Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Race-Neutral Reparations for Massive Resistance


A front-page story in yesterday's Washington Post, "Virginia Scholarships Atoning for Segregation Go to Whites," may be of interest to some readers of this blog. The article reports that Virginia has established scholarships to "compensate those whose education suffered during the era of massive resistance." The administrators of the scholarship program are actively encouraging whites to apply. The article quotes one official:

“Both black and white students lost an opportunity because of the state’s decision, and both deserve this aid,” said Brenda Edwards, who administers the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarships for the Virginia Division of Legislative Services. “White people hear Brown v. Board, and they think they’re not eligible. We’re trying to change that perception. . . . We want more people to get the education they missed out on years ago.”
Racial neutral eligibility for the scholarship program rankles some Virginians, including some African Americans who were shut out of schools in Prince Edward County and other districts where officials closed schools rather than desegregate them. Meanwhile, whites could attend private schools (so-called "segregation academies"), using taxpayer-financed tuition vouchers. Read the Post's coverage of the controversy here.

It's interesting to compare popular discussion of massive resistance to scholarly treatments. Consider, for example, the perspectives on the subject found in the following works: Michael Klarman, From Jim Crow to Civil Rights; Matt Lassiter & Andrew Lewis, eds., The Moderates' Dilemma: Massive Resistance to School Desegregation in Virginia; Neil McMillen, The Citizens' Council: Organized Resistance to the Second Reconstruction; Jason Sokol, There Goes My Every Thing: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights; Anders Walker, The Ghost of Jim Crow; and John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Some of these authors emphasize the actions of the reactionary white power structure. Others focus on white moderates. Still others stress the viewpoints of blacks excluded from public accommodations or segregated in schools on account of race. Most recently, scholars have turned attention to the perspectives of average whites who lacked policy making authority.

Overall, civil rights scholarship has moved toward highlighting multiple actors' perspectives on the era and emphasizing historical contingency. On one view, the idea of race-neutral reparations for massive resistance reflects a more complicated understanding of Jim Crow-era whites, consistent with some recent scholarship. On another view, the policy places white southerners and African Americans--the targets of de jure segregation in schools and presumed beneficiaries of Brown v. Board of Education--on the same moral footing--and distorts history. For purposes of administering the program, however, it appears that a distinction is being drawn between white Southerners as a class and individual white claimants.

This is rich material. Whatever one's view of the underlying substantive issues, the Virginia legislature's policy choice raises questions about how stakeholders shape historical memory. The policy raises other intriguing questions: about how broadly or narrowly to define the harms of massive resistance to segregation and of segregation itself; the political viability of "race neutral" approaches to social justice, including precisely what "race neutral" means; where low-income and relatively politically powerless whites do and should fit into conversations about social justice; and what has been gained and lost by emphasizing ahistorical justifications for legal remedies originally designed to redress racial discrimination, e.g. the diversity rationale for school desegregation and affirmative action. See, for example, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District (2007); Grutter v. Bollinger (2003); Richmond v. Croson (1989).

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