That’s the title of Tanner Colby’s outstanding, extended piece over at Slate. Colby — no fan of Republicans — is taking a comprehensive look at the “liberal establishment’s mishandling” of integration and other “volatile” racial issues. He begins with busing. To get a sense of his point of view, he begins by (unfairly, in my view) excoriating Republicans, but then says this:
But the fact is that a lot of liberals hold on to some really bad ideas about race too. Some of the arguments they keep trotting out amount to little more than unexamined platitudes, riddled with holes. Fifty years after the March on Washington, America’s high school cafeterias are as racially divided as ever, income inequality is growing, and mass incarceration has hobbled an entire generation of young black men. Do we really think this is entirely due to Republican obstruction? Or is it also possible that the party charged with taking black Americans to the Promised Land has been running around in circles?
The left has been ceded a monopoly on caring about black people, and monopolies are dangerous. They create ossified institutions, paralyzed by groupthink and incapable of self-reflection. To the extent that liberals are willing to be self-critical, it’s generally to flagellate themselves for not being liberal enough, for failing to stand fast with the old, accepted orthodoxies. Monopolies also lead to arrogance and entitlement, and the left is nothing if not arrogant when it comes to constantly and loudly asserting its place as the One True Friend of Black America. And yet, as good as liberal policies on race sound in speeches, many of them don’t hold up in the real world.
I don’t want to summarize too much except to urge you to read the entire piece. Contained within the longer analysis, however, is a point of true clarity that conservatives must take to heart as we work through the incredibly difficult and sensitive intersection of race and public policy. Discussing the reality of busing, he says the following:
Because Brown v. Board was such a landmark decision, the idea of integration and the larger civil rights movement became somewhat synonymous, wrongly so. Black America wasn’t fighting for integration, per se. They were fighting for agency, the right to exercise control over their lives and, hopefully, to enjoy the full protection of the government while doing so. In education, that’s not what they got. They got a policy that demanded white schools produce statistical proof of significant progress, and one where whites were in charge of executing the burdens imposed on them by the courts. Black schools were unilaterally closed down, their students divvied up and distributed to whatever white school needed to adjust its numbers in order to avoid being sued, often over the very loud protests of black parents; at angry town hall meetings, integration was denounced as a white supremacist plot to destroy the black community. Some black students, fearing the prospect of a hostile white environment, dropped out of school rather than ride the bus.
And . . .
With Jim Crow, black America lived under an onerous, top-down system that told them where their children could and could not go to school. Now, with busing, black America lived under … an onerous, top-down system that told them where their children could and could not go to school. A 1972 Gallup poll showed that 77 percent of whites were against busing. The same poll showed 47 percent of blacks were against it as well. Many black Americans did believe in the school bus and the access it provided, and busing might have been a viable tool for those families had it been smartly and surgically applied. It wasn’t. It was presented in a sweeping fashion that denied many blacks the agency they sought.
Agency. Perhaps that’s the key for conservatives as we think about reaching out to our African-American brothers and sisters. Control is ultimately an anathema to individual power, liberty, and agency. Think about the ways in which even well-intentioned efforts at control are crushing poor black families today. For example:
The public school monopoly — intended to provide free, quality education to all — now traps hundreds of thousands of inner-city citizens into failing school systems that mainly succeed only in exercising political power to block meaningful reform.
Mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crime cripple the future earning and marriage potential for hundreds of thousands more before they have an opportunity to grow up and out of the recklessness of youth — especially the recklessness that all too often goes along with a fatherless childhood.
Our technocratically-designed welfare system stifles human flourishing by channeling the safety net through a bureaucratic labyrinth that succeeds mainly in fostering dependency while simultaneously suppressing energy and initiative.
When it comes to race, the Left has over-promised and under-delivered. Thus, the time is ripe for a coherent, concentrated conservative response — one that gives black families the very thing they marched to attain: control over their own lives.