NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Fifty years ago today, the late Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to a white man. The incident sparked the famous bus boycott, and it's credited as one of the most important moments in the long fight to eliminate laws that enforced racial discrimination. At the time, many believed that the end of legal segregation would inevitably lead to greater racial integration on all levels of society. Half a century later, that doesn't appear to be true. Racial separation persists in school, at church, on the job and especially in communities where we live. Most of us tend to live in neighborhoods where the people around us look the same as we do. To some degree, this is segregation by choice. To some degree it represents separation by economic class.
Later, the story of a middle-class Belgian woman who became a suicide bomber and attacked US troops in Baghdad.
But first, 50 years after Rosa Parks, how integrated are we? What does your community look like and your workplace? Is racial diversity important to you? Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is email@example.com. And we begin with Sheryll Cashin. She's a professor of law at Georgetown University and the author of the book "The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class are Undermining the American Dream."
And it's good to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.
Professor SHERYLL CASHIN (Georgetown University): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: Let's start by assessing the situation 50 years later. How segregated are we?
Prof. CASHIN: Well, it still is the case today in 2005 that where you live is highly likely to reflect not just your race but your socioeconomic class. Since, however, we've made quite a bit of progress. The most progress we've made, frankly, is in establishing social consensus. The day that Rosa Parks refused to step off of the bus or give up her seat--the prevailing social consensus, not just in the South but in much of America, was separate but equal is fine. OK. And in the mid- to late '50s 80 percent of whites said they would move if their neighborhood was invaded by large numbers of black people.
Today social consensus is the opposite. In opinion polls, whites say--large majorities of them say they wouldn't mind living in a neighborhood with numbers of blacks. That said, there's a lot of dissonance between those professed values and where people actually choose to live, and in social surveys when people are asked to actually pick ideal neighborhoods, they tend to pick neighborhoods where their own race is in a majority.
CONAN: And by picking those neighborhoods, they also tend to pick the schools that their children attend, and they also tend to pick the churches that they attend.
Prof. CASHIN: They're actually picking an entire lifestyle. You know, if our life space is very segregated, which is the case, we're much less likely to have daily interactions with people who are racially and economically different. So yes, we still have an America very much premised on separation.
CONAN: Fifty years ago, the perception was that it was a de jure legal segregation in the South, and de facto--or just as matters of choice--in the North. Is there any regional distinction today?
Prof. CASHIN: I don't think there is any regional distinction in that sense. You know, Jim Crow is no longer on the books anywhere. I think there is--I'm sorry. Can you repeat the question?
CONAN: Yeah, no. It's all--that was the question...
Prof. CASHIN: Yeah.
CONAN: ...is the South, where the problem was perceived to be worst 50 years ago--is it worse there or is it...
Prof. CASHIN: Actually, the South ironically to some people, not to me as a Southerner, is doing better than some other regions. The most segregated place--region in the country is a the Midwest followed by the Northeast. The South is doing better than those places, and the West is doing better than the rest of the country.
CONAN: You write about several communities that are somewhat more integrated. Where are they and why are they more integrated?
Prof. CASHIN: Well, about 5 to 10 percent of American neighborhoods buck this dominant trend of race and class segregation. You can find them all over, but they tend--there are two different types. There are these older communities of black-white where, you know, in mostly Jewish communities when blacks first as integration pioneers started moving into white neighborhoods and they started opening up housing markets in the '60s, there were some places like Shaker Heights, Ohio, Westmount area of Philadelphia, Oak Park outside of Chicago--places where people consciously tried to stem white flight and create stable integration.
The newer examples of integration are what I call multicultural islands, places like Adams-Morgan in DC, Jackson Heights in Ft. Screen(ph) in New York, the San Antonio Fruitville neighborhood, Oakland--these are places where you tend to have three or more groups dealing with each other often, an immigrant population. They tend to have a very diverse housing stock, a situation where there's something for everyone, from higher income people who like these older homes that are more affordable. And they tend to have, you know, a lot in the way of mixture.
