Friday, October 01, 2010

Central High School - Little Rock - Lessons for Today

Current issues including the:

1.) Scapegoating of Muslim Americans and other Muslims (e.g. Ground Zero Mosque),
2.) Racism directed at Barack Obama, other Blacks, and People of Color in general and
3.) The economic populism within the purported aims of the Tea Party Movement

all seem to resonate in the words of Karen Anderson's excellent book: "Little Rock: Race and Resistance at Central High School". Anderson moves from the mid-50's onwards and discusses the token integration that was fought so bitterly there amongst: the working class diehard segregationists, the "moderate" (male) business establishment, the "moderate" (White middle-class) women activists, the NAACP and other Blacks, the Federal Government and Governor Orville Faubus.

I've long loved Charles Mingus's classic: "Fables of Faubus" and known a little of the pathetic history of what took place in Little Rock, but this book illuminated much more for me.

Noted quotes near the end of the book include:

p.240 - "Segregationists and moderates alike went from claiming in the 1950s that laws were inadequate as a means to racial change because they could not change private feelings and actions to a fervent embrace of law as the only domain that had to change in order to create racial justice. The two positions ere not that far apart in their social vision, as the development of a new "race-neutral" law covertly incorporated most of the racial assumptions and discriminatory practices shared by the South's arch-segregationists and moderates. The legacies of 1950's moderate successes in fostering delay in desegregation while touting tokenism in school integration ultimately enabled the creation of white flight and of private schools that allowed white middle-class parents to isolate their children from working-class and minority children.

The marriage of the religious fundamentalism embraced by the arch segregationists and the capitalist fundamentalism embraced by male moderates ultimately paved the way for the formation of the New Right."

p.240-1: "Increasingly, any government action beyond the enactment of "race-neutral" laws, especially anything labeled affirmative action, came to be denounced as an un-American "reverse" discrimination. Indeed "race neutral" replaced racial justice in public discourse and as he normative standard for private institutions as well as public policies."

p.241: "Despite this, white Americans' sense of lost rights and opportunities has fueled the backlash against African Americans and those politicians perceived to be their advocates. This backlash has targeted successful blacks (who are denounced as undeserving beneficiaries of affirmation action) as well as unsuccessful blacks (who are viewed as parasitic dependents living off of welfare)."

p.241: "As Roy notes, 'Concepts of race are deeply imbedded in American culture, constituting a language that works somehow to explain the anomalies created by our classed classlessness.' Racism, indeed, allows whites to communicate a sense of oppression and powerlessness 'that somehow goes unexpressed in other forms.' "

Reading this history shows both common parallels and how we have evolved today in many ways. Maintaining tax cuts that are only for higher income individuals is an issue which fits into this tale. The "oppressions" that are felt by so many similarly fit in.

In the book the desires and needs of the Black residents of Little Rock were rarely heard or substantively dealt with. When Little Rock's high schools were entirely shut-down for school year 1958-9, no consideration was made for the most extreme hardships Black students and their families faced.

The "big" issues were how the closures might negatively impact the out-of-state future college attendance possibilities of middle-class, White children. As in the book's story we hear today of so many "bad things", but only rarely do we focus more than tokenly on the Real Problems of the Poor and others who are the real victims of our policies. While Davis Guggenheim talks about public schools related to poor, minority children, we rarely look seriously at their needs and how they are Not being met today.

I hope that someday more of us will read our history and try to learn from the mistakes and build more effectively towards a better future for all of us. Thanks!

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