Thursday, December 28, 2006

Return of the Shark

Milwaukee's Harambee Community School runs an ad on WMCS, a local station geared toward an African-American audience, which notes, among other things, that the school has been "empowering African-American children for over 40 years."

If we played the game of race-flipping, we would ask "can you imagine what would happen if a private school, say Zusammen Community School, ran an ad saying that it had been empowering white children for over 40 years? Can you imagine?

What I don't have to imagine is that the reaction to the Harambee ad - by both blacks and whites - is not the same as it would be to a school that promoted itself as a place for white kids and I don't really need to rehearse all the traditional justifications for it - racism requires power (that blacks do not have); African-American solidarity does not imply a claim of superiority; this is a reaction to years of oppression and so on.

I buy some of this. The ad for Harambee is not the same as the ad for our fictional Zusammen ("together" in German; "harambee" apparently means something like "pull together" in Swahili), but I'm still not sure that it is ok.

To some extent, your position on this (and related matters like affirmative action) may turn on what you think of the rationale for Brown v. Bd. of Education. Was segregation wrong, as Chief Justice Warren suggested, because it harmed black children (implying that segregation that did not do so was ok) or, given our sorry racial past, do we need to completely abjure race as a consideration in the making of decisions of all kinds?

And even if you accept a consequentialist view of Brown, does segregation become less harmful because it is freely chosen. Is it really a good thing for people to choose to live in a subculture?

If you think it's not, does that concern apply to subcultures that are built on things other than race such as religion (e.g., Catholic or evangelical schools) or wealth (e.g., places like University School)?

I have the questions. You get the answers.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back Shark;

It is refreshing to read a balanced article.

Given our sorry racial past, I think any reasonable person would not completely abjure (thanks for the new word) race as a consideration in making decisions of all kinds.

I think it is natural and good for humans to live in subcultures some of the time.
The question is to what extent.

John McAdams said...

I think the simple answer is that segregation is perfectly acceptable if it is freely chosen.

This is true for people who choose religious schools, people who choose school for geeks, and for people who choose schools oriented toward black students.

The evidence for racial integration actually providing positive educational outcomes is exceedingly thin.

I think a strong burden of proof rests on the shoulders of anybody who wants government to assign students to any school because of their race.

The Topeka school board, of course, could not meet that burden when it bused Linda Brown to an all-black school.

But then neither could the liberal judges who were busing kids all over the place in the 70s.