CONAN: Fifty years ago we saw the problem as black and white. Obviously, you have large numbers of other immigrant groups; of course, Latinos are now the largest minority group in the country. How does that affect things?
Prof. CASHIN: Well, I actually think it bodes well for race relations in America. Something very interesting tends to happen when you interject a third group, often Latinos, into this tortured black-white dynamic. In these multiculture islands, where that's going on, you find that because everyone is different--in a context where you have three or more groups, everyone is different--people tend to have more in the way of what I call cultural dexterity. They--difference is the norm so difference tends to be accepted and people in their daily lives have to learn to work with other groups and get along with other groups, and that is the way America's going. We're rapidly moving toward the day when shortly after midcentury, according to demographers, we're poised to become a majority minority nation like California and Hawaii are today.
CONAN: Our number, if you'd like to join our conversation, is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's talk with Kevin. Kevin, calling us from Nashville.
KEVIN (Caller): Hi there. I grew up in Memphis in the late 1980s, early 1990s, and Memphis is a city which historically has been divided a close 50-50 between black and white. And my school in Memphis at the time was also 50 percent white, 50 percent black. But Memphis had a tracking system in the public schools where you had regular courses and you had what's considered the advanced or optional program, which was more academically accelerated. And even though my school was half black and half white, looking back on my childhood it was obvious that the optional program was always white with one or two black students and the regular program was always black with one or two white students. And so I'm curious to hear your guest's thoughts on even within the same school, which is integrated on its surface, the reality of the classroom was very much still segregated.
Prof. CASHIN: Well, I don't think your experience was atypical. Unfortunately, it's not enough just to throw people into an ostensibly integrated situation. Institutions have to work at diversity. They have to work at creating true inclusion, and it's very easy to take the path of least resistance and not work to do that. And unfortunately, all too often, you know, this is what America often does. They track people not just into winner and loser tracks within schools, but into winner and loser communities. And there seems to be this prevailing philosophy that if that's the way markets are that's OK, that, you know, individuals can just try to make it on their own. And what I'm--the main message of my book is that we have to pay attention to how you cultivate over time truly inclusive neighborhoods, truly inclusive schools, truly inclusive institutions. It doesn't happen naturally.
CONAN: Kevin, thanks for the call.
KEVIN: Thank you.
CONAN: Professor Alvin Thornton joins us now from his office at Howard University here in Washington, DC, where he's the chair of the Political Science Department as well as associate provost. He also chaired Maryland's Commission on Education, Finance, Equity and Excellences, which was known as the Thornton Commission, which was charged with restructuring public education.
And, Professor, nice of you to join us today.
Professor ALVIN THORNTON (Howard University): Thank you for having me.
CONAN: Give us your report card on the country. You grew up in Alabama in the 1950s. In your opinion, how far along--are we still segregated?
Prof. THORNTON: Well, we certainly are not segregated in terms of our constitutional structure. Both at the federal and state level, we are far from being integrated, so I think as Professor Cashin indicated, the Jim Crow system, the separate-but-equal apartheid system, that I grew up under has largely been eliminated, but in its place obviously is a class-based, economic-based, with a racial definition, separateness in all aspects of American life. And I think it's probably even more--I shouldn't say even more--but it certainly has similarities to what I experienced. It is more so based upon income now. So it is not--we don't live in an integrated society; we do not live also in a segregated society.
I think there are larger--the question and the fight is over the social space that we will occupy, and I think the integration that we're seeking is largely going to proceed from private as well as governmental activities that creates a social space wherein everybody can have the same level of dignity. And that social space will be occupied by things that we now are debating, livable wages, equitable and adequate education as a birthright for all children; adequate and equitable health care for all children. And once you create those and access to credit at a minimal level for all people--once you create that, then the integration that Professor Cashin and I and others are looking for will begin to proceed.
