June 28th, 2007

What price diversity?

Today the Supreme Court has handed down this decision blocking attempts by the public school administrations of Seattle and Louisville to reassign students solely on the basis of race in an attempt at greater diversity.

Here’s the NY Times’ summary of the ruling, which was a close 5-4 decision breaking along the expected Supreme Court lines, with the usual conservative/liberal split among the Justices. In the majority opinion, the Court wrote that the districts had failed to meet the burden of justifying the “extreme means” they chose to right the perceived racial divisions.

I haven’t had time to read the full opinion with all the dissents, although I hope to do so later. But I have several preliminary observations, two based on memory, one based on social science.

The first is that I lived in Boston back in the days of the controversial institution of busing, and although I was (and remain) extremely sympathetic to the plight of African-American students in inner cities with virtually segregated schools, I thought busing opponents had understandable objections. Yes, yes, I know, some were motivated by racism, but others were motivated by the principle of keeping young children in local schools and not making them be guinea pigs to social science experimentation ordered by courts under the aegis of academics (the busing plan was based on a PhD thesis by Harvard student Charles Glenn).

In the case of Boston, busing went both ways, and white students (in predominantly poor neighborhoods, naturally) were forced out of their own districts on sometimes lengthy rides to predominantly (and often substandard) African-American schools. This was supposed to foster equality of opportunity and greater racial understanding. It may have done the former—an example of “a lowering tide sinks all boats”—but it certainly didn’t lead to the latter, as this fascinating history of the busing experiment will attest.

In fact, the result was not only increased racial turmoil, but helped lead to the effective desegregation of Boston public schools as whites pulled out of the city (or the public school system) and the student body become approximately 85% minority. Perhaps this would have happened anyway, but the process supposedly was accelerated by the busing crisis.

Busing in Boston effectively ended in the late 1980s, when school choice—which seems to have been a comparatively effective and successful solution—was instituted. But that was found unconstitutional by the courts at the turn of the millennium, and the Boston public schools are now unable to use either method to balance schools racially (perhaps moot, considering the racial demography that exists today among the public school student population).

My second memory is of the college I attended back in the mid-to-late 60s. When I started it was a large coed school with an almost totally white student body, its black students mostly athletes on scholarship. Two years later the African-American student population there had increased enormously to approximately 15% or so, but I noticed (I had transferred, but was back for a visit) that there was virtually no mixing. When the number of blacks had been small, they were well-integrated into the student body, but now the dining halls were utterly segregated, seemingly by choice. In other words, the black kids stuck together and so did the white kids.

It’s easy to say that enforced integration of these two types certainly has not led to racial harmony. And yet something has—at least, relatively speaking. Those of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s can readily tell the difference, and it is profound: African-Americans are far more integrated into our society, and far more visible in positions of power and influence than ever before. In addition, the sort of seething racial turmoil that one could feel simmering—and often erupting—seems to have diminished. So perhaps, in the long term, some of these solutions “worked.”

That brings us, however, to my third point. Recently there has been some interesting research indicating that, in the short-and even the medium-term, increasing diversity ends up fostering problems more often than not. Well-known Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone, has found over five years of research that:

…immigration and ethnic diversity have a devastating short- and medium-term influence on the social capital, fabric of associations, trust, and neighborliness that create and sustain communities. He fears that his work on the surprisingly negative effects of diversity will become part of the immigration debate, even though he finds that in the long run, people do forge new communities and new ties.

This conforms almost exactly with my observations, but there’s more. Diversity leads to a general lack of trust and withdrawal from community activity, a kind of “hunkering down” effect, lower confidence and investment in community, less charitable giving, lower happiness. This is true whatever the economic level of the community is, by the way.

Putnam himself was disturbed enough by his own findings that he “delayed publishing his research until he could develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity.” A very odd course of action for a scientist—but this is a social scientist, after all. At least he published in the end, although he has yet to make the details of his research available and has only released a summary.

