Fighting Among the Hedgerows

As a young college student, I accepted implicitly all the goals of the Civil Rights revolution.  I believed firmly that schools should be integrated, even though the nearest thing to integration I had ever experienced was going to school with a part-Ojibwe in Superior, Wisconsin, a lily-white town in which black people were not allowed to reside.  Imagine the comeuppance I received when an intelligent and sincere black radical, with whom I was having lunch, informed me that he really did not need anything from white people and that he thought integration was, to some extent, a delusion.  What makes you think, he asked defiantly, that black children can’t learn, unless they are rubbing elbows with white children?

This black “nationalist” (for want of a better word) did not hate white people, and he was hardly a radical; indeed, he went on to a distinguished career in public life.  But the question he asked never left me.

This is not a question of absolutes.  Under many circumstances, an ethnically integrated school makes a good deal of sense, but there are also times and places where it does not—in Bosnia or Ireland, to cite just two examples, where young people cannot become full members of the tribe if the enemies of the tribe are present during the cultural indoctrination into the secret tribal history, whether of Muslims or Orangemen.  Of course,...

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