CONAN: Now I know you've argued that we need new kinds of language to talk about race and integration. Give us an example, if you would.
Prof. THORNTON: That's true. It took Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and many others a quarter of a century to develop the vocabulary of desegregation. It took Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston and others a quarter of a century to develop the jurisprudence that would guide a nation out of apartheid. So we cannot expect to adopt their vocabulary and apply it to 2005 America. We have to develop a voca--and it will be a very, very difficult fight, as it was for them, to come up with a vocabulary of a type--I just put out, for example, an approach, a paradigm. Many Americans don't agree with that. My paradigm is one of universal access to minimal things required for a life of dignity. There's great division in our nation about that. We need to fight through that. Once we do that, then it'll be very difficult to have some people seeking access based upon race and class to health care through emergency rooms. It'll be very difficult for real estate markets to target people into enclaves of poverty, or enclaves of exclusive affluency based upon income differences. That's the struggle that we are part of, but we have to find a way to come up with the words and the vocabulary to describe this so that we can move forward and debate it in the policy arena.
CONAN: Sheryll Cashin, Alvin Thornton, please stay with us. We're going to take a short break, and when we return we'll continue our conversation about integration and segregation in American society 50 years after the day that Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama. If you'd like to join us, (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK.
I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
President Bush today signed a bill authorizing the placement of a statue of Rosa Parks in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. Fifty years ago today Parks defied segregation laws of the day and refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama. Though no laws keep Americans separate today on the basis of race, much of society does remain segregated. Our guests are Georgetown University law Professor Sheryll Cashin and Howard University Political Science Department Chairman Alvin Thornton. If you'd like to join us, (800) 989-8255. Or e-mail us: email@example.com.
And let's talk with Carrie. Carrie is calling us from Detroit, Michigan.
CARRIE (Caller): Yes, hello. Thank you for taking my call.
CARRIE: I grew up in metro Detroit, was born and raised there, before I moved out to Boston for seven years, and it was my experience that your first commentator's remarks about the Northeast and the Midwest being the most segregated are absolutely true. I myself am white, and I actually left Boston to return to Detroit so that I could, you know, re-enter a certain situation where I thought it was very important to be culturally integrated. However, I find that I'm one of very few of my white educated counterparts who see the city of Detroit as something valuable and worth investing in, and I guess I would like to hear both of your callers' comments a little bit about how in Detroit, which is also one of the poorest cities, which corresponds to some of that socioeconomic and racial distinctions--how do we begin to look at it from the cultural or the emotional perspective, which is the way it's been in Detroit since at least the late '60s?
CONAN: Sheryll Cashin, why don't you start?
Prof. CASHIN: Well, Detroit is an extreme microcosm of a prevailing phenomenon in America, that the fact that America has not yet come to terms with black people when they exist in large numbers. If you look in places particularly out West where blacks are few, we had double-digit increases in residential integration in the '90s. But something mystical seems to happen when blacks reach a threshold of 20 percent or more of a metropolitan region, and this is where over half of blacks live in large urban centers. Detroit is an extreme version of that, and it's a tough nut to crack.
I think that frankly the African-American ghetto, the black ghetto, is at the center of tensions in American race relations; you know, the black poor are the most segregated people in American society. And these are alternative universes, places where the standard language is Ebonics, where the prison system has a more dominant role in the lives of young black men than the education system, where there are all kinds of alternative behaviors that people adopt that, you know, scare people. And yet we might all adopt them if we had to live there because it was necessary to our personal survival. And what goes on in the black ghetto rationalizes fear of black people. It rationalizes, particularly for white Americans, the chose to flee. And in fact, in the '90s over half of our cities became majority black or brown. Whites with children have been fleeing in large numbers.
What do we do about it? I think we have to begin to consciously break up concentrated poverty. The black ghetto was an intentional institution. It reflects intentional choices on the part of the federal government and others to house and warehouse the black poor in certain neighborhoods, and I think we need to begin to think about more intelligent, saner policies that cultivate mixed-income communities where middle class norms can predominate.
