Part 3—The infernal South: We humans!
We love to divide ourselves up into tribes. Quite often, we imagine our own imagined tribe as the one which is morally good.
The other tribes? Not so much!
There are a million ways to divide ourselves. At present, we live in a time of high tribal impulse—and alas:
As we divide ourselves up in these ways, the one percent continues to conquer! For evidence of this ongoing process, see the report in today’s New York Times about the decline of American middle-income groups.
(Headline: The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest)
People in those declining income groups come from red states as well as blue. Those people vote for both parties. As we picture ourselves in warring tribes, we’re all getting heavily screwed.
On Monday, we mentioned the new Salon’s fascination with dividing us by generations. Yesterday, we briefly considered the tendency to divide ourselves by our zealotry—by the way we welcome the hate of those Others.
Today, let’s consider division on the basis of region. In particular, we’ll recommend the fascinating piece in the current Atlantic about the “resegregation” of the Tuscaloosa public schools.
The piece was written by ProPublica’s Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Warning! When we say the piece is “fascinating,” we don’t necessarily mean that as a compliment. Since we plan to discuss that piece all next week, we won’t discuss it much now.
That said, Hannah-Jones is discussing a process of white and black flight which has happened all over the nation. At one point in her very long piece, Hannah-Jones basically states this obvious fact, though in a fleeting fashion:
HANNAH-JONES (4/6/14): Schools in the South, once the most segregated in the country, had by the 1970s become the most integrated, typically as a result of federal court orders. But since 2000, judges have released hundreds of school districts, from Mississippi to Virginia, from court-enforced integration, and many of these districts have followed the same path as Tuscaloosa’s—back toward segregation. Black children across the South now attend majority-black schools at levels not seen in four decades. Nationally, the achievement gap between black and white students, which greatly narrowed during the era in which schools grew more integrated, widened as they became less so.The term “apartheid school” is of course designed to excite. That said, Hannah-Jones notes, in a fleeting aside, that most of the nation’s “apartheid schools” are in the Northeast and Midwest.
In recent years, a new term, apartheid schools— meaning schools whose white population is 1 percent or less, schools like Central [High in Tuscaloosa]— has entered the scholarly lexicon. While most of these schools are in the Northeast and Midwest, some 12 percent of black students in the South now attend such schools—a figure likely to rise as court oversight continues to wane. In 1972, due to strong federal enforcement, only about 25 percent of black students in the South attended schools in which at least nine out of 10 students were racial minorities. In districts released from desegregation orders between 1990 and 2011, 53 percent of black students now attend such schools, according to an analysis by ProPublica.
We’ll guess that many readers of her piece didn’t completely ingest that fact. Various aspects of her piece may give us the feeling that we are considering an artifact of the South.
The portion of the piece we’ve quoted was also quoted by Ta-Nehisi Coates, in this blog post about the piece. Coates’ post appears beneath the headline, “Segregation Forever.”
That headline’s meaning is fleshed out by a photo of George Wallace, who famously stands in the schoolhouse door.
“[F]or right now, the struggle for integration is largely over,” Coates says at the end of his post, which we’ll discuss next week. The first commenter said this:
COMMENTER: It might be over, for now, in the south. It MUST continue in other places. I live in Pittsburgh PA. It's pretty awfully segregated now. I can only hope—and apply work toward—the idea that it is crucial for all colors of people (which mostly means convincing fellow whites) that integration, voluntary integration, is critical for our success.Is the struggle for “integration” largely over? Is it largely over in the South?
Is the struggle more over in the South than in our own more enlightened regions? Is it possible that there is more of a struggle going on in the South?
Every time we divide ourselves into tribes, we help the plutocrats conquer. Sometimes, such division or opposition is necessary, of course.
When it isn’t, we the superior beings are committing a type of “own goal.” Our conduct makes us feel good about ourselves—and it helps the plutocrats conquer.
In the current political environment, we liberals and progressives are strongly inclined to divide. Our multimillionaire TV stars strongly recommend this process. In part, it may be their way of puffing us up, thus keeping ratings alive.
