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March 31, 2005

Harold Cruse: The Last Organic

Harold Cruse was one of those rare scholars who wrote so much about things nobody ever talks about that you have to stop every 20 pages or so just to absorb it. It has been quite a while since I read 'The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual' and 'Plural But Equal' so it's difficult for me to disaggregate his lessons from my thinking. Very little of it seems to have distinguished itself in my memory as distinctly belonging to Cruse. But there are some distinct ideas.

Cruse was one of those who asserted that the Brown case was improperly decided. Seperate and unequal was certainly a problem, but the problem was not with separate, but with unequal. Cruse argues that the law should have been used to force the equal funding of public schools in black communities, instead what arose in the ethos of integration was a double strike against blacks. Firstly, the very assertion by Brown that black and white kids be integrated degraded the quality of all public schools by generating white flight. Anywhere there were significant numbers of blacks, many whites left the public school system and created new private schools. It has been noted that many private schools around the South were founded in 1954. This not only hurt blacks but damaged the public support for public schools.

Secondly and somewhat more on point with how many black nationalists feel, the thrust of integration undermined black independence. The famous proximity premise, has by all measures pretty much been discredited. Black students don't become better people simply by sitting in the same schools as white students. The 'goodness' of whites doesn't 'rub off'. There are plenty ways to argue around the matter of the proximity premise, but I essentially don't buy it either. Some of the weakest ideas which have become ossified into the conventional thinking are the root of the fallacies surrounding the Diversity industry.

As many of you might guess, I could bust a gut talking about black political dependence on white liberal spew a la Howard Dean. There is a low intensity war between Integrationists and Aggregationists. (Separatists don't stand a chance.) Perhaps Cruse's passing will re-ignite a debate on the merits. As an Old Schooler, I might seem conflicted, but if you understand that I am an elitist than you'll see how I'm for Aggregation for me and those like me, and Integration for the rest of you who can't afford to do any better. I still say bomb the ghetto.

Many folks are acknowledging Cruse's way of seeing integration. The NAACP famously started questioning the wisdom of Brown along Cruse's line of thinking. What's odd about that is that they seem ill-prepared to do anything about it but give blackfolks a reason to complain. The NAACP is not organized to assist in aggregation, but perhaps they only see their job as 'raising the issue', which is fair. I'm not so sure anyone expects anything more.

The question of aggregation is open, and I've seen some efforts going on here in Los Angeles, with regard to the charter school movement. These are mostly done in partnership with other non-whites with conservative lip service support. Charter schools are all experiments as far as I can see and I'm all for school reform (primarily skills-based promotion starting at middle school).

Cruse also speaks of the Blair Bill which, had it been implemented when the idea first arose, the progress of African America would have had a 100 year headstart.

I agree with Cruse with respect to colorblindness. In fact I have spent many years arguing in public debates that colorblindness is the moral equivalent of racism in this country. It was most likely Cruse that got me started on this angle.

It's difficult for me to tell how and where Cruse might be influential, because quite frankly, black public intellectuals are not so ready to engage the public outside of the academy, or specifically here on the web. This is an old complaint of mine and I've worn a groove in my mind repeating it, even though it's not as true as I'd like it to be. But I think I've internalized enough of his ideas about pluralism and equality to be an adequate representative outside of the professoriate. I trust my man Spence's judgement that I have been properly informed. If I had the time, I'd certainly reread him, and I'll probably do some skimming this weekend. I'm also going to take the opportunity to see where his name pops up in the 'sphere. Watch this spot for updates.

I think that the most important thing to understand about Cruse is that he regrets the amount of dependence blacks have assumed on the general fairness of society based upon the political alliances between the Negro leadership and white liberal race politics. It has resulted in laws and ideas that have suppressed the vigor of black independence. I agree with him there. Clearly I am interpreting him through an appreciative and conservative lens but I think when we get to the heart of arguments like matters of pluralism vs assimilation or what is meant when people talk about 'equality', Cruse's thought on the matter will be salient.

Cruse is exceptional because he writes books that don't read like academic treatises, but deliver scholarship nonetheless. He's a comfort-busting individual thinker worthy of emulation and much respect. Ahh, I guess I can't just put him into the past tense so easily can I. None of us should.

Posted by mbowen at March 31, 2005 10:42 AM

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Very nice tribute..

Posted by: cynthia at April 15, 2005 08:48 PM