CONAN: Alvin Thornton?
Prof. THORNTON: Well, I think our discussion is largely, understandably about fiscal proximity or fiscal separateness, and that's clearly what Rose Parks and Martin King and Thurgood and others were addressing. I think during that day that they were talking about what constitutes American citizenship. In a minimal sense then, it was this access physically to one's rights to access what one could purchase, including housing and schooling, etc. The early argument I was making was that citizenship should now take on a universal attribute and universal basic right that everybody has a guaranteed right to, and then I think people begin to relate to each other in very, very different ways.
A city like Detroit, while it is as it is now, I think in some future point it will be much like Washington, DC, which people used to describe as this problematic, segregated place for poor black people and now is no longer being viewed in that way. It's being viewed as a very gentrified place where only rich people can live and poverty is now suburbanized into some of the suburban communities. So then you see this is a changing thing.
The other thing I think we need to talk about, as we talk about how we integrate and how we deal with segregation, is that while people may be segregated physically, some of them, especially our young, live in a virtual community where while they're separated physically they are virtually together through the Internet, through their accessing certain kinds of mass media across race and culture, and they begin to carry out some of the same attributes and behaviors. And we say why are the kids acting this way?--whether they're black, white, higher income or lower income. So it's a very complex thing.
I believe, as I said earlier, that I think we need to start defining citizenship as having attached to it certain minimal standards for all Americans, and when you do that it is much more difficult to separate people based upon what they have and do not have and the way they look.
CONAN: Carrie, thanks very much.
CARRIE: Thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate it. Let's talk now with John. John's calling us from Kansas City.
JOHN (Caller): Hi. How you doing?
CONAN: Good. Thank you.
JOHN: Good. I wanted to respond to your caller earlier--Kevin from Nashville. I myself grew up in Memphis. I went to a predominantly black high school that was 99.9 percent black--well, maybe two or three teachers there at the school. And that school taught us and it helped us to excel because the teachers there had a genuine feel of who you were and who they wanted you to become and what they saw in you.
Now, to your guest that speaks about the Midwest. I'm in the Midwest now, and racism is more prevalent for me that I notice in the Midwest than I did the entire time I grew up in the South. The neighborhood that I live in--it's only one black family, which is mine, in the neighborhood--a high-end neighborhood. And since we have lived here an entire year, one family has come to speak to us. That's the first week that we moved in last December. The job that I work--it's only two blacks on the job, and I have minimal conversation with people at work. I don't know why I experience that. Maybe it may be my color or maybe I may be unapproachable. But I think that--and what my great-grandfather and grandfather taught it--it takes a village to raise a child. And when we were in our own neighborhoods, you had Miss Catherine, you had Miss Rosemary, you had Mr. Ben Lewis, who ensured that you had those goals, those perspectives and those behaviors where you carried yourself as a dignified person to be treated that way. And our children do not experience that now in the schools that they are in. Why is that? I don't know.
Prof. CASHIN: I would venture to say that the main reason they don't experience it is because--I'm assuming that you're an African-American based on what you said.
JOHN: That's true.
Prof. CASHIN: Black and Latino children tend to be in schools that have high levels of poverty, and the kind of community that you talk about, the pre-civil rights, segregated black community was an economically integrated community where the so-called talented 10th was living right there with regular folk. Black people of all strata were participating in the same institutions, the same schools. And that's not what we have today. And part of the reason why I became such an ardent voice for--Dare I say it?--integration, which is not popular with a lot of black folks lately, is that you can have class integration as well as racial integration. I think we need to be trying to cultivate institutions that are economically mixed and interestingly in gentrifying neighborhoods, there is this possibility for a reconnecting of middle-class blacks with their lower-income brethren. That's happening in some places.
