"Race Realists" and the Myth of Integration

With affirmative action coming under heavy attack, an emerging faction of right-wing "race realists" are filling the echo chambers of the nation's media with droll commentaries and elaborate statistics to prove that racism is over. Irrefutably. Case closed.These scholars are beyond such quaint notions as a transition from five centuries of gross inequality and torture. They've already solved that messy slavery stuff, in a generation or so. Now they're on to the more pressing issues of presidential morality and stock market fluctuations before the millenium comes crashing down around us.The "race realists" demonstrate that life has improved considerably for blacks since 1940 -- not a stretch, considering how difficult many black lives were at the time -- but in no way do they substantiate the elimination of segregation. Despite great gains toward integration since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black-white segregation and inequality still pervade our neighborhoods, our prisons and our schools.University of Pennsylvania sociologists Douglas Massey and Mary Fischer estimate that 90 to 100 percent of whites, Asians and Latinos experience no more than moderate segregation, yet 75 percent of African-Americans remain highly segregated in their communities. Further evidence indicates that residential segregation is attributable to racial discrimination by the real estate and banking industries.The criminal justice and education systems also demonstrate this gulf between the races. For instance, in 1993 whites made up 74 percent of the general population but just 36 percent of federal state prison inmates. That is a gross statistical inequality. In fact, today more than one-third of all black men in their 20s are in jail, or on probation or parole. Since 1983, the number of prisoners in this country has increased from 650,000 to more than 1.7 million, and about 60 percent of those inmates are African-Americans and Latinos.Although state-imposed school segregation has been illegal since the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, 86 percent of public schools in Chicago today remain segregated (more than 50 percent students of color), and 62 percent are intensely segregated (90 percent students of color).According to data from the Applied Research Center, 42 percent of all Chicago schools are made up entirely of children of color. Meanwhile, in the nearby Illinois suburbs, 40 percent of the high schools are more than 90 percent white.In such centralized cities as Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles, 94 percent of African-American and Latino students now attend segregated schools. Nearly one-third of all public schools have at least 95 percent white students. At the same time, 5 percent of all public schools have no white students at all.Homes, prisons, schools. These are central institutions which shape a collective civil society, as these are the places where young people live and grow. Even the criminals. All ethical issues aside, the segregation of these places constitutes a dramatic disruption of the democratic process itself.Columbia University professor Manning Marable writes, "Racial integration shouldn't be the goal of the black freedom movement. Equality -- dismantling all institutional barriers to human development and the redefinition of the social contract to be fully democratic and egalitarian -- is the goal.""What we should seek is not a color-blind society," Marable suggests, "but a more democratic social order where race 'disappears' as a fundamental category for the distribution of power, material resources and privilege."Now that's real race realism. Even if racial integration still remains but a dream.


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