Sunday, March 04, 2007


It is not enough that they let us do all the firghting, now they want to indict us for it.

An Italian prosecutor has decided that CIA officers should be indicted for kidnapping for removing an Egyptian from Italy to his native country. That the Italian police had had him under survaliance for several years and cooperated with the Americans is irrelevant.

Why indict? Isn't exposing their names enough to get them killed? Isn't it enough that the open trial of the Italian officers will supply Al Qaeda with all it needs to know about evading detecton in the future?

And where is liberal outrage at the exposing of CIA officers' identities? Real CIA officers, not 40 something mothers of twins that work in the basement of Langley, but CIA officers working undercover in hostile territory?

For that is what Europe has become--hostile territory. How long will it be before we realize that the men fighting the war on terrorism have more to fear from our "allies" than our enemies?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Mississippi and Race

A Small, Good Thing

I remember when I first told people back in Chicago that I was moving to Mississippi. The first thing they would always say is, “You mean, those racists?”

I was a bit worried myself. That is why it was so striking to me how little tension I felt when I finally arrived. Coming from Hyde Park on the South side of Chicago, I was used to people finding things to get mad about as if on purpose. I remember often a simple encounter with the store clerk would become the occasion of a miniature racial incident. “You threw that money down on the counter,” “No I didn’t….”

That is why it was such a pleasant surprise coming here. Dealing with black people had none of the tension I was used to from Chicago.

It struck me that the town I grew up in, Dayton, Ohio, was almost 40% black, and yet I almost never talked to a black person up through high school. The few times I met a black person were at those “meet black people” events, where everyone acts how they think they should act.

I recall when I was about 8 or 9 we had this special integrated summer camp that my progressive parents sent me to. The only thing I remember was the first football game we had, the white kids against the black kids. We were slaughtered. From then on we became firmly committed to integration, especially in contact sports.

But beyond that it was a few odd clerks here and there; that was my entire experience with black people growing up. They had their side of the river, we had ours.

I suppose that is the first thing that is different here. Whatever sad history we have here, we at least have contact. However people stand on principle, in practice Mississippians of both races live their lives together.

In college back in Ohio we practically imposed segregation on ourselves. There were all these ethnicity specific clubs—the Asian American or Latino American and of course the African American student associations.

Later on at grad school it was the same thing but even more fine grained: the Chinese-American or the Gay students or the LGBT. And what was so odd was that all this impulse toward separation was strongest in the place where it was least needed. Young people who had gone their whole lives in the conservative mid-West without needing a support group, suddenly, on arriving at the most liberal 3 acres in the universe—a graduate program at a North American research university—suddenly needed a segregated club to feel secure. The first thing they are asked when enrolling was which ethnic grievance group did they want to join? Here was finally a group of people that, left to their own devices, would be the best able to overcome segregation, and they were re-imposing it on themselves. Sometimes it was like those pictures you see of the old South, with colored and white sections marked off as clearly as if there were a line painted on the floor.

I thought about this the other day when the faculty got another email with another article about racial sensitivity.

I never know what I am supposed to do after I get these things. Has there been a complaint? Has some student of color come forward to complain that he hasn’t been treated with the same sarcastic condescension I show to the white students?

Then, the next day, I had a class meet for the first time: all the black students were sitting on one side of the room and all the white students—considerably more numerous—were sitting on the other.

I find this intensely sad. I have been reading about Mississippi in the 1960s over MLK week. Compared with those times, what feelings of racial animosity we have today seem so trivial. I see the students of this generation almost there. It feels like students here in Mississippi could lead the nation instead of follow.

There is a lot of serious thought given to what we can do to bring about a truly color blind society. But I think many of the practical proposals we hear these days take us in the wrong direction. Proposals like having a separate black students association or having more “diversity” focused events are at best beside the point and at worse compound the malady they aim to cure.

Such approaches assume that what is needed is some dramatic change of heart, when perhaps all that is needed are a few new habits. We think that if there is a high degree of racial segregation in some activity or setting, there must be a high degree of racial animosity behind it. That does not have to be the case.

The economist Thomas Schelling demonstrated that only a slight preference for being with people of the same race—say wanting at least 40% of your immediate neighbors to be the same race as you—can lead to almost complete segregation in practice. The first person coming into a room sits next to someone the same color as himself and without anyone intending it, the room becomes almost perfectly split along color lines.

We don’t need more special “think about diversity” days. We had plenty of those back in Dayton and fat lot of good it did. What we need is more interaction where race is not the main topic of the meeting. The hard part—the heroic part—of the work has been done. What is needed now is the work that ordinary people can do, that only ordinary people can do.

Mississippi is a place where black and white people can actually do things together without it being forced, without faking it or putting on a new personality.

A small, good thing would be to use the time we have in our classrooms, not to discuss race more but to live race less. Just as it takes so little in the way of inclination to segregate a room, it takes little in the way of effort to integrate one. The next time you are deciding where to sit, instead of sitting next to a person from your Fraternity or Sorority or team, sit next to someone that you don’t know, someone who is a different color from you. Considering what we have paid to get to this point, it is a small price, and well worth paying.