On Busing and of the Bakke Case
NOW FOR NEARLY two and a half decades the neighborhoods of our schools are periodically invaded by shouting angry picket lines dispersed by the police with arrests and injuries. Whether it is in Boston, in Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis or many other American towns, the pattern is the same. “White” people chiefly mothers, are throwing themselves in a physical barricade to prevent the entrance of “black” children into the local school. At times, as in Boston, the turmoil was so great as almost to resembles a civil war. As with some grave deep-seated illness, never fully analyzed nor diagnosed, the symptoms break out now here, now there to plague the country’s health.
It all started back in 1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Warren gave a unanimous verdict in the case of Brown vs the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. School segregation they ruled had deprived the plaintiff of his right to equal protection of the law as granted by the 14th Amendment. Following this decision came the order to desegregate the schools. Actions then took place to have school segregation laws in the Southern States declared unconstitutional. In some border areas such as Kansas, Missouri and Washington, D.C., segregation by the law quietly ended. Residential patterns however still prevented true integration.
Then came Little Rock. In compliance with the new law, in May 1955 the School Board of Little Rock, Arkansas, prepared a plan for gradual desegregation of their Central High School, to start in September, 1957. At once a white parent petitioned the State Chancery Court not to proceed with the plan, which was granted. Governor Orval E. Forbus testified at the hearing that such a proceeding could only result in rioting, violence and bloodshed. Ensued a period of legal dueling with racial tensions mounting. Governor Forbus appealed to President Eisenhower who replied he would uphold the constitution. Repeated attempts to bring black children into the school were always stopped by the townspeople, police and state troopers.
Finally on September 23rd with the whites mobilized in a crowd of 1000 outside, nine Negro children were smuggled in a side door. When the word of this got out, pandemonium broke loose. Although the children were safely removed by the police, neither they nor the State troopers could control the situation. The Federal Government took over. President Eisenhower like the army general he was had regular army troops flown in from Ft. Campbell, Ky. into Little Rock, besides placing the entire National Guard of the State under Federal control. (*1) Eventually the black children were admitted. Daily they had to run the gauntlet of police and jeering whites, were tolerated but had to live like pariahs in the school until finally they were accepted.
Population shifts at various times have altered the racial residential pattern. In earlier periods like the 1930s farm population driven out of the plains states by dust bowl conditions and from the South by the boll weevil and mechanization of cotton growing flooded the Northern cities. In the 1960s and ‘70s came a reverse flow of middle class whites chiefly running away from the Negroes. While at the beginning only a few blacks had to be bused into white schools, now it is large numbers of black and Hispanic children who must be bused into the better equipped white schools.
The school riots have a deeper source than just keeping the minority children out of the schools. The local parents and neighbors are really fighting to keep their neighborhoods free from black invasion. They have seen other neighborhoods “integrated.” A few blacks move in, with or without violence. At once the real estate people get on the job persuading the local homeowners that property values will fall, the neighborhood will be ruined, their wives and daughters will be raped, etc. The owners are pressured into selling cheap, whereupon the real estate sharks resell to blacks at inflated rates. The neighborhoods then deteriorate chiefly because the new owners can’t keep up the payments except by packing in a lot of roomers or by several families moving into a house meant for one. Overcrowding and poor upkeep makes for a run-down neighborhood. City services like garbage collection, cleaning, snow removal, etc., fall off. Better facilities withdraw and soon you have another ghetto.
Often the final removal of some white families who would really like to remain occurs when at last the white children find themselves a small minority in the school. Then they have to experience this disadvantaged position: their lunch money is taken away from them, their belongings stolen, they are isolated and harassed. In desperation their parents at last join the flight out of the city.
Meanwhile, busing has become a problem not merely for school boards, parents and children, but a slogan in election campaigns, and a sort of test of where one stands, for or against minorities. For or against busing: this kind of the contrasting pairs plagues much of our thinking. Aristotle may have originated this mode of thought, but Christianity has perpetuated it: (good and evil, God and the devil, light and darkness, the spirit and the flesh, etc.). It is like the “true or false” questions on the examination papers. Since the truth may be embodied in a third statement, not given, and the one given may contain elements of both truth and falsehood, such simplistic reasoning can only distort reality.
Another fallacy is to consider race prejudice and hatred as a moral question, a wrong attitude, a sort of mental sickness which may be cured by the proper prescription. Another cover-up of clear reasoning is to see busing as just a school problem. Education, the training of the young, the curriculum, the physical conditions of the schools, these are school problems. But the question to bus or not to bus involves the deepest economic, social and political bases of our society.