Prof. THORNTON: I grew up and went to one of the apartheid schools in Alabama, and so I'm a little older there, and so I experienced what the young man is talking about in terms of the nurturing and the caring. And as Professor Cashin said, the place where I grew up was in fact economically integrated though originally segregated based upon an apartheid system. The one thing that was necessary in order to tear that system down was fundamental structural changes of the society. It wasn't black people and white people coming to love each other or even wanting to live next to each other. It was a fundamental, constitutional redefinition. Who can vote? Who can join parties? Who can participate on juries, etc.? And so what I'm suggesting is that we're not going to address the kind of absence of integration--'cause we don't have segregation of the type that we had judicially--is that you're going to have to ask the same structural questions of our nation today. Martin King and others who fought and who died, if you will, to structurally change America--we must now have people who will ask the same tough questions.
And I believe those tough questions are how you structurally redefine wealth in America, which to me structurally moves away from people of color and lower-income white people, how you redefine questions of access to health and income and education, and those are structural issues that I think are inherently--result in separation in our society based upon the very structure of our society. It's not going to be any easier now than it was then, and I think if we're looking for people to one day wake up in church or in synagogue or in whatever--in a mosque--on Sunday to say, `We love each other now,' they didn't do it 50 years ago and they're not going to do it now.
Prof. CASHIN: If I could interject very quickly, I agree largely with what Dr. Thornton has said, but I think a serious structural impediment to more equality along lines of race is our inequality of access to safe, decent, affordable housing. And I don't think--you can talk about all of these other issues, but unless we're willing to deal frontally with the revolutionary idea that everybody should have a fighting chance at living in a safe, decent, affordable neighborhood, which means that our neighborhoods have to be more mixed along class lines, I don't think we're going to get to a lot of these other issues Dr. Thornton talks about.
Prof. THORNTON: One of the things that drove--at least it drove me anyway--in terms of pushing the adequate and equitable education concept in my state of Maryland was that to a large extent the real estate is able to find its definition--that is, high-skilled real estate and low-skilled real estate--based upon the allocation of education. If you can allocate low-income children into certain communities you can put low-income housing there. If the state says to real estate people, people who sell and move housing, there's no advantage to your defining real estate in that way because education money both private and public is going to follow the children, that is a large disincentive to segregated, unbalanced housing in our nation. One of the things that we find, because the Supreme Court said many years ago, that wealth in terms of allocating educational opportunity is not a suspect thing, and states can do that, OK? That's one of the worst decisions of the Supreme Court it ever said. If it had said that it is constitutionally suspect to allocate educational opportunities to children based upon race, then some of the real estate interests that my colleague is talking about would have been addressed. Not all, but some of them would have been addressed.
CONAN: John, before we let you go...
CONAN: It can't be easy living in that situation you describe.
JOHN: Well, it's not. And two years ago, Neal, I formed my own non-profit organization, which--I took multicultured and underrepresented children out of the inner city, partnered with two universities to teach young children of color how to fly aircraft. And once I did that, everybody was asking, `What are you doing? Why are you doing that?' And I'm saying, `Why not? Why not give them an opportunity that they didn't have?' And you couldn't believe how much in 50 years--would have been 49 years--disparity and barriers that I faced at that time. And I'd say, `Oh, my God.'
CONAN: John, thanks very much for the call, and good luck to you.
JOHN: Thank you.
CONAN: And, Professor Thornton, we wanted to thank you for your time today, as well.
Prof. THORNTON: Thank you so much.
CONAN: Alvin Thornton, chairman of Howard University's political science department and associate provost there. He was joining us from his office at Howard University.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's bring another voice into the conversation now. Connie Rice is a civil rights attorney in Los Angeles, co-founder and co-director of the Advancement Project. She joins us from her offices in Los Angeles.
Nice to speak with you.
Ms. CONNIE RICE (Civil Rights Attorney): Good to be with you, Neal.
CONAN: Co--how do you define integration, where we are in terms of how we're living now?