But the results indicate that diversity has profound negative consequences in the short and medium runs, and so we should not be surprised if we notice that is exactly what has happened. And, by the way, for those who think this is primarily a phenomenon of the big bad old USA, it is not. The result apparently holds true in studies of communities in Australia, Sweden Canada and Britain as well.

I’m not suggesting we go back to the days of segregation, or that we ban legal immigrants. But I am suggesting that the idea that the enforcement of diversity at all costs is no panacea, and is not going to lead to the results even its proponents are hoping for. At the very least, expect a very bumpy ride for decades along the way.

21 Responses to “What price diversity?”

  1. Nyomythus Says:

    High time. At least our national legislation should oppose archaic notions of race, if unwilling are our community leaders. We are all the same members of the same species. Let’s at least write our laws to reflect this, even though we are probably as a species not quite ready for it. Equality of opportunity as opposed to equality of outcome (Dr. Sanity).

  2. stumbley Says:

    I grew up in a small town in New Mexico that had been primarily Hispanic in population until shortly after WWII. The end of the war brought a large influx of Anglos (whites) into the area, as they were primarily scientists and engineers working at the missile testing facility at White Sands (not too far away). My brother, who is 5 years older than I, was in middle school and high school until 1962. He and I recall that there seemed to be a fight between the Hispanic and Anglo students nearly daily; tensions between the two groups were always high in his age bracket.

    By the time I graduated high school in 1967, whites and latinos had lived together and socialized together long enough that young people from either group were dating each other and marrying, with no anger from peers or families.

    This, I think, was the intent of the whole busing philosophy: if groups of people are thrown together, and essentially forced to live together, they realize that their differences are small indeed, and good will and togetherness can actually occur.

    But I think it only works in areas where the two groups live in small, cohesive neighborhoods. In my town, we had no divisions between ethnic neighborhoods; anglos and latinos lived side-by-side, worked side-by-side, and shopped at the same shops. We had only one middle school and one high school; there were no other choices. We didn’t go home at night to “racially pure” neighborhoods. I was actually very glad to have grown up where I did; it was far easier for me to assimilate into the diversity of my college experience than it was for others who came from areas that were ethnically singular.

    It would be wonderful if my experience could be duplicated on a large scale, and I think that was the idea behind busing. Where busing fails is that in most cases, kids go home at night to neighborhoods that are segregated, so their experiences at school are not duplicated at home. Any socialization that happens in the schoolroom is often negated by going back to the ‘hood or suburbia.

  3. Ymarsakar Says:

    But the results indicate that diversity has profound negative consequences in the short and medium runs

    Students of history and Empire has always known that the balkanization and eternal clanwarfare that is the normal state of human affairs would lead to negative consequences. Eventually they will pan out, but eventually means after the Native Ameris had been annihilated and a real winner comes out.

    For social experiment mongers like the Left, that kind of outcome is definitely all right with them. They won’t be the ones with blood on their hands, they think.

    Short and Medium runs are defined by the length of time of the conflict. As we see with Israel, that time may be anywhere from 50 to 100 to 200 years, Neo. Medium indeed.

    This, I think, was the intent of the whole busing philosophy: if groups of people are thrown together, and essentially forced to live together, they realize that their differences are small indeed, and good will and togetherness can actually occur.

    The fact is, they are not the ones in control and power, and they won’t be in power even 20 years into the future. The chaos and divide and conquer strategies of the aristocrats will still be there when these folks grow up. Whatever they have learned, will never be allowed to produce something good.

    All social problems will go away and be resolved by those involved, eventually, if not for the interference of foreign busy bodies like Iran, Syria, the UN, and Europe.

  4. gcotharn Says:

    Thank God for this ruling. After the Univ. of Michigan affirmative action ruling – including Justice O’Connor’s pull it out of her arse: “I doubt this affirmative action will be neccessary in 25 years” – I lost some faith.

