By Rabbi Mayer Schiller
Louis Farrakhan isn’t the only American expressing scepticism toward the ideal of racial integration….
Black Republican and PBS television host Tony Brown condemns the contemporary drive for “racial assimilation”, arguing that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has damned school integration schemes built on the premise that non-whites must sit next to whites to become educated. Both among blacks and whites integration is backed more by lip service than real conviction, this is indicated by the fact that in all social settings where integration is not coerced, the races generally choose to separate. In churches, prisons, the military, professional athletic teams, and college campuses, the races mostly go their own way. Is this self-imposed segregation really as shocking and undesirable as commentators would have us believe?
Black and white Americans inhabit different universes of perception. This was apparent long before the divergent reactions to the O.J. Simpson verdict. Opinion polls show that large numbers of blacks believe guns and drugs are deliberately placed in their communities by whites in order to destroy them. One-third of African-Americans say AIDS was invented by whites to exterminate non-whites.
Whether or not existing racial differences are genetic, they are deeply ingrained. Forty years of massive financial aid and special legal and social assistance have done little to change this reality; instead, the races seem to be diverging; yet accepted political wisdom simplistically repeats : “We must be more understanding and learn to live together!”
Perhaps it is time Americans come to grips with the increasing numbers of citizens of all races who say : “We understand just fine, and we no longer wish to live together!”
Some will reply that this is an ugly overreaction to national economic and social woes. Don’t despair, they argue, ethnic tensions will diminish as soon as all groups have the same high standard of living, when “white racism” disappears, or when the problems associated with poverty are somehow eliminated. But even if all these desirable things could be achieved, the question would still remain whether people have the right or perhaps the obligation to survive primarily by reliance on one’s self and one’s own kind.
As a Hasidic Jew, I sympathize with the deep natural yearning to pass on a distinctive way of life. America’s dominant culture tolerates such sentiments when expressed by minorities, but sees the same sentiments as evil whenever whites express them. Blacks and Hispanics have clearly expressed a desire to be under the auspices of their own race in education, law enforcement, and government, to have their children speak their languages and learn of their heroes and culture, not those of whites. Are these basic human emotions simply wrong? Are they to be tolerated among non-whites but not among whites?
Historically, Americans ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Marcus Garvey held that mutually agreed-upon and respectful separation was best for Americans of all races. Could this again become our standard? Certainly any effort to gain breathing-room between the races must eschew talk of racial superiority and affirm the moral principle that all ethnic groups have an equal right to self-determination. Non-whites may well prove more capable of elevating themselves if the psychological crutches of “white racism” and white alms are removed.
In arguing for his own notion of racial separation, Tony Brown asserts that current arrangements foster only “more paternalism” and “black and white racism”. He argues that each racial group must earn its own equality and self-respect.
Aristotle similarly believed the cement that binds a country together is commonality and friendship among the citizens. He also taught that friendship flourishes only where there is a rough equality of condition. In America this may require an abandonment of the forced integration attempted over recent decades.
Critics will insist that even if it is not immoral, separation is impractical. Admittedly, disengaging without acrimony will be tricky. Each group must say to others : “Yes, of course you want your own places to socialize, and neighbourhood schools where your children can study and love their own culture — so do we!”
Here the mainstream conservative advocacy of decentralized government as well as the New Left’s notions of “acting locally” can be applied. Allowing self-selected communities greater self-determination will require trimming back the federal and state leviathans.
A first step would be to eliminate laws that encourage discrimination in favour of certain groups in the public sector, as well as those that prohibit preferences on the private level. In the long term, we may see neighbourhoods, states, and regions explore the means of secession, much as Quebec is now doing. Continuing experiments in mandatory integration could maintain their own havens (let us see how many white liberals actually choose to live and school their children inside them).
All of this is preposterous, you might say. Perhaps so, from a 1995 perspective. But the notion that America would become today’s multiracial boiling pot would have seemed bizarre 60 years ago. Respectful disengagement does not entail indifference to the well-being of other groups, but we can fulfil our moral and religious duties to others without incorporating the beneficiaries into our own self-defining culture. Nor does a turning away from forced integration presume that race is the source of all of today’s cultural breakdowns. We have larger social problems, but new opportunities to address them might open up if only Americans could gain a little breathing space from a forced multi-racial marriage that has clearly soured.
Rabbi Schiller is an instructor of Talmud in New York City.