Ms. RICE: Well, we aren't integrated, as I think your Professor Cashin and Dr. Thornton established, and I think anybody looking around where they live right now could--would tell you that there are very few places where you can point to integration. There are integrated pockets. We're not an integrated country, and I can't really point to any countries that truly are. So what did we agree to do? We agreed to end desegregation. We agreed to end apartheid, and we agreed to end brutality--the Klan and the brutality of Jim Crow. We did not agree to integrate. We didn't agree to deconstructing and pulling apart the piping and the drywall and all of the engineered infrastructure of what your previous guests have been talking about, which are the sort of--the infrastructure of inequality.
And so you see what we have. We have segregated schools. We have segregated housing. Even when we're integrated, like, for example, out here in Los Angeles, you've got Latinos and African-Americans living side by side, but I wouldn't call it integration. I'd call it a hostile stand-off in a lot of ways. So we are--you have to go area by area.
And also, I think you have to look at what level you're talking about. The physics of interracial and interclass interaction vary depending on the context. If it's a person-to-person, one-on-one, it's just a different set of dynamics. You can ask different questions. You can--you have to establish trust in a different way. All the way up to the national level, where you get a lot of the tribal dynamics coming out, and even people who disagree with their particular group, it's the physics of the group dynamic that take over, and people find themselves taking positions that, were they in a private conversation, they would find completely illogical.
CONAN: Again, that's--that seems to cut across all racial borders.
Ms. RICE: Absolutely.
CONAN: Yeah. We're going to take a short--well, we have a few seconds left. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Chris, Chris calling us from San Francisco.
CHRIS (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I lived in--I'm in an interracial relationship, and I lived in St. Louis about three years ago and eventually chose an inner-city neighborhood that was very integrated. And since then, I have moved to San Francisco and have been really surprised that integration is the last thing that it seems like they want, the powers that be and a lot of the people. Instead, the focus is a lot more on preserving a neighborhood for the group that traditionally lived there. So I'm in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, and it's been mixed results, but there's been a lot of hostility that--for black people and white people who live in this neighborhood because it's not `our' neighborhood.
CONAN: Chris, that's an excellent point. Could I put you on hold? We'll get to it after we come back from the break?
CONAN: All right. Thanks very much. Chris'll be with us; also Sheryll Cashin will be with us, and Connie Rice as well. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is (800) 989-8255. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you have friends of other races? Who comes to dinner parties at your house? Does everybody in your neighborhood look like you?
I'm Neal Conan. Back after the break. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
And here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News. The third and final round of Egypt's legislative elections were marred by violence. Riot police blocked entry to polling stations and clashed with voters. One person was killed. Also, it's been four years after the No Child Left Behind Act went into effect, and in the US, new data show that urban school districts are making little progress in raising test scores. A study by 11 school districts shows no progress in reducing the achievement gap between white and minority students. You can hear details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.
Tomorrow, it's TALK OF THE NATION/"Science Friday," and Ira Flatow will be here to talk about stress. Scientists say that stress can stifle creativity, lower your immune function, even make the flu vaccine less effective. Can stress ever be good for you? That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION/"Science Friday."
Today we're talking about segregation and integration 50 years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, prompting a boycott that sparked a movement. And, by the way, you can hear interviews with the late Rosa Parks on our Web site at npr.org. Our guests are Georgetown University law professor and author Sheryll Cashin and Los Angeles civil rights attorney Connie Rice. And also with us, still on the line, I hope, from San Francisco, Chris. And just before the break, Chris was talking about how in some neighborhoods it seems to be the movement not towards integration, but towards preservation of that community for the community that has historically lived there.
Connie Rice, is that your experience?
Ms. RICE: Yes. You see a lot of that in Los Angeles. San Francisco, of course, is an interesting example. They've put African-Americans on the other side of the bay in Oakland, so you've got complete separation there, and very clearly defined neighborhoods. There are gay neighborhoods, there are Latino neighborhoods, there are Chinese neighborhoods; there are little Japanese enclaves. So it's very clearly defined racial turf. And the dynamic is to preserve it, and it's done through a lot of things: real estate policies, just cultural norms and everybody knows where the boundaries are, and you know which kind of neighborhood you're moving into.
