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Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Philosophy ... Politics ...

I’m not a big fan these days of modern conservative pundits. I can respect the classic Burkeian conservatives with their emphasis on encouraging human self-reliance, initiative and achievement. Conservatism as a philosophy makes some sense. But it gets quite yucky when it becomes a political orthodoxy.

So when I come across an article by a conservative writer, I generally stop reading after a few sentences. But I recently came across a rather interesting article by Thomas Sowell, one of the few black conservatives out there. I usually avoid his writings too, but he made a good point recently about San Francisco and places like it. San Fran is quite a “liberal progressive” place, and its citizens and politicians continue to express much concern over the historical and continuing unfairness that has been experienced by people of color in America. However, Mr. Sowell makes the point that over the past 40 years, blacks have been moving out of San Francisco; the black population there has been cut in half. Mr. Sowell goes on to say that a lot of liberal ideas intended to help the oppressed and protect the public have backfired and have instead made things worse.

Yes, well. That does happen given human imperfection. But come on, there have also been government policy successes, which Mr. Sowell seems to ignore. The civil rights laws and “Great Society” initiatives of the 1960s did indeed have side-effects, but they also helped senior citizens to live longer and healthier lives (via Medicare), and they did help end the lingering rural poverty that many African Americans were familiar with along with fostering the great expansion of the black middle class in the 80’s and 90’s.

But the point about San Francisco made me think about the town where I was raised, East Rutherford NJ. What do the statistics say about East Rutherford’s “racial diversity” over time? I checked out some US Census web pages, and found out that in 1970 (when I was still in East Rutherford High School), East Rutherford’s population was 97.1% white. Blacks made up most of the balance (2.5%). According to the Census Bureau, there were 212 African Americans in East Rutherford at the time; interestingly, one of them was Leslie Cason, a high school basketball hero who was doomed to a tragic downfall and early death after bombing out in college.

I no longer live in East Rutherford, but wondered if things are different today. Well, yes and no. The black population percentage didn’t change too much; it rose to 4.5% in the 2010 Census (almost doubling, but that added only about another 200 people relative to 1970). Meanwhile, the white population isn’t what it used to be; it has fallen to 73.0%. Much of the gap involved a growing Indian (subcontinental Asian) population. The Hispanic population has also risen, from around 2% in 1970 to 17.5% in 2010.

East Rutherford definitely was never a liberal “progressive” town, but it isn’t a racist either. Today I live in Montclair, which goes out of its way to maintain a progressive, anti-racist cachet. So what do the stats say about Montclair? Well, Montclair comes off much better than San Francisco. It’s white population percentage in 1970 was 72.2% while blacks made up 27.1% of the populace. By 2010, things had changed a bit for the white; they were down to 62.2%. But the black percentage is about the same, 27.2%. Over the years it has fluctuated, reaching a peak of 32.0% in 2000. But no really big changes. As with East Rutherford, Asian and Hispanic families have been replacing some of the whites; Hispanics in Montclair went from about 2% in 1980 to 7.5% in 2010.

A tale of two cities. They have their lives and their histories; they change over time and in some ways stay the same, for many reasons. In the end, it isn’t Montclair’s progressive attitude or East Rutherford’s racial agnosticism that shapes the terrain. And ditto for San Francisco, I suspect. Progressive and conservative politics do matter, as Mr. Sowell and many of my “enlightened” neighbors here in Montclair clearly believe. But in the end, we imagine that our communities and our lives are shaped by our own ideas and ideals much more radically than they really are. We are like canoeists on a rapidly flowing stream. The best we can do is to stay alert and know which way our ships are heading, and then make the little course-adjustments that our little paddles might allow us, to best advantage. And not take all the political hoopla, and our own grand theories and dogmas, so seriously.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:44 pm      

  1. Jim, I certainly agree with you about not being a fan of modern conservative pundits. The latest I saw from Rush Limbaugh made me wonder what could be wrong with the man. I can see one might not express outwardly one’s feelings toward the shooting at Newtown, or maybe even a person may not have too many feelings about it at all if one didn’t have children him/herself. Yet, his boo hoo-ing about it made me wonder if the man has lost his mind. But I digress here, I’m sure.

    It does seem to me that the problem with the conservatives is not all the conservatives but a small group — especially the Tea Party. Seems to me they have almost a problem of paranoia. Now I admit that there are some cases where if one is not paranoid, he/she doesn’t understand the situation. But it also seems to me that in the House of Representatives the Tea Party, if not paranoid, is seriously fearful – and likely a fear brought on by their own thinking.

    As to Mr. Sowell: I find myself wondering if all the moving the Blacks have been doing from cities is a product of the same kind of thing that happened years ago when whites moved out when blacks moved in. Now the blacks are moving out when Hispanics move in; or in San Fran perhaps the blacks moved out when the homosexuals came “out” . . . or so I wonder if that isn’t the case.

    One thing that has struck me over the years is the deep, ingrained prejudice a lot of blacks have when it comes to a lot of things. I once saw a group of black people (this was quite a few years ago) literally pointing fingers and making fun of some Chinese people walking ahead of all of us. I found myself astounded that people, who themselves had lived through so many years of prejudice, could so easily and obviously and publically exhibit prejudice toward a group different from themselves. All I could think of was: If the shoe were on the other foot, man! Would the blacks be yelling “prejudice”.

    Then again (life is never simple) I once had a student say that she was “very suspicious” of places that were “all black”; that is, places where there were no whites. When I inquired of her, she said places that were all black were “always” inferior in quality. She herself wanted to be where white people also were as she wanted the quality.

    I find myself wondering if Mr. Sowell has benefited from the gains many blacks have made over the years; we could even say from the 1960s, to say nothing of from about 150 years ago. Perhaps he himself now finds it easy to be a conservative, having benefited from the gains his people have made in the past 150 years.

    Lastly, I agree with you about taking one’s own hoopla and grand theories and dogmas too seriously. I presume here that you are talking about such groups as the Tea Party, the NRA, etc. I’m even willing to concede that some liberals may take some of their own ideas too seriously – especially when they will not take the time and trouble to see what the other side has to say. And at times nobody is right on some issue. As I’ve said before: I like Republican women –at least a lot of them; I come from a long line of die-hard Republicans and can “feel” the points they make. Yet, having looked at both sides of the issue for a good long time in my life, I almost always (but not 100% of the time) end up on the liberal side. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — January 17, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

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