The Halcyon Days of Jim Crow.

Danielle Belton threw up a head-scratcher of a post earlier this week, in which she argued mostly by way of dubious assertion that integration came at great social cost to Black America, and to HBCUs in particular.

[This] was the crux of a discussion two older black men had with me years ago for a newspaper story. Both were ministers and both were members of the NAACP. They’d belonged to the local chapter in Bakersfield, Calif. for years, and they’d joined the larger organization when they were still young men trying to grasp the fight for Civil Rights of the 1950s and 60s. They both confirmed something that had been nagging in my heart nearly all of my life.

Integration wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.

The goal was to get fairness, but what they lost was in some ways so much greater, they said. They’d lost an entire community. They’d lost support. They’d lost businesses. They saw black neighborhoods, once prosperous, gutted, leaving only those who couldn’t leave behind. They saw jobs disappear. They saw a “me first” attitude, a lack of a unified front or coherent strategy to deal with problems. They saw a drop in marriage, a rise in out-of-wedlock births and crime. They saw young people embrace ignorance over intellect and excellence. They saw churches become less and less the voice and defenders of the people, and more of a passive actor peddling salvation, but no where to be found as AIDs started picking off family members in secret. …

And they blamed it all on integration. That all efforts for inclusion had come at the expense of blacks. …A high price to pay for the freedom to sit down at a restaurant or go to the college of your choice.

Apparently, integration also cost us precious grains of salt. Belton doesn’t chalk a lot of these fogeyish complaints — “They saw young people embrace ignorance over intellect and excellence” — to run-of-the-mill, the-world-has-gone-to-hell romanticism. She takes them seriously, even though she never really explains how or why she (and they) see these phenomena as consequences of integration and simply not coincidental to it.*

Her main point (from what I can gather, at least) is that HBCUs  have been especially hard hit as several generations of black people have grown up thinking the white man’s ice is colder. I’m sure there’s some of that, but it’s really not that simple. Many HBCUs were designed to be second-class institutions for aspiring Negro teachers, ministers and the like. That many of the schools that thrived in the pre-Civil Rights world are struggling now has a lot to do with the fact that they were only supposed to operate in a marketplace that diverted black students into their classrooms. People weren’t choosing HBCUs out of a sense of  “community” — which Belton also never defines; by definition choice wasn’t a big part of the equation for most black students. The primacy that many of those schools held in black life was, in a lot of ways, artificially inflated.

It’s also worth pointing out that the term “HBCU” muddies the conversation quite a bit, because schools with that designation often have very little in common besides the racial composition of their student bodies. There are upwards of 100 of them in dozens of states, with different histories, strengths, weaknesses and different administrations. For an impressive stretch in the late 1990’s/early aughts, Florida A&M‘s freshman classes led the nation in National Merit Scholars. The kids who are looking at Spelman and Morehouse are also looking at Smith and Brown and Penn. Howard, the nation’s largest private HBCU, has remained a national draw. Generally speaking, these schools are pulling from a very different pool of applicants than Stillman College or Cheyney University, which is part of the reason why the economic pressures on them have played out very differently in the post-Brown world, and in this downturn in particular.

More Belton:

While integration wasn’t a magical pill that cured racism in our society, I honestly believe that there have been some social benefits. Alas in the pursuit of those benefits (see: better jobs, access to better schools, better homes and the ability to travel the country without having to sleep in your car because no hotel will let you stay there, the current president), we did lose a sense of community and traditionally, minority communities — from Eastern Europeans to Mexicans to Chinese — have benefited from relying on each other.

Well, at least she acknowledges that better education, improved standards of living, meaningful employment and being granted basic human dignity have been somewhat beneficial.

Still, gotta call bullshit on this. (There are few things that annoy me more than the “Look-at-the-Koreans” argument.) The reason immigrants live together and rely on each other isn’t out of some enlightened or advanced sense of “community” but out of linguistic and cultural necessity/isolation. If you only speak Cantonese,  you are necessarily circumscribed to a life where the people around you do so as well in order to eat and work and function. Belton completely misses the lazy stereotyping she’s doing here, assuming that because she sees a group of people who sort of look similar living in the same neighborhood that they must be some united by some heightened sense of common purpose.

Integration developed a sort of “divide and conquer” black hole that separated the more successful blacks from the rest of the community. Many black professionals who had worked in segregated schools and hospitals lost their jobs when these institutions were closed so they could be consolidated into integrated state run facilities. This forced many of the educated black middle class to abandon their communities in search of work.

Thusly, classism came to Blackland in a big way and ultimately, I think this was the biggest unintended consequence of integration.

Got that? Classism didn’t exist in any substantial amount in black life before the end of Jim Crow. There weren’t any wide chasms between  freedmen and the enslaved, between the poor and the educated, no paper bag tests, and no organizations created explicitly for black elites who didn’t want to be associated with the ignorant riff-raff. All was unity and togetherness, there was no gang violence, and the world was awash with respect. I know this because an old person told me.