I lived in Potrero Hill, which was one of the few mixed areas that you could see downtown, facing--it's south of downtown San Francisco. So there are a few areas that are integrated, but not many. And I think what the caller is pointing out is that if you are the racially isolated outsider coming into one of the enclaves, they're going to let you know. They're--you're going to see it in body language. You're going to see it in how you're treated in the stores. It's not open hostility, but you know that you're an outsider and you know that you're--there's not a welcome mat. There's almost a `No Trespassing' sign.
CONAN: Hm. Here's an e-mail we got from Giles Beckett(ph). `I was amazed when my 65-year-old neighbor told me she was worried that blacks might be moving into our street. This is a kind and gentle lady who wouldn't dream of missing Mass at her church. She didn't mean to be hostile; she was just reflecting her generation's feeling. Do you think that integration will come about naturally as time moves on?' Sheryll Cashin?
Prof. CASHIN: I don't think it'll come about naturally as long as we have public policies on the books that are premised on the idea of homogeneity rather than inclusion. In my book I talk about this at length. It would not be possible for millions of individuals like this woman exercising their individual preference to create the extremely segregated society we have today. Public policies--seven, eight decades of public policies--created the situation where it seems as if race and class exclusion is natural.
Contrast that to the dawn of the 20th century. If you look at what cities were like at the dawn of the 20th century, race and class inclusion was the natural state of real estate markets. So I want to underscore this: For the frustrated person, there's actually more demand for stable, integrated neighborhoods than there are those neighborhoods to fill that demand. If--for frustrated people out there who would like the possibility of living in a stable, integrated neighborhood with good public schools, I encourage you to find your coalition partners to advocate for more saner policies, like inclusionary zoning. You know, you can mandate that development, as is--Montgomery County's been doing this for 30 years.
CONAN: Montgomery County, Maryland, is where you're talking about.
Prof. CASHIN: Right--suburb of Washington, DC; for 30 years has had on the books a law which says any development above a certain size, a percentage of them--like 12 or 15 percent--have to be for low-income people. So, you know, I encourage people to have the courage of their convictions if this bothers them and, you know, join coalitions for fairer housing policies.
Ms. RICE: And I'd like to add to Professor Cashin's public policy point--we actually engineer the kind of inequality and separation that we've been discussing And what I mean by that is--for example, we talked about Detroit a little earlier. Well, if you take cities like Detroit and Newark, you will see that the actual tax base has been separated. They no longer share a tax base with the suburbs, the ring suburbs, their inner-ring and their outer-ring suburbs. And the inner cities have been cut off and have had their school districts gerrymandered and there's no cross-suburban, urban school districting. You will find that the poverty is extremely intense. It's isolated. Linguistically, folks are isolated. The poverty is more isolated.
And so, simply by drawing a line in a way that separates the urban core from the suburbs, you've actually guaranteed and preordained the kind of hard-core poverty that just--and racial isolation that's very hard to get out of.
Another way that we do it--we talked about Shaker Heights a little earlier. It's funny; I spent 11th grade in Shaker Heights, and it was mentioned as one of the communities that had integrated in the '50s, and it had, but when you got to Shaker Heights High School, what was so funny about it was that you had 3,000 kids, 1,500 black and 1,500 Jewish and other non-black. But, Neal, when my brothers and I--and I'm African-American--went--got there, Shaker Heights was extremely high achieving, and they had five levels of college prep. And when my brothers and I got there, my brothers and I looked at one another and we thought, as every other school that we went to, how quickly would we be put into the lower levels of honors and not at the highest level? Because we were always put in the non-honors, non-college track, even though we had straight A's from every school we'd ever attended.
