sweet-natured.

JACOBY My rhetoric is wooly and they can't tell what I'm saying.

D'SOUZA Look, I think that the difference is partly that Tamar is embracing the old liberal idea, and saying, Look, it's a great idea, it just went sadly wrong.

ROBINSON Hold on. You're going to let him get away with that? You're embracing the old liberal...

JACOBY I think that's true. The ideal: I'm certainly embracing the old ideal. I'm complaining about the means.

ROBINSON Okay, go ahead.

D'SOUZA I'm saying, Look: if these ideas were so good— King believed them, you know, Jesse Jackson was a lieutenant in the barricades alongside King. These guys believed in integration, they believed in equal opportunity, they said, No special rights: judge us on the content of our character. Ten years later, the same guys who were fighting alongside King said, It's not enough: we want preferences. James Baldwin, the novelist, said: "Who wants to be integrated into a burning house?" So my point is, some good explanation has to be given for why these very same people after... you know, the black leadership has wanted, essentially they said, America's a great club, we just want to be members, that's all we want. For a hundred years...

ROBINSON You finger a corrupt arrangement, that is to say, black leadership engaging in a kind of protection racket for their own good and not the good of African Americans, and they screamed at you.

D'SOUZA Look, I'm a person of color, Peter. I can say a lot of things that you can't say. Now, I'll take heat for it, but the point is I won't be hounded off the podium. So, in a sense I'm using my ethnic immunity to become a man on a mission and take on these orthodoxies frontally. Now Tamar takes them on, but I think in a little more oblique, sweet-natured way.

JACOBY Well, I'm not sure I'm pretty tough on Coleman Young and so forth, but...

ROBINSON You sure are. Now, you've both attacked affirmative action. Affirmative action has been rolled back in exactly one place in the United States— California— and only as regards California state law. Ten years from now, will affirmative action have been rolled back across the country? Tamar.

JACOBY Not completely. It's gonna take, I believe it'll take more than ten years.

ROBINSON More than ten years. Dinesh?

D'SOUZA I agree with Tamar. Look, we're in a situation where what is really driving affirmative action is social embarrassment. If you are in a room, a corporate board room, or if you are in a university setting, we are in a culture today where if you don't see women and blacks in the audience, everyone feels embarrassed. And even conservatives take steps to overcome that embarrassment. So if you didn't have legal affirmative action, you would have de facto private affirmative action. And if it's private affirmative action, I have much less problem with it.

ROBINSON Right, okay. Now, let me ask you, second prediction and we'll close it all out. Choose— think about this for a moment if you want to— choose one indicator of the kind of progress that you would like to see.

JACOBY That's a hard one, because this sense of one community I'm talking about isn't really quantifiable. It's, you know, kind of saying...

ROBINSON Well, let's put it this way. Ten years from now, will the goal of integration as you envision it, will we have come closer to that goal?

JACOBY I think we will, yes.

ROBINSON So you don't see it's a stalemate. You would predict progress.

JACOBY Yes, I do. We've made enormous progress. And, you know, that mile that we haven't gone, mostly has to do with attitudes. And that's why it's hard to measure improvement, but that attitude that we're basically different.

D'SOUZA Ten years from now: stalemate or improvement?

D'SOUZA I think we have reached a bit of an impasse in which the old style of discrimination is unfashionable and rare. But the problem is that what you have is a consequence of black behavior. It's something called rational discrimination. I'm thinking of the cab-driver who's scared to pick up a young black male, or the woman who clutches her purse, or the storekeeper who shuts the buzzer. Now these people are acting not based upon prejudice, but based upon statistics, on probability. This kind of discrimination can only be eradicated by changing the underlying behavior that gives rise to what I will call ‘accurate stereotypes." So I think that this next stage is a more difficult stage, and it is related to development. Once development changes, if the black crime rate plummets, so that blacks are no more likely to mug you than whites, no-one's going to cross the street any more.

ROBINSON Tamar Jacoby, Dinesh d'Souza: thank you very much.

JACOBY Thank you.

ROBINSON Tamar Jacoby: an optimist. Dinesh d'Souza: Dinesh believes by contrast that in race relations we've reached something of a stalemate. But both our guests would grant that as the twenty-first century approaches, we continue to measure ourselves against the standard of equality set down in the eighteenth century. I'm Peter Robinson. Thanks for joining us.