Monday, July 09, 2007

David Brooks Want To Live In A Black Neighborhood, But Not Really

In Friday's NY Times, columnist David Brooks explains why he's a little bummed out over "the waning dream of integration." He suggests that we once all had a dream of equality (Yay! iPhones for everyone!). But now it seems to him the dream is dying, and that's kind of sad (sorry, there's actually no iPhones for minorities, terrorists, or communists!).

Brooks namedrops a bunch of Isms and Ations to explain how we get all ambitious in the spirit of togetherness, but in the end togetherness never sticks. Communism? A mess. War on Terrorism? Needs more work. Immigration reform? not so much. Or as he says, "All these promises hung in the air, but then crumbled."

But just when you're expecting him to drop some of that I'm-a-NY-Times-columnist wisdom on your dome, he concludes saying, "This isn't the integrated world many of us hoped for. But maybe it's the only one available."


Maybe it's because I don't have a column in the Times, but I'm a little confused.

Brooks says the Civil Rights movement was a promise to heal "the nation's oldest wound." So If I'm to follow the logic of his metaphor then "America" is walking around with an open wound and Dr. Brooks is saying "tough break, kid" and sending us home with a 739-word band-aid.

Hmmm, well I must be missing his point:

"Maybe the health of a society is not measured by how integrated each institution within it is, but by how freely people can move between institutions. In a sick society, people are bound by one totalistic identity. In a healthy society, a person can live in a black neighborhood, send her kids to Catholic school, go to work in a lawyer's office and meet every Wednesday with a feminist book club. Multiply your homogenous communities and be fulfilled."

Oh, I get it now. I thought white people were moving into East Harlem because it was cheap. But actually, it's because it's healthy! East Harlem is like carrots! El Carrotio!

Some other issues:

1. Integration isn't the same dream or problem for everyone. We don't all have the same "wound." A family operates in the spirit of togetherness, but if they end up in a car accident and only the adopted black son gets seriously hurt, they don't all share the same injury. It may be that everyone in the family is suffering from psychological issues, especially since the "accident" was a result of the white father kidnapping the "adopted son" cause he needed more manpower to get work done in his backyard; but while everyone shares in the handwringing, it's only the adopted black son that's in ICU, hysterically rap-talking about hoes and rims. So let's drop the patronizing "we," shall we (d'oh!).

2. I don't expect Dr. Brooks to definitively know how to heal everything, but if he's casting himself as a doctor, I'd like him to at least try. Brooks premises what I'd call a "Right or Fight" decision: He says things aren't right, and they're not. But instead of fighting, he opts out. It's like Braveheart but with David Brooks as Mel Gibson and he just trots off on his horse instead of delivering the dramatic speech. It's like the plight for minorities in America is terminal cancer, and, well, that's it.

Well goddammit, I want a second opinion.

3. I'd suggest Brooks is stymied by what I now call "Crash Course Racism." If you only learned about racism from the movie Crash, you'd have an interesting, provocative, and theoretically informed opinion about racism. But you don't know the experience. So you end up comparing racism to cars crashing out in LA or whatever the f*ck that was.

Crash Course Racism is progressive when contrasted with civil rights Jim Crow thinking. but it highlights the crux of the issue: racism is our wound. More accurately, our scar. We have healed. We have made progress. But we still have a nasty scar from the accident, and it's a little sensitive, and we're a little self-conscious still. But we're capable. We're not incapacitated. We're just a little weird about it.

And to be honest, I'm tired of hearing about the "racist experience," or the "dream of integration" from old white people. Like they know something cause they just stayed in a Holiday Inn Express in Harlem. I guess Brooks is right, I can only connect with my community's experience. And it's across the board, I'm not interested in heterosexuals pontificating on the angst involved in receiving anal sex. If you don't know anything about it, shut up! And if you're really interested then go find someone who knows the experience and work with them.

Which is how the dream can work. If Mr. Brooks really wanted to give it a shot, he could start by giving up his cushy NY Times platform once a week, so that a deserving black writer (not me!) can articulate some thoughts from first-hand experience. Not even once a week, how about .... once.

Matter of fact, I think a nice step for any white writer or commentator looking to express authentic ideas about issues of racism would be to shut the f up, and find a black friend to tell you some things (or Mexican, Puerto Rican etc.). And if all your minority friends are stupid and inarticulate, then keep looking, cause guess what? We're out there. We're not dead. We're just very badly burned!

