Brown, Brownback, and Black

First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech in Kansas over the past weekend, and by all press accounts it was a big hit. The press here is every bit as liberal and inclined to fawn over her as it is anywhere else in the country, though, and the speech was delivered in a state capital that is full of government workers with the same liberal and fawning political proclivities as their public sector counterparts elsewhere. We suspect that the more authentic sort of Kansans shared our skepticism about her remarks.
Distaff Obama did not venture here with any hopes of turning our blood-red state blue, but rather to mark the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision that began the end of segregated schooling in America. Being very traditional Republicans from the Bleeding Kansas days we are opposed to any government-enforced segregation in public institutions, so we also celebrate the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, even if we wish it had been made on strict constructionism and radical Republican-inspired 14th Amendment grounds rather than all that silly social science playing-with-dolls nonsense that permeates the decision, but Obama went far beyond that bedrock principle with more up-to-date notions about diversity that warrant questioning. She argued that this year’s high school graduates should instruct their elders on the benefits of ethnic diversity in schools, bemoaned the success of retrograde racists in re-segregating America’s schools, and left an unmistakable inference that her husband’s brand of liberalism is the solution to lingering racial strife, all of which are unmitigated bunk.
“It’s up to all of you to drag my generation’s and your grandparents’ generation along with you,” the First Lady told Topeka’s diversely-educated graduating high school seniors, urging they correct any offensive opinions that their elders might utter. This seems laudable on those occasions when grandpa goes off on some racist rant about keeping the colored folks in their place, even if we’d urge a respectful “‘c’mon, gramps,” rather than a high-minded oration that might result in a slap to the uppity young ‘uns face, but we can’t help wondering how often that comes up in this enlightened day and age. Brown v. Topeka Board of Eduction was handed down 60 years ago, after all, so most of those graduates’ grandparents matriculated during the post-Brown hippie era and enjoyed the same benefits of a multi-cultural education. Our own experience of public school diversity suggests that the main effect is being beaten up and robbed of lunch money by children of all colors, and we still wonder if a school that stressed readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmetic wouldn’t have been preferable no matter the ethnic composition of the student body, but at it least it taught us not to go off on racist rants about keeping the colored folk in their place even in the comfort of a family gathering. Such rants are even more unlikely in Topeka, where much of the population is gainfully employed by some state-funded diversity program or another, so we are not surprised the youth of that city were so eager to accept the invitation to sassiness. These days racism is so broadly defined that any mild criticism of Obama administration policies is included, and permission to rebuke such outrages understandably plays well with Topeka’s youth.
“Many young people are going to school largely with kids who look just like them,” Obama told the graduates, who were left with the impression that her political opponents must be to blame for this unfortunate turn of events. The students and their parents mixed boos with a few cheers when Republican Gov. Sam Brownback was introduced at the speech, as the state’s press gleefully noted, although it’s understandable in a company town where the CEO is doing some necessary downsizing, but Brownback was predictably pro-Brown v. Board in his brief remarks and presides over a state with a far better record of desegregation than such reliably Democratic jurisdictions as New York or California, and such ham-fisted efforts as school busing and the current administration’s insistence on union rule and discipline-by-quota and resistance to quantifiable readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmetic are the most plausible reasons why so many well-heeled Democrats including the Obamas have pulled their children out of the public schools.
That bit about “kids who look just like them” rankled, too. We’re old enough to recall a time when it was considered an egregious breach of racial etiquette to comment on the resemblance between any two black people, no matter how doppelganger-like that similarity might be, but these days even the President of the United States and his First Lady seem proud to assert that peoples of certain color all do indeed look like. As people of pallor we resent implication that we resemble the late Marty Feldman, and we take umbrage on Denzel Washington’s behalf that anyone would think he looks like that guy who played “J.J.” on the old “Good Times” sit-com. It’s the sort of thing that grandparents should chide their grandchildren for suggesting, if that were still socially acceptable.
Worst of all, to our ears, was the unspoken but unmistakable claim that what’s needed is more of the divide-and-consquer identity group politics that is a hallmark of the Obama administration. The government should be color-blind in dispensing its services, as Brown v. Topeka Board of Education asserted, but it should leave the rest of it to the people to work out. It’s a tricky process but we’re doing a better job of here in blood-red Kansas than in the more enlightened states Back East and Out West, and the First Lady’s advice to rag on ol’ hippie grandpa for grousing about Obamacare issn’t helpful.

— Bud Norman

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