How did race prejudice originate in the U.S.A.? We must go back to the beginning. When the English colonization, the only successful colonization of North America, began in the early 1600s, two Companies were in control, the London Company and the Virginia Company. Their charters, granted by the British crown, endowed them with the powers of coining money, regulating trade, disposing of corporated property, collecting taxes, etc. They were capitalist institutions, extensions of the beginning capitalist power in England, even though they had to operate in a very primitive, pre-capitalist environment. (*2)
While the first English settlers were mostly country gentlemen, merchants and yeomen who would only work for themselves, soon there was need for common labor. This was supplied by bringing in great numbers of indentured servants both men and women, who had to work out their passage. Seven years was the usual term. Many were taken from the English jails. As imprisonment for debt was allowed in those days, many had committed only the crime of being poor. Still, there were actual criminals among them. Black men brought in by the Dutch were also included. In those early days Pennsylvania had a black population of 20%, New York of 16%. (*3) White women and men both black and white worked together. They also cohabited sexually with the resulting birth of mulatto children. These people had no race prejudice and acted merely like normal human beings. The masters, embarrassed by these mulatto babies, decreed that they too were to be indentured, although a white infant produced by a white mother was free.
Another thing the masters didn’t like at all was the tendency of these people to run away. With the settlements surrounded by deep trackless forests, this could easily be done. The black runaway however, distinguishable by his color, was more easily caught. So the idea arose in the masters’ minds, how convenient it would be, and how profitable too if these black servants could be permanently bound in service, their off-spring also. Then in Maryland and in Virginia where quite early plantations for raising tobacco and indigo had been established, laws were enacted along these lines. So was slavery instituted.
WITH the invention of the cotton gin around 1800 cotton growing became extremely profitable, since the product could be exported to foreign markets as well as supplying the beginning textile plants in New England. Now the slaves were brought in by the hundreds of thousands. They were “seasoned” in some island of the Caribbean, then sold for use in the plantations of the Deep South. The survival rate of this processing was something as low as one quarter of those taken in Africa. So brutal and inhuman was their exploitation that the average adult life span was only eight or nine working years. To make sure no bonds could be formed with the poor white people, the slaves were branded as inferior, something less than human, more like work animals. So did those Christian gentlemen salve their consciences for keeping their fellow humans in bondage. The Negro slaves were despised and hated by the poor white people of the South, who found themselves displaced from the labor market by slavery. Rebellions of the slaves occurred, only to be bloodily put down.
"Divide and Conquer”
When at last the slaves were freed, during the Reconstruction Period after the Civil War, in some localities of the South where blacks were in a great majority, they were elected to the legislature and for a brief period may be said to have held power. Quickly however the white plantation owners got together to put an end to this. Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan were formed to prevent with terror and lynching any progress of the freedmen. Laws were enacted depriving them of the vote by property qualifications such as had been in force in the early colonial period. Later came the school laws segregating the schools. Under slavery it had been forbidden by law to teach a slave to read. Now only the most minimal education was to be permitted. The laws called for separate equal facilities. Separate they were but equal … NEVER.
With the impediment of slavery removed, the capitalists could at last complete the opening of the West and the building of a vast industrial machine. Labor power was now obtained by luring millions of poor people from Europe by false promises. Their exploitation was only a little less cruel and ruthless than that of the slaves. Rebellions in the shape of strikes and attempts to organize were put down always with the support of the state forces. Especially ill treated were those from southern Europe with darker skins. (*4) Except for the few with special skills and lighter skins, all these “foreigners” were branded as inferior making it possible that way to extract super profits by paying them lower wages. “Divide and Conquer” the old rule of British imperialism was applied in the new world by pitting one worker group against the other to prevent their uniting in their own interests. Always the Afro-Americans were at the bottom of the heap, and some of the ethnic groups were among the most active in persecuting them, trying in this shameful way to prove their Americanism.
Deep-seated as race prejudice is, woven into the life and fabric of the country, we can see why it is so hard to solve the school integration problems. It may take a revolution, a fundamental change in property relationship really to straighten out the difficulties. Still, we, cannot just toss the problem into the lap of the future; solutions must be attempted here and now even while we realize that they are only partial, and that the solutions themselves may engender new problems.
Busing offers the advantage that not merely do the black or Hispanic children placed in the white school get a better education, there is real progress in the children of different groups getting to know one another, learning from one another. The bused children are put to much inconvenience in having to travel through snow and ice, as well as lost time of one, two, or even three hours five times a week. Above all, there is loss of continuity in their life, they are deprived of the friendly relationships of their old neighborhood and school. Do we ever hear of white children being bused? What an outcry that would create! But what about the children, the majority, left behind in the old disadvantaged schools? (*5)
Looking just at the schools we don’t get to the bottom of the problem. What is the home background of the ghetto children? Do they get enough to eat, are their parents able to give them the care and guidance they need, is there any medical care when needed, do they have a quiet place to study? The answers here are most often negative. Most often there is only one parent, the mother. She is either on ADC which keeps them in poverty, or works, generally on a low paid job. The children have to raise themselves. The home is dirty and crowded, the neighborhood likewise and beset by police and gang violence. Most of all, the knowledge that even a high school diploma is no guarantee of a job chokes off incentive, and with it, hope. So the kids drop out from school, there remains only the gang to provide a center for their life. The pressures of the growing economic depression can only greatly magnify this problem.
