Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, May, 1997
Integration or Separation? A Strategy for Racial Equality, Roy L. Brooks, Harvard University Press, 1996, 348 pp.
It has been obvious for years that American society is not turning out the way the civil rights activists of the 1960s promised it would. Our experiment in forced integration and equality-by-edict has now ground so deeply into failure and incoherence that even a few establishment figures have begun to notice.
Books on race long ago lost the chirpy optimism of the March on Washington. The End of Racism, as well as two books by blacks with the words “race war” in their titles fail to raise the essential questions of whether multiracialism is possible or desirable, but at least they describe current developments with commendable grimness.
Roy Brooks, a professor of law at San Diego University, goes one better and takes aim at the idea of integration itself. At the beginning of the book he says he will argue “that racial integration has failed to work for millions of African Americans, and that well-intended integrationists have got to awaken from their half-century’s self-induced hypnotic trance and recognize that they are holding on to a tarnished trophy.”
To say integrationists are in a hypnotic trance puts Prof. Brooks in the same corner as Sam Dickson, but Harvard University Press has not, of course, published a separatist manifesto. What Prof. Brooks proposes is “limited separation,” which gives blacks but not whites the right to form “nurturing enclaves” where they can be free of the white man’s incurable racism.
Baffled by Integration?
The book explicitly rejects total separation or “black nationalism,” and says blacks should be able to choose between integration and “limited separation,” moving between the two whenever it suits them. White racial consciousness is to be held down, and the integrated world is to be kept fit for visiting and resident blacks by means of stiff doses of multiculturalism. In short, Prof. Brooks wants to combine the material advantages of white society with the psychological advantages of black separation.
The Failure of Integration
In his critique of integration, Prof. Brooks opens with the proposition that “there is nothing intrinsically good about racial mixing. Its appeal comes from its social utility.” By “social utility” Prof. Brooks means whether it is good for blacks; the interests of whites do not concern him. Prof. Brooks therefore reports that integration has failed—not because it has blighted once-great cities, destroyed school systems, and uprooted millions of whites—but because blacks have not always been pleased with the results.
School integration, for example, was supposed to lift the self-esteem and academic achievement of blacks, but it has lowered self-esteem and had no effect on test scores. In employment, “racial humiliation remains a continuing problem in integrated settings,” resulting in “the distress talented middle-class African Americans suffer at work in white institutions.” Prof. Brooks concludes that “the homogeneous community rather than the larger white society is the environment in which the personal self-esteem of African Americans develops positively.”
In integrated universities, black students must constantly battle a hostile white environment. “African American professors . . . are sherpa guides, leaders who take their students through unknown and treacherous terrain.” They also “interpret the often mysterious and arcane rules of campus life”—though one wonders whether anyone who finds university rules “mysterious and arcane” belongs in college. Prof. Brooks notes that even after decades of formal integration, college campuses are largely self-segregated, and asks the excellent question: “If integration cannot work in this protected milieu where can it work?”
Housing integration has been a failure as well, though Prof. Brooks makes contradictory arguments about it. On the one hand it has been a cruel trick because the most capable blacks have vanished into the white suburbs, leaving the slums to fester. On the other hand, racist mortgage bankers keep blacks cooped up in ghettos.
Why has integration failed? Because of “an entrenched structure of institutionalized racism that can be found in every nook and cranny of this country.” White racism cannot be eliminated because it is “a racialized way of feeling, thinking, and behaving that emanates from the American culture at large and that is reinforced by schools, families, friends and other microsocial entities.”
There is no such thing as black racism because “there is no centuries-old system of racialized subordination and discrimination designed by African Americans to exclude white Americans . . .” Integration might have worked (which is to say that blacks could have been satisfied with it) were it not for white racism, but after a spasm of contrition during the 1960s and 1970s, whites are becoming more hard-hearted. Black children therefore must be “trained to cope with white oppression” and spend much of their time “developing racial survival skills.”
What to do?
Since whites are so awful, why not make a clean break with them? Prof. Brooks toys with the idea. He even makes the surprising claim that “mainstream Americans on both sides of the color line are openly considering a total separation of the races as the only satisfactory solution to the race problem.” We would like to know who these people are.
Prof. Brooks recounts past attempts at separation, like the colonization of Liberia, Marcus Garvey’s back-to-Africa movement, and the occasional separatist demands of the Nation of Islam. He also gives interesting accounts of “black towns” like Nicodemus, Kansas; Mound Bayou, Mississippi; and Allensworth, California. These were established by freed slaves and some flourished until either the Depression or integration finished them off.
Prof. Brooks concedes that separation has not worked for blacks. He takes a brief look at the squalor and barbarity of civil-war Liberia, and concludes that American blacks might not be happy living there. Since the book opens with the idea that racial mixing is to be judged strictly by whether it is good for blacks, separation is presumably judged in the same light; if he thought it would work, Prof. Brooks would probably favor it. His reasons for rejecting it are practical, not principled.
Why doesn’t separation work for blacks (the book is silent about whether it works for whites)? Prof. Brooks says black nationalism suffers from “romanticism,” or the unrealistic view that if only American blacks were living in Africa everything would be wonderful, or from the equally unrealistic view that blacks are superior to whites and need only be left alone in order to prove it. In other words, there was nothing wrong with Marcus Garvey’s motto, “Rise up, you mighty race; you can do what you will,” but Garvey was wrong to think that moving to Africa would make a big difference.