*Another point that annoyed me about Belton’s post is that it overstates how much integration ever actually happened. Black unemployment skyrocketed during the second Great Migration because black men found themselves in industrial cities with factories that were loath to hire them for the stable, well-paying jobs that white workers held; the seniority lists tilted toward whites. Black men also held down the kind of jobs that were the first to become mechanized, and were thus the first to be out on their asses. Also, white flight and the evaporation of the urban tax base ravaged school districts and hospitals in urban centers, home ownership remained low because of racialized practices in mortgage lending, etc. You get the point.


26 thoughts on “The Halcyon Days of Jim Crow.

  1. Jeremy May 22, 2009 at 1:18 pm Reply

    “Apparently, integration also cost us precious grains of salt.”

    Absolutely brilliant. Great post.

  2. Winslowalrob May 22, 2009 at 2:18 pm Reply

    The Snob is my dude (dudette?), and I gotta defend her on this: A lot of her upcoming posts are about taboo subjects that are going to interrogate commonly held beliefs, so think of this more as a contrarian project instead of teh ultimate internetatron argooment!

    • G.D. May 22, 2009 at 2:26 pm Reply

      yeah, i peeped that. but she shouldn’t get props for being contrarian; she should get props for making cogent, thoughtful arguments.

      • Jamelle May 22, 2009 at 2:47 pm Reply

        G.D. FTW

      • Winslowalrob May 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm Reply

        Besides the fact that I just had to look up FTW, I am not trying to give her props, I am just trying to give her the ol’ ‘I understand’ angle (in the Chris Rock sense).

        As for her piece: when the united states is actually, you know, integrated, then I will look at it a little more critically. I just spent two years looking at government pronouncements and learning how to not take them at face value, so I am surprised by how a lot of people can categorically reject what one instution says and categorically accept another. Integration failed, the black church told me so! Still, I am not going to do a full takedown of the Snob’s piece on her site and you guys look like you got it covered, just a little too much ad hominem for my tastes…

        • G.D. May 22, 2009 at 3:32 pm Reply

          which part did you think was ad hominem?

          • Winslowalrob May 22, 2009 at 3:43 pm Reply

            “Belton completely misses the lazy stereotyping she’s doing here,”

            Holy crap, that might be it, I retract my statement! Can I modify it to ‘a little saltier than I woulda done’ and wipe my hands clean? I guess it was the tone of you guys’ reply over anything else, that I took to be ad hominem, when it really was not.

        • bitchphd May 22, 2009 at 8:46 pm Reply

          when the united states is actually, you know, integrated

          Yeah, this is the point I was going to make. A lot of the stuff that people who make the “integration destroyed black community” argument cite as evidence–the black middle class leaving the ghetto, the loss of black businesses, etc–are problems partly because integration only went so far. Poor blacks are still segregated from whites; and while black students were integrating white schools and black families that could afford to were integrating white neighborhoods, white students (or their parents) were yanking their kids (and tax dollars) out of cities and city schools. And then we (white people) started filing suit against white institutions that weren’t letting us have “our” places, and passing laws against affirmative action.

          You can’t hardly blame integration for white racism. And you can’t really talk about integration as if it’s something that already happened, rather than something that’s still going on. A lot of the big initial legal hurdles were removed. There is ongoing thawing in the attitudes of white people to things like having black neighbors or (some) black kids in our kids’ schools. But there has also been some legal backsliding, and while the thaw is ongoing, it isn’t complete.

      • Ron May 24, 2009 at 12:06 pm Reply


    • shani-o May 22, 2009 at 2:53 pm Reply

      Winslow, you know I love you, but we’re finna part ways on this one. I think Snob is hilarious and entertaining, but this was a super sloppy argument. G.D., UE, and I spent hours just trying to parse it.

      • Winslowalrob May 23, 2009 at 6:43 pm Reply

        The streak is broken 😦 but I still love you Shani!

  3. Jamelle May 22, 2009 at 2:57 pm Reply

    On a more substantive note, this is a pretty classic logical fallacy. Belton identifies “B” as occurring after “A” and assumes then that “A” is the cause of “B,” all while forgetting that there are multiple “As.” For example, is the rise in gang violence an unfortunate product of integration, or is it the product of hyper-segregation (stemming from economic isolation) and the emergence of the cocaine/heroin/crack trade?

    Remenber kids, just because B follows A – or even if A and B are closely associated – doesn’t at all mean that A caused B.

    • G.D. May 22, 2009 at 3:00 pm Reply

      right. i actually wanted to make that point. a lot of the problems that continue to afflict black America — including the ones she points out — are the direct result of racialized policy in housing and policing. but if you read her post, you’ll realize that i just had to let a lot of the individual bizarre assertions go. there were just too many.

