How The Left Failed Black Americans

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 6 2014 @ 6:41pm

Tanner Colby regrets that “there is rarely any thoughtful critique of the left when it comes to race.” He kicks off a multi-part series on the subject by criticizing the effort to integrate schools in the post-Brown south:

Not all black parents believed in integration. Those who did wanted a say in how it played out for their children. Some busing programs were voluntary, but by and large black children had to bus where [the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare] told them to bus. Mandatory racial-balance requirements insisted on it. 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.

Bouie supports Colby’s broader point but thinks it’s unfair to discount the political circumstances:

“You have to realize that busing had been used for decades to promote segregation,” [Virginia Commonwealth University history professor Brian Daugherity said, pointing to one Virginia county that, for example, bused black students to the black school and white students to the white one. “For liberal policymakers in the 1960s, it wasn’t a stretch to say ‘You’ve been using busing to promote segregation, we want to use it to promote integration instead.’” …

I should say that I don’t disagree with Colby about the efficacy of busing. But one thing is clear to me: If you’re going to criticize the political approach of anyone, you need to consider the context in which they were working. If busing was a key part of the integrationist arsenal, it was because it was a key part of the segregationist one as well. And if liberals lost the war on segregation, it’s because there wasn’t—and isn’t—the will to win.