Prof. Brooks also criticizes black nationalism for emphasizing the race—the group—over the individual. He makes this point several times, insisting that “limited separation” is meant to benefit individuals rather than the race. Only later does it become clear why he emphasizes this point.
Prof. Brooks solution—Limited separation (LS)—would be based on the recognition that many blacks need an alternative to integration, that they do best in homogeneous, race-conscious schools, communities, and business. Since blacks would be choosing their own separation this would be self-affirmation rather than a return to segregation. Whites would not be banned outright from the LS undertaking, but could be kept out if their presence threatened the explicitly racial character of a group. The book’s most concise statement of the purpose of LS is as follows:
Limited separation provides an option to scores of African Americans who do not have the superhuman strength or extraordinary good fortune to make it in racially hostile, predominantly white mainstream institutions. Racial integration and limited separation should be viewed as different paths to racial equality. (emphasis added)
Since limited separation would be optional for blacks, it could be a permanent home for some but also serve as a training ground for those who later want to venture into the difficult world of integration. In the latter case it would be a way-station on the road to “equality,” which presumably means making as much money and having as much status as whites. The key institutions of LS would be school and community.
Prof. Brooks promises us a system of public schools that will meet the “special needs” of blacks, whatever they are. Schools will be run by strong black role models and “will emphasize the public achievements and contributions of African American men.” There will be no “tracking” or ability grouping, and Prof. Brooks recommends some kind of “rites of passage” “as a way of aiding and dignifying the often difficult transition from boyhood to manhood.” The schools may be segregated by sex if the community desires. They will run late and on weekends “to protect students from the streets by offering healthy alternatives.”
Prof. Books seems to suffer from a certain romanticism of his own: “In African American public schools, principals will make sure every classroom remains under the teacher’s firm control.” Likewise, once blacks have had the benefit of these schools, he assures us they will not need affirmative action when they apply to integrated universities.
The remaining majority-white schools cannot, of course, be left unsupervised. They will perform the usual multiculti rituals, preach “tolerance,” be full of minority role models, and promote extracurricular race mixing.
Prof. Brooks veers into yet more romanticism in his belief that LS will bring middle-class blacks streaming back to “the community:”
Limited separation will have its greatest impact on housing and employment . . . middle-class African Americans will run toward rather than away form working-class and poor African Americans. The hope is that the human and economic capital withdrawn from African American communities during the civil rights movement, when America’s integrationist drive was in high gear, will return to these communities.
Why should it? Prof. Brooks notes that there has been a spate of books, such as The Rage of a Privileged Class by Ellis Cose, that explain how harrowing it is for blacks to take high-paying jobs in white corporations. He takes these authors at their word, and predicts “a stampede of middle-class African Americans heading back to the community.” This will, in turn, “enable poor and underclass African Americans to jettison a self-defeating and dysfunctional culture and adapt to a more middle class, African American culture.” Small businesses run by and for blacks will spring up by the thousand, turning LS zones into thriving, independent communities.
Of course, it is nonsense to think that the blacks who work for Xerox and General Motors will all rush off to the slums. No matter how intolerable they claim it is to be the only black VP, they are not about to start wig shops in East St. Louis or Camden. Blacks are vastly better off in white societies than in any they could build on their own, and they know it.
Even Prof. Brooks knows it: “I would not personally pursue a course of limited separation, because racial integration has worked well for me and my family.” The good professor does not say whether it was “superhuman strength” or “astonishing good luck” that pulled him through, but he seems to be content with his tenured job at a white university.
And this, of course, is why LS must always favor the individual and never subordinate him to the group. People like Prof. Brooks, who can handle whitey, must have the option of leaving their not quite “superhuman” brothers behind in the ‘hood. Prof. Brooks notes that many poor and working-class blacks might well want to live their entire lives in limited separation, but he will presumably keep his membership at the faculty club.
What We Have Now
Although Integration or Separation? is written as if it were a bold, new look at America, it is not much more than a description of America as it is today. Blacks already have all-black public schools that try to meet their “special needs.” They already have the option of pretending to be “the African diaspora.” A black employer can already have an all-black workforce if he wants. Blacks can already celebrate Kwanzaa, wear Kinte cloth, take “African” names, bully whites, and be loved for it. Or, if they want, they can learn proper English, go to college, and get a job with Coca Cola. And, while blacks make race the centerpiece of their identities, whites are browbeaten into celebrating diversity. Prof. Brooks just seems to want official approval for what is already happening.
He also wants what is best for blacks, as is his right. If blacks want integration they should have it. If they want separation they should have that. If they want to stay separate most of the time, but sally forth occasionally to treat with the treacherous white man, that is fine, too.
Though Prof. Brooks does not put it this way, he sees whites as a kind of raw material for black success. They are evil brutes and not always worth the bother, but if properly handled they can be made to grovel and write checks. Some blacks have the knack for making this happen, but some don’t. Those who don’t only seem to make whites angry and make it harder for the gifted to practice the knack. Limited separation will keep trouble-makers out of the way.
Whites, of course, do not have legitimate racial interests. Since they are “racists” they cannot be allowed a preference for separation. Blacks can separate legitimately (and insist on integration when it suits them), but when whites separate it is oppression and bigotry. Capitulationist sentiment is so common among whites that Prof. Brooks probably has no idea of the self-serving double standards he takes for granted.
Even so, when Harvard University Press publishes books that claim integration has not worked for blacks, it will not be long before someone ventures the view that it hasn’t worked for whites either. Even if it gives unsatisfactory answers, Integration or Separation? certainly raises the right question.