Questioning Integration

Thoughts Antecedent To My Lynching

Always we are told that we must integrate, but may not the virtues of racial integration be exaggerated? Might a degree of separation serve us better? What has integration produced other than ill will and strife? Yes, these thoughts are publicly heretical. Yet they are also privately common. May there not be a reason?

The crucial question about integration is simply this:

Does anyone want it?

The evidence suggests that no one does.

Appearances can deceive. If at lunchtime you walked along Connecticut Avenue, a business thoroughfare of Washington, you might believe the country to be in the throes of racial amity. Blacks and whites of prosperous mien throng the streets without evident friction, sometimes dining together. In offices they work side by side. All seems well. What is less obvious is that they have no choice. A vast federal machinery of suasion and intimidation exists, disposing of heavy sanctions, to repress the slightest disinclination to mixing.

When integration isn't forced, it doesn't happen. At quitting time, blacks go home to black neighborhoods, whites to white. Mixed regions are few and unstable, with one race usually moving out when too many of the other arrive.

As the races live apart, so do they play apart. Whites go to white clubs and blacks to black. Crossover is minimal, yet there is no discrimination. Private social life remains highly segregated, even among those who most decry segregation: Although Washington is predominantly black, parties held by liberal whites are overwhelmingly white.

Is this not everywhere the pattern? We pretend otherwise, pretend to want integration, and speak of racial progress, but it is pretense.

Upon comparing the endlessly preached with the observably practiced, one might easily conclude that integration was an abstract political goal being imposed against the impulses of human nature, one of which is the desire to be among one's own. Integration seems not to be something we want, but something we are told we ought to want.

For half a century we have sought to compel mixing by legislation, judicial diktats, quotas, goals, busing, affirmative action, legal terrorism, and remorseless indoctrination of our children. We remain stubbornly segregated. Blacks have made great economic progress, yet their hostility toward whites has not visibly abated. Whites, to judge by their actions as distinct from their dissimulations, do not crave the company of blacks.

Certainly blacks want a comfortable standard of living, equality before the law, a degree of respect, and so on. These are not integration. Do blacks want to spend more time with whites? If so, they conceal the urge well.

The truth, I think, is that the races do not care for each other. If this is not the truth, show me that it is not. We may think we ought to like each other, but we don't quite get there. The question arises: What do we gain by compulsory togetherness that seems chiefly to encourage antagonism?

The United States has never made the experiment of civil and voluntary separation. Until 1954, the doctrine was separate-but-equal, which was in fact separate, but not at all equal. Then, as we are so often reminded, the Supreme Court decided that separate but equal was inherently unequal. Desegregation, and then integration, became the law. Once we couldn't mix. Now we have to.

Here we need to bear in mind a couple of points. First, a thing is not true because the Supreme Court says that it is true. The ukases of the Court, while perhaps sometimes tainted by the Constitution, reflect the political prejudices of a given court and its sense of what it can get away with. In 1896 the Court found in Plessy vs. Ferguson that separate but equal was constitutional. Same constitution.

Second, imposing a rigid segregation intended to repress differs from allowing a degree of separation by mutual consent. If people choose to live separately, or somewhat separately, without thereby being subjected to legal disability, why should it not be their business?

The root of our racial impasse seems to me to be that blacks and whites are very different peoples, and want different things. For example, I am of European descent, and want my children to study English literature, European languages, mathematics, the sciences, English grammar, and European history with reasonable attention to Asia. I want high academic standards. I care about the GREs.

By contrast, blacks note that they are not European and do not want to study things European, that they prefer their own to Standard English, do not want calculus or what I regard as high standards, but do want Black Studies. They detest the GREs.

Our approaches are inherently irreconcilable.

Our choices are (1) to force blacks to study things they do not care for and about which, whether by unconcern or incapacity, they seem to learn almost nothing; or (2) to lower standards for my children and teach them things which I regard as worthless; or (3) to allow people to send their children to separate schools and raise them as they think best.

I don't care what blacks study, as long as they are happy with it. The second clause needs emphasis: I do not propose to force anything on anyone. If blacks want to learn calculus, German, and Roman History, I will support them. If they want to learn Swahili, Black Studies, and Ebonics, or anything else or nothing at all, I may think that they are making a mistake, but I will respect their choice. I presume that black parents are better judges than I of what their children should learn, just as I think that I am the better judge of what mine should learn.

Might not such a policy of mutual noninterference greatly reduce tension?

Having said these things, I will, with a predictability exceeding that of gravitation, get mail saying that I hate blacks and want to do them harm. No, actually. If I could magically move all blacks into the middle class, inspire academic frenzy in their children, and make them happy, I would do it. I gain neither pleasure nor profit from the difficulties of others. But I don't know how to do these things. As I don't want my culture destroyed by that of blacks, any more than they want theirs destroyed by mine, I wonder whether it might be wise to do neither.