So if you really want to figure this out, all you have to do is be proactive. Don't talk the dream. Live it.

Otherwise, Dr. Brooks, I'm forced to diagnose you as full of sh*t. With no hope of recovery.

The End of Integration [NY Times]


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  2. no hablas espanol anon, pero yo soy 'living la vida loca!'

  3. Black in Prague

    Something happens along the way. It seeps onto you and there you go, you become unctuous. Sticking to your toes, your stride, once bouncy, turns wobbly. You become aware of the pendulum mayhem of your arms; why can’t they stand still?; must they sway so much from side to side? You park them in your pockets but why bother, it only adds to your sketchiness.

    It pervades the you that makes you you to others. There’s no smile to conceal it; there’s no outfit to embellish it; there’s no book to safeguard against it. The smile will turn into a smirk; the outfit, no matter how tasteful, into something garish; the book, a mere prop. For in their eyes you can never seem genuine, nothing can ever suit you, except something conspicuously tawdry - a scarlet sign for you.

    The people in your building do not greet you. When you greet them in their language, they do not answer – your very presence renders them hearing impaired. They have become adept at stepping aside to let you through; they would rather hug walls than risk their poodles' collars touching you.

    Your polite manners are interpreted as weakness whereas your assurance is nothing more than impudent puff. Leering, they sneer at you. There’s no subtlety in it. They want you to know it. And you do.

    You walk into a store and your every micro-move is trailed. You go to the back to search for something and suddenly legs join in with serpentine eyes. You feel like you will snatch something against your will. For surely, everyone can tell you are a shoplifter. You must be.

    You stroll down city streets, looking up at sculptures of people for they seem infinitely more human to you. You don’t look at real people at all. But you know they are looking at you. You can see them from the corner of your eye. They are staring, mouth either set or agape, distaste seething from their mouths, eyes narrowing with it too. They mutter in their passive-aggressive malaise "Get out of our country! You’re not one of us! Don’t you know it?" Yup, I do.

    You are always on display, encased in a glass front window that can only be seen from outside. A trinket curiosity at best. They appraise you, earnestly enough labeling “you’re so dark.” You wonder if instead of trying to teach them a language they believe someone “like you” could only have mastered to a pigeon level, you should skip the effort and plant yourself instead as an anthropological curiosity in the local natural history museum.

    You used to console yourself with Sylvia, Virginia, Frida – but now only the latter seems remotely relevant. Bloomsbury circles, influential friends and husbands, all-night parties with cultural icons…what can all this mean to you now?

    In an environment like this one, your palette is barren with nothing but you, outside looking in.

  4. That's a bit unusual to have a racial qualifier in order to express "authentic ideas about issues of racism". But not only do the respondents have to be of the non-majority, they have to be not stupid and articulate...

    In other words, find someone who shares your opinion and mindset, which seems to be the minority's minority per your description.

    It does not seem like you have considered the contrapositive of the scenario you have mocked up. Your argument falls neatly in the expected range of reflex, Dr. Knee- Jerk was writing for.

    The image on the other side of the coin is just as worn and tired as the one you just flipped.

    Challenge yourself and your readers with an end that defies the means.

  5. 720 - non-stupid and articulate is no longer the minority's minority. I'm the only one left in the stupid room!

  6. So what will happen if someday racism is effectively squashed? Albeit it very unlikely, it sounds like your viewpoint would breed a vicious cycle. If minorities live racism-free, is there going to be some boot camp to make sure they know what it feels like so they can appreciate not having it in their everyday lives? I guess ultimately my problem is that there doesn't seem to be an end to the means. This begs me to ask: How can I fight off the bigotry ingrained into my white DNA if you make the answers so confusing? Lay it out plain and simple TAN, like you were talking to a NASCAR fan.

  7. Blah Blah Blah7/09/2007

    I'm with Portland... racism gone for good is not really going to happen. It can't. It's been my experience that as human beings, we have the need to hate something...for no damn reason...or for very good reason...
    If it's not the color of your skin, then it's the noise, it's dog shit on sidewalks, it's dirt under our finger nails, it's scum in our sinks and on our subways, it's global warming, it's the NRA... we eliminate one negative and 5 more pop right up.

