An Incomplete Transition
In the last several articles I have dealt with issues of law and race from a different and unique view point. In the background of all of the articles is consideration of cultural systems. I have noted that the 400 years of slavery and segregation that existed in the United States produced a unique black culture. One aspect of that culture has been the strained relationship between the black culture and the legal system.
The legal system obviously originated in Europe-not Africa. African-Americans are not Africans, they are Americans. African-American culture is a unique product of the past 400 years. Obviously not everyone who shares genes that originated in Africa is automatically a member and influenced by the African-American culture.
Earlier we pointed out the possible adverse impact of the black cultural heritage on the possibilities for economic development. Law is a pre-requisite for economics, and full participation in and support for the legal system is a pre-requisite to economic development. Often in the past, the best interest of the black culture was not served by willing participation in the legal system. Therefore there has always been, a distance between the legal system and that culture. Thus, in our Black belt counties there may be a built in cultural impediment to economic development because of continued lack of confidence in law. The legal system is not the way conflicts are solved.
Differences in culture and cultural institutions came to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. The legal system, in many instances, particularly in the South, actually supported segregation, and provided separate institutions. Segregation was an obvious barrier to full participation of blacks in the good-life of the culture of America. In Brown v. Topeka, the Supreme Court of the United States recognized that separate is not equal. The application of a concept of equality to various social aspects of complex of human social systems is very problematic. Equality is not nearly as exact or easy to identify as it might sound when applied to matters social. The Brown decision recognized that separate is not equal. It would have done well to recognize, however, that separate is still separate. I remember extremely well 7th grade Civics at Shorter High School, a segregated 12 year school in the 1950’s. We were introduced to the idea that America is the “great Melting Pot”. What that was supposed to mean is that people from Europe and all parts of the world coming into America were blended into the complex American culture. The Statue of Liberty was the iconic image. Slaves did not arrive there. While the “melting pot” that had worked okay for certain Europeans, it had not worked universally. Nevertheless, that was a part of the mentality of that era. Another part of the mentality of the era was that proper education can solve everything. Those questionable beliefs were embedded in the answers to the problems of segregation.
The difference between desegregation (i.e. elimination of racial legal barriers) to integration (i.e. assimilation of the culture) is a subtle difference. I learned the difference from the late Dr. Frank Toland of Tuskegee University. The primary task of the Civil Rights movement was desegregation: elimination of the segregated bathrooms, segregated water fountains, segregated eating establishments, etc. Integration is a much more complicated matter, on which opinions in the black culture itself are much more divided.
The Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act attempted to solve the problems of segregation by conferring individual rights, without really recognizing and dealing with the cultural differences. Although effective to bring about desegregation, those laws do not support a creative multiculturalism. They do not deal with the differences in culture at all. The side effect of those laws, when applied in Alabama, was to assign exclusive political and governmental control of predominately black counties to the culture that was separate and unequal. The continuity of the culture in these areas posed significant problems for the citizens of those counties in their quest to be a part of the good-life of America. They created and perpetuated a guilt pattern of territorial de facto segregation. Those measures, while necessary, needed to be carefully transitioned, after accomplishing desegregation, to also provide a route for the black population to move into the mainstream of the culture, without sacrificing the accomplishments of black culture. The creation of almost totally black political subdivisions of the State was not the answer to the problem. It is now time to identify and openly discuss the problems with this approach and openly seek more creative solutions.