Monday, July 02, 2007


By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Last week, the Supreme Court gutted Brown v. the Board of Education, and so what? Maybe that'll get us lazy progressives off our fat self-satisfied couches and we'll come up with something better than these quota-based programs.

Busing, like affirmative action, was A-Okay for a decade or so, but lately seems more like opium for the masses than anything resembling salvation.

One of the cases that broke Brown's back came from my own hometown of Louisville. I was eleven when desegregation kicked in there. We lived a couple blocks away from a high school on an all white street, and most of the neighbors, my mother included, howled a lot about "the blacks" and their "special treatment" and declared the world about to end.

Well, the sky didn't fall for white people, no matter what my Mom says. But neither did African Americans get the moon.

Pipes got busted over heads, and students fought with knives and chains and fists. There was blood in the hallways along with tear gas and prone bodies in a kind of convulsion of mutual hate, then it was over.

A rainbow of kids used the same bathrooms, carved their initials into the same desks. When one of my big sisters got into fights at the high school, it was with other white girls, and the problem was over some greasy haired boy, not what color somebody was.

I guess that made busing a success -- if you threw out the "monkey" and "honkey" insults you'd hear sometimes, and ignored how there were only one or two black kids in the college prep programs, and how everybody shared the hallways, but white kids walked with white and black with black.

Interracial couples caught crap from both sides, though that may be different now, three decades years later, what with all the interskinned kisses in the movies.

Yep, everything's sweetness and light, thanks to a few kids stuck on a few buses leveling things out. We've got to protect that at all cost. As dissenting Justice Stephen G. Breyer warned, "This is a decision that the court and the nation will come to regret."

Maybe, maybe not. I personally think it might do us good to have to try something else.

Altogether we've been lulled into complacency by a congenial multiculturalism made up of good wishes and right thinking and not much else. You want a real benchmark of successful education, count up all the minority students in Ivy League colleges, better yet, try senators in Congress. You don't even need a whole hand.

It makes me sick how in the new millennium we practically wet ourselves thinking of the first black president, the first female. Obama and Hillary should have happened ages ago. Why are we still clinging to the ridiculous, primitive tools we had in 1975 that have only carried us this far?

We've dumped the computers and phones and TV's we used back then. Why not take this chance to trade in school busing and affirmative action for a new and improved anything?

Part of the problem was a failure of vision. We got rulings like Brown, but didn't understand just how important it was to keep pushing society to support successful women and people of color. Since the beginning of raced-based programs, the beneficiaries have been plagued by whispers. "They're tokens. They got special treatment. If they hadn't been black..." The laws changed, and I did, too, but not people like my mother.

Then there's the question of means. The ringleader of last week's decision, Chief Justice Roberts said, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Can you really argue with that? It's a simple idea, simply stated. If discrimination is wrong, it's wrong. In fact I'd like to plug sexual identity into Robert's clever phrase. We'd be home free with gay marriage. I'm not holding my breath, though, if it comes up on the docket.

Affirmative action, called positive discrimination in France, should raise questions when used as a lifetime crutch. You can't dismantle the master's house with the master's tools.

It might have been different if we thought of quotas in temporary terms. We'll use busing, affirmative action, just for twenty years, long enough to level the playing field, get one generation of kids educated, accustom businessmen to seeing other kinds of people in positions of power, then it's over.

We squandered our chance, assuming our victory was written in stone, like Roe v. Wade, and there was no urgency to press forward to consolidate these legal gains in the face of society.

I don't know where that leaves us. Some districts are trying to get around the ruling by integrating schools according to income rather than race. I don't see a future in it.

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