When we divide without good cause, we help the plutocrats win. And we’re strongly inclined to tribal division on the basis of region. Just consider that news report in the New York Times.
At the University of Mississippi, a couple of undergraduates had done a pitifully stupid thing. They defaced a statue of James Meredith, who bravely integrated the school when a different governor stood in a schoolhouse door.
The New York Times doesn’t care for the South. The great newspaper swung into action, helping us learn to divide.
The report was written by Alan Blinder (headline included). Sometimes, God perhaps may send us messages through real people’s real names:
BLINDER (2/21/14): Racist Incidents Continue to Stir Ole Miss CampusWas Cole talking about those pitiful teens? Or was he thinking of Blinder?
By many measures, the university, which hosted a presidential debate in 2008, is an entirely different place from the one Mr. Meredith entered, one that combines contemporary ambition with seductive charm. Nearly 41 percent of its undergraduates are from outside Mississippi, up from 33 percent a decade ago. Minorities make up nearly a quarter of the student body, and the university's average ACT score is at its highest level ever.
But reminders of the university's Jim Crow past continue to permeate its idyllic campus, set among oaks and magnolias and fabled for the Grove, perhaps the most hallowed football tailgating spot in a region full of imitators.
An epithet-saturated demonstration in the aftermath of President Obama's 2012 re-election resulted in the arrests of two students.
More recently, a September production of ''The Laramie Project,'' a play about the 1998 murder of a gay college student in Wyoming, gained notoriety after an outbreak of homophobic heckling by audience members.
University officials readily acknowledge the residual intolerance that has so often called attention back to a place where the federal authorities had to force Mr. Meredith's enrollment. And even as administrators note their successes, they concede that they are confronting a challenge with deep and difficult roots.
''There are some people who see this institution through the eyes of the '60s and forever will,'' said Donald R. Cole, the university's assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs.
We’re just asking! Let’s return to the heart of this news report:
Is Blinder’s basic premise true? Do reminders of this school’s Jim Crow past continue to permeate its campus?
To appearances, Blinder had so few “racist incidents” to cite that he had to turn to a homophobic incident as the second example of this campus’ fallen nature.
(In its original reporting on that incident, the Times said the heckling had come from varsity football players who had been told to attend the play. This at least suggests the possibility that the unfortunate heckling—which could have happened on many campuses—may at least have been a case of “black and white together.”)
In its rather obvious hatred of the South, we think the Times often acts as a regressive force. By the way: Did you ever imagine that the weird Clinton/Gore hatred which emerged from the Times was, in part, perhaps inspired by this regional bias?
It almost surely was, of course—and it had demonic effects. Did it cross your mind that the regional bias of our favorite journalists could end up producing deaths all over the world?
Can we talk? In our view, Blinder didn’t seem to have many “racist incidents” to trumpet. But, as is the norm at the Times, the thrilling phrase found its way into a pleasing headline.
We saw a lot of unwise regionalism in that fascinating piece at the Atlantic. We’ll discuss that piece next week, along with Coates’ (admittedly brief) assessment.
But lord, how we humans love to think that our tribe is morally better than theirs! Very often, that isn’t the case—and the mistaken belief just helps the plutocrats win!
Tomorrow: Attempting some tenderness
Classic Times reporting: Note the classic New York Times reporting:
BLINDER: By many measures, the university, which hosted a presidential debate in 2008, is an entirely different place from the one Mr. Meredith entered, one that combines contemporary ambition with seductive charm. Nearly 41 percent of its undergraduates are from outside Mississippi, up from 33 percent a decade ago. Minorities make up nearly a quarter of the student body, and the university's average ACT score is at its highest level ever.By many measures? Blinder’s first (apparent) example is not a measure of the way the university differs from the one Meredith entered.
The second example is a measure of the difference. Today, the student body is 25 percent “minorities.” Back then, the corresponding percentage was of course zero percent.
Has someone been trying to do the right things even here, in the state we most love to hate? Is it possible that a little tenderness would let us find allies in Mississippi, even perhaps in locations we didn’t perhaps suspect?