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]