    The best thing any one person can do is to be diligent in their cause, be mindful of their own beliefs, be a bull horn for positive action and positive re-inforcement.

    However, just realize that just as you have your views and beliefs... so does the next person which may come in direct conflict with yours... So how do you make a difference?

    In the great words of that wonderful white performer Michael Jackson...
    " take a look at yourself, and
    then make a change"


  8. American public schools are becoming more segregated than they’ve ever been since the Civil Rights era. Forty percent of black and Latino students now attend schools with “minority” populations that are 90% or more. Also, although Latinos are the fastest growing population in the U.S., 30% of white students go to schools with no Latino students. Our public schools are failing to prepare young people for a society that is more ethnically diverse than ever. (Exhibit A: TAN can’t read the Spanish comment spam touting “hairy women,” “hot transvestites,” and “small tits.” ¡Que lastima!)

    What’s more significant, though, is the grave disparity between resources allotted to predominately white and minority schools. I’ve taught in both settings, and I’ve seen the differences firsthand. Because public schools are funded primarily through property tax, the deck is often loaded from the beginning. No one can convince me that a child entering kindergarten in the suburbs is more deserving a of a safe and stimulating place to learn than a child in the inner-city.

    The most integrated public institution in the U.S. is the military. It’s sad that young people have an equal opportunity to be killed in Fallujah before they have a fair shot at a quality education.

  9. Portland, Blah Blah - Brooks, and Encantada here are speaking about how the dream of integration is failing to be realized, despite best efforts. Brooks' point is, maybe that's just how we are. Maybe we should stop fighting it and accept it. my point is, that's easy for him to say. And that it's also dangerous to make the sweeping statement that integration is failing, because a lot of things are working.

    I don't think we're trying to fight off the racism, we're actually trying to embrace it. And make it work...

  10. Obama agrees in recent Newsweek:

    At the end of a NEWSWEEK interview in his Senate office, Obama offered an unprompted statement about "post-racial" politics: "That term I reject because it implies that somehow my campaign represents an easy shortcut to racial reconciliation. I just want to be very clear on this so there's no confusion. We're going to have a lot of work to do to overcome the long legacy of Jim Crow and slavery. It can't be purchased on the cheap."

    "There are a lot of folks, a lot of brothers, who are walking around and they look like men," Obama said. "They've got whiskers, they might even have sired a child, but it's not clear to me that they are full-grown men." The senator urged them not just to get a job, but to start a business ; not just to stay at home, but to turn off the TV. Above all, he urged the community to aim high for its kids. "Sometimes," he said, "I go to an eighth-grade graduation and there's all that pomp and circumstance and gowns and flowers. It's just eighth grade, people. Just give them a handshake. Congratulations. Now get your butt in the library."

  11. 720r, blog portland, and blah, blah, blah,-- I think you all have valid points.

    720- How do you have intelligent conversation on a topic that is so stratified? Like a fat person on a seesaw--the moment you nail down one end, other is left flailing in the wind.

    blog portland, you mention, "So what will happen if someday racism is effectively squashed?"

    It was originally never a problem, and you can use Howard Zinn's, A People's History of the United States as a reference-- more specifically this excerpt [Quote from Chapter 3, entitled: "Persons of Mean and Vile Condition"] Racism was a made-up fictional idea that the land-owning and slave-owning white men needed to use in order to control people. We have to begin today with white people eliminating their guilt, i.e. White Guilt see Shelby Steele, then we can move on. Then we won't have the Al Sharpton's and Jesse Jackson's. Black people do have to fess up and admit that we have no one else to blame. There's a lot more to this, but this is just the beginning.

    blah, blah, blah - I think you're coming from the bitter NY'er standpoint. It's easy to get caught in the hype and the negativity. I know it sounds idealist, but if you leave a negative setting for a second, you'll realize how beautiful and gorgeous the world can be without the negativity. I say every NY'er should leave NY for a week, and smell the air in the different community. Once they leave, they realize life "isn't that bad," and there isn't much to fuss about. A lot, and I mean, a lot of what NY'ers have to complain about it concocted or is transmitted from someone else's pain-in-the-ass p.o.v. And the same goes for racism. We just create our own madness and it takes practice, but we have to rise above it. What good are we, if we say, "Well, that's sucks, so this sucks, too." By that fact, we really are just "Monkey see, Monkey do."


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