Has there been any progress in the integration of the schools? They tell us that in the South the schools are better integrated than in the North and that Jim Crowism at least in its more open aspects has been virtually eliminated except for a small crescent on the Gulf Coast between Pensacola and Mobile. (*6) Some surprising developments have occurred. In Mississippi it was reported recently that the order to integrate the high schools had been carried out in 1969. Just one little slip—they had been integrated not by color but by sex: all the male youth together, all the girls in other schools. With the old Southern fear of “miscegenation” the white school official shrank from the mere thought of any young black man being in close proximity to a young white female. The black youths protested by boycotting the schools. (*7)
IN NEW YORK CITY compliance with the ruling was reported carried out. Fine, until it was found they had some classes composed of black children, others of Hispanic, a few of just white children. The teachers of these classes thought their children were happy and were getting on fine, still the classes had to be resorted. New York teachers are being assigned by lottery to have a mixture: not all white in one school, all black in another. (*8)
In Chicago, besides the usual violence attending school picket lines, there has been an intrusion of openly Nazi groups involved in our school situation to prevent integration. These groups are also attempting tactics of intimidation in Jewish neighborhoods such as Skokie and Rogers Park. That their right to do so is defended by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) does not help matters any. These groups which will be used to attack anyone attempting progressive steps must be resisted with the greatest determination and persistence.
It would appear, from a study made of schools throughout the country, that the integration of the schools is impeded by the fact that neighborhoods are not integrated … “minority children outnumber whites in all but eight of the country’s 28 largest cities.” (*9)
There are many complicating factors in our school systems today, such as increasing drug addiction and cigarette smoking among the young both white and black (marijuana and cocaine usage is common). Increasing sex activity of the youth with birth of children to girls in the lower teens; increasing criminality and with it all the drastic cuts in funds for education making it difficult to carry out programs. These factors probably are all at work to produce the decline in educational standards which is being noticed such as the increasing numbers of high school graduates who can read and write only at fifth grade level or less. While we have plenty of dedicated teachers who struggle valiantly to give the children and youth an education still there are others who find it all too much for them and do little more than trying to keep some minimum of order in the classroom, this contributing to the pupil’s failure.
What is needed most of all is more effort to equalize the schools. Though better schools alone cannot solve the basic problem of black poverty, this demand exposes the roots of oppressions of the black people carried down from slavery times, it is progressive and should be brought forward constantly and firmly.
The Bakke Case
In the much written-of Bakke case the issue of prejudice in education reaches a higher level, that of the University. Although at first sight it appears as a case of “reverse prejudice,” in reality what is involved is the right of the underprivileged not merely to earn a degree but to practice a profession. A “white” man Allen Bakke no longer young (37 years) and already having a profession, engineering, is denied a place in the Davis medical school of the University of California. Bakke appealed his case on the ground that students less qualified than he were admitted to the 16 places reserved for minorities. Total places for new students were 100. The Supreme Court of California supported Bakke’s appeal but final decision rests with the U.S. Supreme Court where the case is now pending.
Once more we find ourselves in the bind of the opposing pairs: quotas or no quotas. At the start, President Carter stated in a letter to the American Jewish Committee concerning the government brief on the case that “affirmative action was necessary but rigid quotas were exclusionary, hence unconstitutional.” (*10) Traditionally quotas have been used in this country to ban people of nationalities unpleasing to the ruling minority such as Chinese and Japanese. It is well known too that for many years anti-Semitism covertly excluded Jews from some of the better universities through quota systems. However, we can leave the debate on the legal pros and cons to the lawyers who have had a field day with them.
The question arises: Has there been any progress from the complete exclusion of blacks from higher education which once prevailed? “Ten years ago only 2 per cent of the medical students and fewer than 1 per cent of the law students were non-whites … the class entering last fall was 9 per cent minority in medical schools and 8.1 per cent for prospective lawyers.… There are only 17 black doctors in Arkansas now, but the first year medical class at the University of Arkansas has 15 blacks… at the University of Virginia where blacks were historically barred from professional schools, there are 16 blacks starting law school this year and 3 starting medical school.” (*11)
From these meager statistics slight gains may be inferred.