    I think I’ve a Supreme crush on Justice Roberts’ writing style: “The best way to end racial discrimination is to not racially discriminate.”

    Re: Diversity
    We ought create conditions for it to happen naturally. Diversity ought not be imposed – at least not in 2007.

    I was in 8th grade when bussing hit Ft. Worth, TX. I have no great insights, but I remember this: the black kids were the first kids we had ever seen whose parents would believe their word over the word of a teacher or a principal. We were flabbergasted to see this happen. Our jaws dropped open at these tales. The parents of the black kids were likely traumatized by thoughts their kids might be discriminated against, and this maybe caused them to more readily believe the tales their kids told. Still, my friends and I couldn’t believe it. Parents believed kids instead of teachers. The world had turned upside down.

  5. Grutter Politics Says:

    [...] From what I can glean from the excerpts I’ve read of Justice Kennedy’s concurrence, his opinion — representing the controlling vote — lays claim to amore “nuanced” view of the desirability of racial “diversity” that will serve to keep alive its use as a compelling interest in some narrow cases (despite, I should add, recent research that shows the use of “diversity” in social engineering schemes has had a decidedly unhealthy social impact). [...]

  6. harry Says:

    And Dingy Harry Reid in a typically shameless usurpation of the truth: “If this isn’t judicial activism, I don’t know what is.”

  7. Almost Cut My Hair…. at Amused Cynic Says:

    [...] for a long, long time, and for that we should all keep our “W” stickers on our cars. Neo-neocon did a nice piece about today’s ruling re: race and school. Didn’t realize that she and [...]

  8. alphie Says:

    While I can get behind Roberts’ “The best way to end a war is to just stop fighting it” logic, it looks like Kennedy’s opinion means school districts can just gerrymander school attendance boundries to achieve the same result as bussing.

  9. Ymarsakar Says:

    The best way to end a war is to just stop fighting it

    That’s the fastest way.

    You should actually have said, if you were interested in accuracy, is that the best way to end a war is not to start it. Don’t start any wars with the US, Alphie, and everybody will be happy.

    Btw, you don’t know jack about logic, so please stop using the word.

    If you spent as much time reading about Logic and history as you do commenting here, Alphie, I think you might get somewhere in a few years.

    It’s clear you’re getting dirt from Neo’s stories and posts.

  10. Cappy Says:

    Basically, you cannot engineer people the way you want them.

  11. Synova Says:

    Well, in my school we knew who the Germans were because they were the ones who weren’t Norwegian or Swedish. ;-)

    And somehow the principals and superintendent were German. (My father always said that was because Germans naturally wanted to be in control of regimented things.)

    So I can’t quite relate to the bussing idea other than that I had hour long bus rides all my school life.

    What I do know about: In a lot of places schools are the center of the community. School activities practically define the community. I wasn’t all that impressed by this when I was a kid and some of the refusals to cooperate between districts (such as combine forces for some activities) frustrated me greatly, but I couldn’t deny that our school was the town and the town was the school. K-12 with the same 40 kids. Graduating with people who remember when you peed your pants in 2nd grade sucks.

    But it does contribute to community and identity and personal investment.

    Making all the black kids in a neighborhood go to the black-kid school and all the white kids in the same neighborhood go to the white-kid school seems about as silly as putting all the Norwegian kids I grew up with in one school and all the Swedes in another. (The Germans can home tutor.)

    Bussing in extra Germans to even out the numbers while loading up some of the Swedes and sending them to the German community to make it all even? What would that do to the sense of community and school involvement?

    Is it the integration that causes the “hunkering down” and lack of openness and trust that Putnam talks about? Or is it caused by sticking people where they don’t know anyone?

  12. Trimegistus Says:

    I’ve never quite understood why “diversity” is so awesomely important that it outweighs just about every other consideration. Quality of education? Nope. Ease of getting to school? Nope.

    And “diversity” has only one meaning: skin tone. (Maybe sometimes mixing up the crazy and/or retarded kids with the rest.)

