I won't write today to complain about the New Know-Nothings or the Amurrica-Firsters or the millionaires and wannabes who pine for silly things like Whites-Only schools. I'm not even complaining (except about how hard putting contact lenses in turned out to be). I read with interest an article in In These Times at the Optometry Clinic at Cal--that's the University of California at Berkeley to people who don't recycle alumni fundraising requests--while waiting for said contacts.
It struck a nerve with me. More things are doing that lately. Probably about to spout off on some poor, unsuspecting person. Still, I've been a bit quick to anger.
This nerve, however, did not bulge in my neck or cause comical wavy lines to indicate steam escaping from my ears. (No. Those comical, wavy lines are hair.)
John M. Davis' piece, called "Still Separate, Still Unequal," reprised a theme I used to entertain thoughts of writing on. Come to think of it, I guess I'm doing that here.
Davis (in the March, 2011 issue, and online dated March 2, 2011) writes that progressives have allowed the original genius of ending school segregation to stand for the entire project of social equity. By insisting that only schools desegregate, we've missed the point of total desegregation, which is to undermine the attitudes and affiliations that channel wealth and power in this country by racial categories.
Descending a generation further from Brown v. Board of Education, progressives allowed themselves to become protectors of a new inequality, one not of power but of softer privilege, the privilege of recognition, of official sanction. (It's this, really, that right-wing buffoons like Newt Gingrich complain about--having to celebrate the achievements of the disabled, the dark-complexioned, the left-handed...) By so doing, we not only unnecessarily tweak clown noses (clowns with bullhorns, and lobbyists' phone numbers tucked into their oversize shoes), we reify difference.
And the consequences of the two together are greater association of poverty with melatonin, greater differentiation between rich and poor schools, and a current trend toward abandonment of desegregation in public schools at all.
My feeling is that Davis leaves out progressive malaise. Maybe that's not the right term. Maybe it's decency. Progressives these days, and as far as I can tell since around the time left-wingers in the US stopped lobbing explosives at plutocrats, tend to fight against the maelstrom of right-wing power and publicity by steering straight for our goal. We then fight against the greatest concentration of wealth and media ever known, a concentration concentrated on concentrating political power to a degree almost never known. (You remember, the "permanent right-wing majority" to be reached by redistricting, media and campaign deregulation, and a constant state of fear.)
Just as progressives cringed when President Obama proposed Bob Dole's health insurance reform plan and the Republicans called it a socialist takeover casserole with a side of death panels, I feel progressives should not have pushed hard only for school desegregation. Doing so set the battle lines too close to the status quo ante.
What we need to do going forward is push for the (sorry, but I'm getting the munchies) whole enchilada. Don't let the fact that a pasty-white guy wants it with "manchamanteles" red mole sauce distract you from Davis' doctrine, and my corollary. Progressives should push far to the left of what we think we can get. Be honest. If it were 1954, would we want school desegregation alone, or social desegregation and economic justice? There's always going to be pushback, whether against school busing or against recognizing GLBT citizens in the social studies curriculum, so why not legislate morality, and start the battle there? Certainly the right wing wants to legislate morality, now that it means something other than outlawing sexual and racial discrimination! Why should the left be any more timid.
Well, it's because timid is sort of like nice, at least nice to bullies, and that's what we've become. Nice to bullies. That approach draws the line at the question of who gets my lunch money, rather than what all the bullied kids in school plan together in resistance.
- Steve Shea
- A 40-ish publisher (editor, project manager, etc.), husband, and father of an even number of offspring, I grew up, or failed to, reading fantasy and sci-fi. I still enjoy reading, and now am trying to write. My favorite books include YA fantasy, manga, biography, and advice to authors. I'm also a former history major/grad student/high school teacher and assessment writer. Now I work for a school supplement publisher, specializing in high-low chapter books. I spend a lot of my time controlling reading levels. At night, I cut loose and use long words. W00t!