When first the pressure was put on the universities to accept minority students for professional training, recruitment was made in a hasty unconsidered fashion, with the result that unqualified beginners flunked their first year. Since then, even with more thought and system in selection, it is difficult for those from deprived environments to keep up. Not merely are there the effects of poverty, but the premedical preparation they can get in the inner city schools which are admittedly inferior starts them at a lower level than others from better schools. Also, most of them have to work to make their living expenses. In addition to the other handicaps, the black or Hispanic students at the university must function in an unfamiliar situation, not knowing the rules, having no benefit of family members who preceded them, etc. And while the feeling of inferiority fostered by years of discrimination may be less than formerly, it is still a factor. The slogans of “Black Power” and “Black Is Beautiful” raised in the troublous 1960s did much to neutralize this attitude. However, now that Black Power has been channeled into Black Business and the ghetto youth sees no helping hand stretched out by those of his group who have “made it,” to get out of his own depressed situation seems beyond his power.
Restrictions in Medical Schools
A factor in this whole question which has been overlooked is the policy of the AMA (American Medical Association) deliberately to restrict the opportunities to obtain a medical degree by their failure to build new schools, or to press for the building of new schools. One can find no motivation for this policy except to maintain the exorbitant fees now charged by limiting the number of doctors. At the same time the wide diffusion of medical knowledge by all the media has made the population very health conscious. Every year thousands of young people who want to become doctors are turned away by the medical schools, not for lack of qualification but for limitation of places. Meanwhile those hundreds of thousands of sick poor in the cities must wait many hours, even days in crowded clinics where a few devoted overworked doctors try to carry an impossible load. The responsibility for this dreadful situation rests directly on the AMA.
Also the difficulty for women to become medical doctors is involved. Only recently have they been admitted at all, and still are placed at a disadvantage by male associates. Worst of all is the exclusion of women from the lucrative fields of gynecology and obstetrics where they might seem to be most suitable to perform. What country has the best record in reduction of maternal and infant deaths in childbirth—the USA? No. It is Sweden, where childbirth takes place in a special small hospital staffed entirely by women from doctors to cleaning women. Here in the USA women are excluded in some states as in Illinois from obtaining a license even to be a midwife.
The Bakke case has a broad application even to industrial situations. In such industries as the building trades where the white workers as well the employers have resisted the hiring of minorities, it is feared without quotas their further inclusion will be at a standstill. What is the most progressive program for the minorities? Whatever the Supreme Court may decide it would appear that much more is needed in the way of help than merely quotas. Survival, as well as admission to the university is involved. The University of Arkansas is approaching the problem in a constructive way: looking in the high schools to seek out the most promising young people preparing them for college, giving advice on what premedical courses to take, helping them find summer work in health-related fields, and having them go through an orientation program before entering medical school. (*12) The Harvard medical school provides some help in tuition for the minority students. Perhaps an extra year of premed work might help.
These difficulties of minorities are among the many unsolvable contradictions of capitalism which Karl Marx predicted 100 years ago would eventually bring the system to final collapse. President Carter is now an unpopular man and is under attack for not living up to his promises to solve some of the country’s most serious problems. He is just being made a scapegoat: the fact is no other President could have done better. It is capitalism that is failing.
We see at the same time a great divisiveness among all the forces which should be uniting for their own protection. The big corporations, the Pentagon and the government which serves them want to shift on the backs of the helpless unemployed and welfare people all the privation and suffering while the corporations maintain their sacred profits. The numbers of the unemployed are constantly growing, not yet what they were in 1932, but still alarming. Unity is what is needed now between employed and unemployed, between men and women workers, between black and white and ethnic groups of poor who are all Americans, among all those who want to end the horrors of imperialist war and the ruin of the earth which capitalism is accomplishing. With each separate group fighting in a narrow one-sided way for its own interests, all will be defeated.
There is hope of a better world, a socialist world, but we must lose no time. It is a world wide struggle of the vast majority of human beings against a tiny exploiting minority. In our numbers lies our strength.
(1) In Search of America, Vol. 2- Holt Rinehart & Winston Dryden Press, 1972.
(2) “Conquest of Power,” Vol. 1. by Albert Weisbord, Covici Press, 1936, pages 51-53.
(3) Same: page 58.
(4) “Vecoli on Italian Labor,” by Prof. Rudolph Vecoli. La Parola del Popolo Sept.-Oct. 1976.
(5) In 1958 Albert Weisbord made a study of Woodlawn schools based on the Chicago school budget report. In every way these schools received less money, for janitor service, for maintenance, for school supplies, payroll, social services, etc., than the schools in better neighborhoods.
(6) New York Times "Goal of Blacks Shifts,” October 25, 1977.
(7) September 13, 1977, New York Times: "Blacks Boycott Schools.”
(8) New York Times, October 3,1977. “New York Plan to Equalize.”
(9) New York Times, December 2, 1977: “Trend to Racially Isolated School District Grows.”
(10) New York Times, November 9, 1977. “Bakke Case.”
(11) New York Times, October 25, 1977: “Educators Fear…”
(12) New York Times, October 25, 1977- “Educators Fear.”