And we attended a lot of schools because we were Air Force brats, and I had been to--we had moved 21 times in 22 years. So we had a game, and we would time how quickly it would take for the white counselor to put us in the non-college track. And then, of course, my mother would have to come in and we'd be immediately in the AP track, placed there because she demanded it.
But there was also another dynamic going on there. The African-American kids, even 35 years ago, did not--there was a socialization that was anti-intellectual. And my brothers and I were teased and threatened in the bathroom because we were in the AP track with all of the Jewish and white kids. So you had both dynamics. You had the institutional racism of assuming that black kids, even with straight A's from schools in London, England, like my brothers and I had, couldn't do Shaker Heights work and, therefore, should be in the lower level honors. And you also had the cultural dynamic that I think has gotten far more exacerbated. So...
CONAN: That's the so-called `acting white'...
Ms. RICE: Acting white. And even back then, well, you could see the germination of it, the beginnings of it. So I think that what we're seeing today is--the listeners may be a little confused about us talking about this isolation, because culturally and musically and in sports and the younger generations, especially some of the suburban white kids who like to co-opt urban black culture and so forth--they seem to be much more fluid. They're talking to one another and they get online and they're sharing each other's music and so forth and so on. And so, for the younger generations, they wouldn't recognize this conversation. They'd think we've lost our medication.
But what we're talking about about are the macrodynamics, the bigger metadynamics, that do shape the physics and the landscape for most Americans. And we do need--I think that Dr. Thornton talked about this a little bit earlier, as well as Professor Cashin. We need a new vocabulary. We need new ways to frame these issues so that they're not as threatening. Part of the reason we can't get to the bottom of this stuff is that we can't be honest with one another. We don't have the room, the political room and the cultural freedom to really be honest with one another and say what we really think, because we'll be punished. So we need to frame the racial tensions--and it's not just racial; it's very much class. I end up suing more middle-class African-Americans in my cases, representing poor African-Americans, poor whites, poor Latinos, because the inequities fall much more on the fault lines of class and language and immigration status out here in Los Angeles.
So it's extremely complex, and we need a new paradigm, a new way of talking and thinking about it, because the old '60s, the 1950s and the civil rights movement, that helped us end apartheid. It's extremely important. And we need to honor that legacy and Mother Parks, particularly, for her courage, but we need a new paradigm. We need a completely new framework, a new language, a new vocabulary and, as Doctor--as Professor Cashin suggests, a very aggressive social engineering-public policy mind-set so that we can say, `Look, if we value'--and why value it? Why value integration? Why should we have to be integrated? Well, the only real reason to do it is that it guarantees the peace. When you have the kind of universal opportunity that Dr. Thornton was talking about, you don't get the riots, you don't get the inequalities, and you can live out your credo.
Our credos don't mean very much if poor white children, poor black children and poor Latino children and poor Pacific Asian children don't stand a shot. And upward mobility is not a birthright. We can't claim our credo. And if we're going to really achieve America's credo, we have got to do one of several things. We have to get the public policies that we've been talking about. We have to engineer it. It doesn't happen because of market forces. It will not happen if human beings are left up to it, because we go to whom we're comfortable--and we're comfortable with people who look like us. Let's face it. We're basically chimpanzees with nuclear weapons. We've got the same dynamic.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. RICE: Look, we've got the same dynamic of dominance and group identity and family identity. Why try to pretend it isn't there? Instead, confront it, compensate for it, and let's craft the kind of society where every kid really does have a chance to become what their gifts say they should be.
CONAN: Connie Rice, thanks very much for being with us today.
Ms. RICE: Thank you.
CONAN: Connie Rice is co-founder and co-director of the Advancement Project in Los Angeles, Los Angeles civil rights attorney, and she joined us from her office there.
And, Sheryll Cashin, thank you very much for being with us.
Prof. CASHIN: Thank you for having me.
CONAN: Appreciate it.
Sheryll Cashin, author of "The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class are Undermining the American Dream," and a professor at Georgetown University Law School. She was kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.