Friday, October 02, 2009

THE AMERICAN PROSPECT AND OLD PLAYS

In ‘The American Prospect’ for October, p.13, Dana Goldstein talks about fair housing in the toney New York burbs around Westchester.

A movement is underway to force the County to enforce the 1968 Fair Housing Act requirements for affordable housing, which so far the various bosky towns have managed to avoid.

A couple of thoughts.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed at a moment when the ‘poor’ or ‘minorities’ were much differently composed. For the majority of Americans the visions of the Civil Rights Marchers of the 1950s and early 1960s, so widely publicized on TV news and photojournalism (google it), still held great moral and political power: great gatherings of decently dressed (yes, a value judgment) blacks of all ages risking much to support their inclusion in the wider national life beyond the confines of genuine racism, especially under the aura of Martin Luther King.

By 1968 the urban riots (Watts had occurred less than a week after LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a year after the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and the general explosion of screw-conformity and the ‘away-with-the-bourgeois’ excitements of the later 1960s and the supplanting of King (well before he was assassinated) by Black Power advocacies (some advocating ‘revolution’ rather vocally) … had effected a profound if not widely voiced change in mainstream attitudes.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the mainstream was baffled and for some rather understandable reasons anxiously concerned. After all, if ‘minority’ housing would now include revolutionaries bent on destroying that precise ‘bourgeois’ lifestyle that the earlier era’s Civil Rights marchers and advocates had struggled to join, then having such housing in the neighborhood was suddenly a rather different proposition from what had been envisioned in the earlier era (a scant few years before – that’s how fast The Sixties moved).

This is not at all to say that genuine racism did not exist, perhaps even in the best mainstream folks. After all, as I have noted in earlier Posts, there seems to be a natural caution in the species – certainly reinforced by the history of American society – when encountering ‘different’ groups, and that was especially true when it was not simply a matter of culture and folkways but actual ‘color’. This was a characteristic of human as well as American society that promised to require great work and effort even in the Civil Rights era pre-dating Watts and certainly 1968. Rational persons of good heart could have expected in 1965 that the work of the phase following the 1965 signing would be large and require the full and deliberate effort of the mainstream to include those already-ready black marchers who were the iconic face of American Blacks.

But then suddenly, there were the urban riots and the so-called “Northern Phase” of Civil Rights – post Watts – that actually introduced huge new and negative elements into the already challenging equation and the tasks facing the mainstream: Black Power, the revolution, the revolutionary mindset that everything 'old' has to be swept away and it has to happen RIGHT NOW. This added so many new and complex and also genuinely disturbing factors that much if not most of the original thrust of the pre-1965 Civil Rights movement was altered.

Unfortunately, the advocates of immediate change pushed hard against their supporters in the Democratic Party that now had no choice but to keep on the genuinely bright, shining though challenging path that it had courageously chosen (with no small political calculation as well, but that’s democracy for you) but which was now promising to lead into very broken and dangerous country indeed.

But both advocates and politicians and the federal bureaucracy and the media kept trying to run the same and now-outdistanced pre-1965 gameplan. But the ‘black Americans’ – the key factor in the equation – had somehow in large or at least significant part ‘changed’: those long lines of well-deported and maturely determined blacks – mainstream in all but their color – had changed (or morphed or mutated – take your pick) into the angry in-your-face face of Black Power.

And as the Sixties went into the Seventies, and the effects of all sorts of other ‘liberations’ began to destabilize – indeed delegitimize – the very ‘mainstream’ structures of society that the Civil Rights-era American Blacks had desired to more fully ‘join’ and which mainstream Americans of good heart were glad to support. All of the essential building blocks of that mainstream society came under sustained and vigorous attack (supported by a Democratic Party that clearly had ‘lost control of the reaction’, as the atomic scientists might say): religion, the family, parental authority and then the idea of parenthood and parental responsibility, sobriety (drugs were ‘liberating’, you may recall), and even maturity itself. All that, on top of the pre-existing challenges of urban life for the poor, worked to viciously undercut the possibilities for the majority of Black Americans.

And then with the dawn of Multiculturalism the entire Civil Rights-era paradigm was officially abandoned: the idea was now not that Black Americans had every right – morally and historically – to join the American mainstream, but rather that there was no American mainstream, no real American culture or society, and that Black folk could do what they damned well pleased and you’d better get used to it. Which among other things undercut the effort of huge numbers of Black Americans and Black American parents to raise their young into any sort of workable socialization at all.

My God, is about all you can say – and I am not blaming Black Americans here. Although, as Michael Lind noted in his 1995 book ‘the Next American Nation’*, those Blacks who were happily and willingly raised up as ‘elites’ and ‘leaders’ had greatly insufficient effect when it came to addressing these core problems.

Of course, that is not to put the blame entirely on them. Many of these problems posed to Black Americans were the results of the demands of other Identities or officially identified ‘minorities’ whose demanded agendas actually worked against the successful development for American Blacks envisioned in the pre-1965 era.