    • Winslowalrob May 22, 2009 at 3:24 pm Reply

      What are you talking about, we all know that Correlation is Causation!

    • belleisa May 22, 2009 at 3:48 pm Reply

      Jamelle, I may need for you to point me to some writing to explain that to me. Which is the “B” and which is the “A?”

      • Jamelle May 22, 2009 at 3:54 pm Reply

        “A” is the period of directed integration and “B” is any of the negative things which occurred within the African-American community after integration. It’s a little simplistic, but I think my point is sound.

  4. Angela May 22, 2009 at 4:41 pm Reply

    The biggest problem I have with the Snob’s piece was that the majority of it is a meandering summary of what the old Bakersfield NAACP men thought about integration (or at least I think that’s what was going on), and “The Snob’s View” at the end was so short. I admire your effort (and I think you made some kick-ass points), GD, but I kind of think it exceeded the Snob’s own effort on this one. There are just too many sweeping generalizations/rushed conclusions going on in her’s. She says, “there was something to be said of having a piece of your own,” right after listing all the ways that black folks DIDN’T really have their own during segregation. Makes no sense. And I too find the snob hilarious on the usual.

    Kudos to you for tackling this before a long weekend. 🙂

  5. lsn May 22, 2009 at 5:53 pm Reply

    The elderly men’s statements do sound suspiciously like things I’ve read from Russians who are now nostalgic for the 1930s. Life was much better in 1930s Russia… when they were young, in love, the world was at their feet, and no one was completely paranoid about being hauled out of bed and vanishing into the gulag or anything. There was a great sense of community though, especially during the famine.

    • LaJane Galt May 27, 2009 at 9:26 am Reply

      Or white Cubans pining for Batista…or upper class Indians pining for the Raj…or Trent Lott pining for the same thing as the old Bakerfield heads

  6. ladyfresshh May 26, 2009 at 3:13 pm Reply

    Love these discussions. I didn’t go to a HBCU (always have trouble remembering the order of those letters as well). I’m also new to reading her blog preferring the comedy over the more substantive blogs in my perusals, with that I do appreciate taking another look at what may have been lost during the beginning of integration and a mental check at where we are now. Its an interesting theory that should be carefully looked at(which is what brought your ire, it does seem to be a careless piece). I can’t shake the feeling though that she may have a bit of something.

    • G.D. May 26, 2009 at 3:14 pm Reply

      you care to elaborate on what you think she’s on to?

      • ladyfresshh May 26, 2009 at 11:28 pm Reply

        i’ll try but you know i’m rarely coherent myself lol

        i guess the main point i would argue is that it was not a ‘great’ social cost but i would not say there was no social cost to our integration

        you did say the immigrants rely on one another because of “cultural neccessity/isolation”

        i’d argue that our social cohesiveness became less necessary as the pressure eased (hrrm changed?)on our situation that there may have been a stronger group cohesion because of the same odd cultural isolation we were placed in

        i think that is the small nugget of potential i see gleaming in there

        • Winslowalrob May 27, 2009 at 4:21 pm Reply

          Ladyfresh, I cannot on an intellectual or moral level even grant this sort of argument ANY potential. Yeah I tried to defend Snob’s attempt to talk about this, but the argument herself I find quite offensive (akin to saying that McCarthy actually did nail some Communist spies or that Jim Crow actually did prevent some white women from being raped). I understand the rationale and the depth of feeling when talking about the social cost, but this line of thinking is a dead-end, only worth exploring on an abstract level while drunk. I really try to avoid this stuff because I have such a visceral reaction to it…

          • ladyfresshh May 27, 2009 at 5:40 pm Reply

            I agree that the potential lines of thinking this can lead to can be abhorrent. Yes i admit it was a very abstract thought, thinking in bit of a vacuum really, little thought was given to the ‘positive aspects of atrocious periods in history’ end you seem to have gotten to. Sorry for causing the visceral reaction, i can see how that would be upsetting (yes ew) but at the risk of more squirming (advance apologies btw) and advancing the argument back to the abstract. I wonder at the underlying reason for her post.

            Certainly it had a mythic nostalgic tone but thought i observed a underlying question of the human condition which seems to be this repetitive cleaving to one another out of desperation or is that just a result of historical nostalgia?

            meh i’m probably reaching hard at this point
            let me know of course

            • Winslowalrob May 27, 2009 at 6:06 pm Reply

              Ha, dont worry about it, you are not reaching, and I only flip out when I get pissed (or when somebody drops a spoon).

              If the Human Condition can be relegated to questions of ‘yeah this period sucked but at least we were together!’, then fuck the Human Condition, give me another race to belong to.

  7. […] few months back, I was taken aback by a wildly problematic post that was part of Danielle Belton’s “Unconventional […]

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