SOMEONE ELSE'S HOUSE
America's Unfinished Struggle for Integration
By Tamar Jacoby
Free Press 614pp $30
In one of the well-crafted stories that make up Tamar Jacoby's misguided book, Barry Gottehrer, New York Mayor John V. Lindsay's white ambassador to black New York, worries about the approaching summer of 1967, hoping to prevent the riots that have rent other American cities. "What were [those riots] about exactly?" wonders Gottehrer. "How much was targeted protest, how much sheer frustration and unappeasable rage?"
Lindsay and his team, writes Jacoby, "fell back on their own conventional political assumptions: deciding that riots...were meant to express specific gripes about ghetto conditions--and that they could be prevented if the city addressed those legitimate demands." Judging the Lindsay administration tragically naive, she says: "It did not occur to [them] that much of the leadership in the ghetto might be beyond reasoning, beyond negotiation or even pragmatic goals."
The tale is emblematic of much of what Jacoby has to say in Someone Else's House. What happened to integration? It was killed by black rage and demagoguery and by white liberal conciliation, says the former New York Times editor, now a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. There's also a policy critique: Jacoby lauds integration but holds that "the old stratagems," such as affirmative action, "have proved bankrupt or worse." It's an increasingly popular analysis. Unfortunately, it gives short shrift to such factors as deindustrialization, and it substitutes finger-pointing for solid policy recommendations.
Jacoby focuses on the complex stories of race politics in three American cities--New York in the 1960s, Detroit in the 1970s, and Atlanta in the 1980s--through the ups and downs (but mostly downs) of their mayors.
In New York, as the author sees things, Lindsay--in office from 1965 to 1973--applies charisma and good intentions to bring City Hall closer to the black ghettos. But when these fail him, he submits to appeasing black nationalist hotheads, alienating the white working class, and delivering city schools to community-control militants.
The tenure of Coleman Young, Detroit's first black mayor (1973-93), was a test of how much difference black leadership can make. Not much, Jacoby concludes, because "whether for political reasons or out of deep-seated personal antagonism, he couldn't seem to help fueling the city's racial hostility." As crime rises, Young promotes black cops, then cuts back on police; as whites flee, he proudly declares Detroit a black metropolis. By the time the Renaissance Center, the city-saving vision of some white businessmen, goes up, it is already doomed: In the first five years, the center bleeds $130 million in operating costs.
Atlanta, to many an exemplar of integration, is for Jacoby a model of the toxicity of affirmative action. When a multimillion-dollar airport project adds butter to the fat economy, Mayor Maynard Jackson (1973-81 and 1989-93) implements a "set-aside" program guaranteeing a share of the construction work to black companies. Aimed at generating work throughout the black community, the program--which still governs Atlanta's public works--enriches a few already wealthy black men, along with whites who illegally procure contracts using black fronts.
Perhaps these mayors were flawed leaders. But their cities faced catastrophes that Jacoby skims past, such as the decline of industry, which devastated both low-paid black workers in New York and high-paid unionized ones in Detroit, and bone-deep federal budget cuts. As for Atlanta's debacle, neither Jackson nor affirmative action can be held to blame for those time-honored roadblocks to black advancement, class privilege and corruption.
Jacoby calls these mayors' solutions wrongheaded and piddling. Lindsay, for instance, threw money at recreation to cool down ghetto youth instead of spending on jobs. The author sometimes implies that solutions going too far on color don't go far enough on cash: Corporations have found affirmative action "cheaper...than massive programs to rebuild the ghetto, wholesale job training or revamping the public schools." Yet she rejects such programs. Instead, she favors the usual scattershot conservative remedies, such as private home loans, which can't address the dire shortage of moderately priced housing, and school vouchers, which sap public schools of talented students and funds.
To help themselves, poor blacks should act more civilly, Jacoby urges. They need "acculturation," she repeats frequently, to the values and behaviors of the "mainstream." As for leadership, she applauds New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose stern law and order policies have won over the "black silent majority," she says. Yet she cites figures showing that only one in three black New Yorkers called his first term a success.
Many experts left and right admit that both affirmative action and the strong economy have contributed to the impressive shift of blacks into the middle class. Still, preferences and prosperity are leaving the poorest--including too many blacks--behind. This fact, and rage about it, can't be chalked up to "hate-whitey" brainwashing. The path to equality won't be blazed by rioters or demagogues. But neither will it be by those who underestimate the legitimacy of their grievances.