David Brooks in the 6/6 New York Times: "Nothing is sadder than the waning dream of integration. This dream has illuminated American life for the past several decades — the belief that the world is getting smaller and that different peoples are coming together over time.
Over the course of the 20th century, the civil rights movement promised to heal the nation’s oldest wound. Racism and discrimination would diminish. Blacks and whites could live together, go to school together and gradually integrate their lives...
All these promises hung in the air, but then crumbled, even in the past few weeks.
The progress in civil rights has not produced racial integration. Amid all the hubbub about last week’s Supreme Court decision, we were reminded that five decades after Brown, blacks and whites do not live side by side, even when they share the same income levels. They do not go to the same schools. And when they do go to the same schools, they do not lead shared lives. As several people noted last week, many educators are giving up on the dream of integration so they can focus on quality.
The movement of peoples, meanwhile, provokes as much rage as assimilation. The immigration reform bill was defeated last week by Americans who feel their country is being torn apart by outsiders who don’t play by its rules, and by a ruling class blind to the threat...
Expecting integration, Americans find themselves confronting polarization and fragmentation. Amid all the problems that have made Americans sour and pessimistic, this is the deepest.
...it could be the dream of integration itself is the problem. It could be that it was like the dream of early communism — a nice dream, but not fit for the way people really are.
For hundreds of thousands of years our ancestors lived in small bands. Surviving meant being able to distinguish between us — the people who will protect you — and them — the people who will kill you. Even today, people have a powerful drive to distinguish between us and them.
As dozens of social-science experiments have made clear, if you separate people into different groups — no matter how arbitrary the basis of the distinction — they will quickly begin discriminating against others they deem unlike themselves. People say they want to live in diverse integrated communities, but what they really want to do is live in homogenous ones, filled with people like themselves.
If that’s the case, maybe integration is not in the cards. Maybe the world will be as it’s always been, a collection of insular compartments whose fractious tendencies are only kept in check by constant maintenance...
This isn’t the integrated world many of us hoped for. But maybe it’s the only one available."
Why is it that David Brooks drives me to madness so? I think it's his thoughtfulness, his intelligence, and his willingness to wade into waters outside the usual talking points and cliched rhetorical tennis matches. I ignore the Malkins and Coulters and Hannitys and all the other shouters on the right because, honestly, it's more effective arguing with a mailbox. But when Brooks writes something like this it sets my teeth on edge. It reveals the inner thinkins of the intellectuals on the right, and that is far more frightening than a month of O'Reilly bullying.
Again, the spiritual crisis that has infected the architects of the current American malaise has not affected many of us in the political left. It is no surprise that Iraq ended here. It is no surprise that a "good vs. evil" orientation has deepened the division and anger in the world, as opposed to healing it. It is a naive perspective to think that the one "true" vision of reality (democracy, Christianity, conservatism, whatever) can "win" over the other side, ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity. Brooks acknowledges this when he says "In a sick society, people are bound by one totalistic identity." But that is exactly the vision articulated by many of the people holding the reins of power these days. We on the left saw all this extending off into the mists even before Bush's first day in office -- maybe not with perfect clarity, but clear enough to know this was absolutely the wrong direction.
So for Brooks to use his own depression to deep six the dream of integration is particularly disturbing. I put this into the box of "tenets of American society that conservatives are giving up hope in because their massive social experiment was a failure" -- Brooks has had a few of these before.
King's vision was for an America where people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. No one can question the progress we have made toward that dream in the last forty years. One of the leading candidates for the Presidency is African American. Our last two Secretaries of State were African Americans. I work in Silicon Valley (where they say the only color that matters is green) in one of the most diverse communities I have ever been a part of -- and this is after a life spent in diverse communities. I'm going to lunch with my extended team today and I think caucasians will make up less than 15% of the group.
Some people are threatened by all this. This is the minority of people who riled up in opposition to the Immigration bill Brooks cites as further evidence of the death of integration. But if you look at the younger generation in this country (as the Brooks' own paper reported recently ) they don't share the same hatreds as their parents and grandparents. 100 years ago it was the Jews and the Irish who were discriminated against. All the same racist tropes were trotted out then that are trotted out now against Mexican immigrants. America has embraced this diversity throughout its history, and it's made us stronger. There is no American race, and that is one of the great things about America.
There will always be racism, sure. People are hard wired to notice the differences between people, in particular those that are most visible, like color and ethnicity. There is always a natural affinity to hang with those like you, because then you don't have to worry about the baggage of race. But the angels in our nature enable us to overcome those baser tendencies in human nature, and to see people for what they are: the content of their character. And in my view, the fundamental truth that surpasses the weaknesses of the flesh is that all people are basically good, and that every society has its share of bad apples, regardless of race or culture.
So Mr. Brooks, please... do not compare integration with Communism, a discredited political ideology and right wing buzzword. You do yourself a disservice to let your "sour and pessimistic" mood undermine your faith in the tenets of America that have always made us strong. This kind of rationale is used by those less thoughtful than you to justify racism, classism, and isolationism -- ideas I know you reject. Do not give up on the idea of integration -- your forefathers didn't, and that's one of the reasons why you (as a Jewish American) hold such an august position as a columnist in the most influential newspaper in our country.