    Example: my kid went to a private elementary school in a New England college town. Both school and town loved to congratulate themselves on their “diversity.”

    This meant that they had both upper-middle-class liberal white lesbian parents with adopted black kids and upper-middle-class liberal white lesbian parents with adopted Chinese kids.

  13. Fronts NYC Says:

    Maybe someone here can help me with a problem, I live in Washington Heights NYC, and as a white man, am in the minority amidst a mainly Dominican neighborhood, where most stores and people speak Spanish, eat ethnic food, and listen to Spanish music. I know I should feel more comfortable living among people who look, think, and act exactly as I do, but for some odd reason it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s odd because, you would think living among so many minorities would impact my life in some way, but in fact its really no different from living anywhere else. Why is this? Can someone please explain why I’m not constantly wracked with fear and anxiety with so many of them always around?

  14. expat Says:

    Desegragation was followed rather quickly by radical blacks(supported by the radical chic intellectuals and artists) who told kids that learning to read is acting white. The kids were caught in the middle. Do you remember when the Cosby show was attacked as lacking authenticity?

  15. Jon Swift Says:

    Brown v Board of Education’s Original Intent…

    The Brown decision, perhaps more than any other event in our history, gave rise to the modern conservative movement….

  16. dms Says:

    I’m very interested in this remark:

    “We ought create conditions for it to happen naturally. Diversity ought not be imposed – at least not in 2007.”

    How do we create these conditions? Based on the comments to this thread, any “condition” we “create” will be seen as an imposition to someone.

    So what are you suggesting?

  17. Noli Irritare Leones » Blog Archive » Links and comments Says:

    [...] showed lower levels of trust in ethnically diverse neighborhoods. Neo-neocon references it in a somewhat muddled post about the Supreme Court’s recent decision blocking school integration efforts in Seattle and [...]

  18. joe blough Says:

    Diversity of what ?????????

  19. Eric Chen Says:

    My belief is that diversity is good and should be a great national strength. Working towards integration and diversity is a good thing, but the act of forced mixing of young people by itself is an incomplete answer.

    There also needs to be forged social-culturally a stronger shared American identity that is at least as influential and valued by individuals as the separate identities of the mixed groups. That’s no simple feat and requires intensive acculturation.

    How do we develop a “cosmopolitan” identity that allows us comfortably accept our other identities, but also serves to bond a diverse population into one cohesive society?

    My model for effective diversity as opposed to what we’ve been doing is my Army experience – the most diverse and different-from-me community I’ve ever been a member of. When I first joined the Army as a parochial, middle class, Chinese New Yorker, I was scared of a lot of things (Basic Training, you know – not fun), and one of those things was the alien people around me in such an intimate, stressful environment. Heck, it’s possible that others felt as uncomfortable about me. Through the Army acculturation process, my fear of the other was overcome through the development of our new powerful shared identity as American soldiers.

    It wasn’t just PC lip service diversity. This diversity had to be effective to the degree I could live and work closely with these people, and if it came to that, possibly give my life for them. The way I described it to my non-military friends was that when meeting another soldier, we could be strangers and completely different, even incompatible in most respects, but as fellow soldiers, I was confident that we had 40% in common with each other. And that placed us on the same side.

    Diversity is incomplete if you physically put people together but don’t train them to think of themselves as part of the same identity group – again, without sacrificing our other identities. I often wonder if elements of the military culture can be used in civilian life in order to generate a stronger common identity as an American citizenry. From a global perspective, we Americans are in it together on the same team, and in this world, there are winning teams and losing teams.

  20. Dean's World Says:

    The diversity scam…

    As everyone knows, once the dubious morality, and logic, of basing solutions to problems caused by ugly racial distinctions on the enshrinement and legalization of more racial distinctions became obvious and its constitutionality……

  21. Dr Zen Says:

    That was a heckuva lot of words to say “yuk, keep those darkies away from me”.

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