The Democrats – by the Seventies joined by the Republicans and well on the way to coagulating into the Beltway nomenklatura of today – were unable to manage any sort of rational overall policy and simply settled for pandering to whatever ‘demands’ from whatever Identity that seemed to promise a good sound-bite and some reliable votes. It’s as if the Navy were to allow the design of a warship by simply allowing everybody with an idea an equal say in the design and equipping of the vessel: with no oversight to maintain some rational plan and purpose, you would get a warship far too heavily burdened with the equipment for far too many simultaneous purposes – which, by the by, is what has lethally plagued the newest class of amphibious ships even now in the present day.

But the Beltway was (and is) still shackled to Multiculturalism’s fatal assumptions: that a hundred Identities should bloom and that they all had equal value and that the only problem would be the ‘white mainstream’ which, happily, should be diluted or prosecuted or laid-off until it was unable to ‘oppress’ anybody anymore.**

Such a fine national policy. And here We are.

So you can’t simply attribute mainstream hesitation about having ‘black’ or ‘minority’ folk moving in down the block in this Year of Grace 2009 to the ‘racism’ against the aspiring Black Americans of almost 50 years ago. They, alas, do not exist in great herds – if I may –any longer, and it wasn’t ‘racism’ that did them in.

And it isn’t ‘racism’ that is the only reason for mainstream concerns about housing for the ‘poor’ today. While I hold no brief for the idle rich in their mansions or the faux-rich in their McMansions, nor all their pomps and all their works, I understand anybody’s concern about having the greatly damaged society of urban poverty as it has now evolved (or devolved or mutated, take your pick) set up shop not far away. Nor am I blaming the urban poor and American Blacks themselves for this.

I look to Congress and to the ‘elites’ of various types – of the Left as well as the Right – who were simply piling on demands for their own agendas and their own status and their own Identities, with nary a thought to the consequences and impact that their ‘reforms’ would have on the larger commonweal. (And can you say Iraq War?)

Such is the danger of the unholy fusion of Identity Politics and Multiculturalism.

Equally, ‘immigrants’ are included in Goldstein’s plaint.

But again, the ‘immigrant’ of the Multicultural Age is not, by and large, identical to the ‘immigrant’ of the 19th and very early 20th centuries. Those folk came over (a third of the Italians, at least, then went back after finding out what it was really like over here) with not only the hope but the prospect of decent employment and a readiness to continue a steady climb. And they expected to join a society that was solidly certain of its own values and able to make good – over time – on its promises of decent employment and a decent life.

Such is not the case at all now. Congress long ago (the mid-Sixties) rejected LBJ’s criterion of ‘skills and training’ for new immigrants and replaced it with the hugely mushy ‘family reunification’. And closer to the present time, immigrants are soused with the world-distributed visions of American Culture as a huge Disneyland, where you can do what you want and nobody can make you do anything and they will pay you for it if you want. Not every human being can resist believing – or at least assuming – such tantalizing dreams, though to do so sets up many new immigrants for a nasty shock when they arrive.

Especially when they arrive in the neo-liberal and now post-2008 America, where leaf-blowing and coffee-pouring are about the best that can be hoped for in an economy that is gravely compromised and in a society that is rapidly stratifying into a ‘knowledge elite’ that will come up with ‘ideas’ and a ‘serfdom’ that will do the chores. And in a Multicultural America where they need not – indeed MUST not – assimilate to the American culture (there isn’t one, Correctness teaches) but rather cling to their own, language and all.

So ‘minority housing’ – with every respect to individuals and with burning concern for the mess that has enveloped them – is no longer comprised of the same variables as it was in that other galaxy long-ago and far-away in the still-touted but thoroughly undermined Civil Rights Era.

And it is no longer thus simply ‘racism’ that creates hesitation about some of the iconic ‘initiatives’ still being run out of the old Golden Playbook of the Democrats of a vanished era.

In no way do I intend these comments as a veiled coded approval of a return to segregation or blaming-the-poor for their truly awful situation.

Rather, I think that the Congress – such as it now is – and all of Us must start to do some serious thinking and re-thinking.

Because if We leave it up to the ‘elites’ who have managed things for the past 50 years or so, We are only going to get more of the same, and that – I am saying – ain’t a good thing at all.

NOTES

*See my Post of September 29th on this site.

**Don't forget, there are different levels and sites of Multiculturalism. Educational multiculturalism in its most decent form simply seeks to introduce students to other cultures and folkways and inculcate a certain respect and even conceptual humility in approaching 'strange' or 'different' cultures, so that the student can a) see the assorted bits of value in that culture and b) learn to approach new things with an open mind. Well and good.

The more dangerous form of Multiculturalism in the academic world is that American culture is so 'evil', 'oppressive' and 'baaaaad' that just about any other culture would be an improvement. And that therefore American culture should have no moral claim over American youth or on any Americans at all. Which is something else altogether.

AND then if you look at political Multiculturalism, then you have the assertion that there is no American culture and that each government-identified 'race' and its 'culture' should be allowed to do its own thing and folks will just have to learn to live with it. Which is hugely toxic and even lethal to any hope of sustaining a common (and Constitutional) culture and national ethos. And THAT is a recipe for national suicide, culturally, societally, and probably even in terms of the cohesion of this Union.

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