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The Imperative of Integration

reviewed by Kenneth R. Howe - April 11, 2011

coverTitle: The Imperative of Integration
Author(s): Elizabeth Anderson
Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton
ISBN: 0691139814, Pages: 264, Year: 2010
Search for book at Amazon.com

The ideal of integration thrived for a short period after Brown v. Board of Education, but the Supreme Court has virtually suspended enforcement of Brown and has recently obstructed school districts from engaging in even voluntary desegregation. Overlapping these developments, “American multiculturalism” emerged, which both appeases conservatives and unites black nationalists with leftists in the hope that racial equality can be achieved alongside of marked racial segregation. “This hope,” argues Elizabeth Anderson, “is an illusion” (p. 2). In The Imperative of Integration she sets out to “resurrect the ideal of integration from the grave of the Civil Rights Movement” (p. 1).

This is a closely argued book with a very complex conceptual geography. As a work in non-ideal theory, it relies more heavily on empirical knowledge from social science and history than is typically the case with political philosophy. This short review captures only very general themes, and only some of them.

How Segregation Causes Racial Inequality  

Anderson first develops a causal model linking segregation to racial injustice. Two concepts are fundamental: “categorical inequality” and “social closure” (p. 7). Categorical inequalities refer to binary social groups such as black/white. Through various means of maintaining social closure, in-groups exercise dominance over out-groups. In general, “segregation—social closure—is the linchpin of categorical inequality” (p. 16).

Segregation causes categorical (racial) inequality by causing material inequality via three kinds of causal mechanisms: spatial, capital-mediated, and state-mediated. Spatial separation causes material inequality by diminishing access to employment, to retail and commercial services, to health-related goods and professional services, and to good schools. Capital-mediated causes of material inequality include financial, social, human, and cultural. Residents of segregated black neighborhoods experience reduced financial capital due particularly to low property values combined with high tax rates. They have reduced social capital because the “bridging” that ties individuals within segregated black neighborhoods to white social networks, a critical source of employment, is diminished. Human capital is intertwined with social capital, which is affected by processes and conditions of segregation, in this case, via access to human capital that social capital affords. Finally, state-mediated causes of inequality include diminished access to public services; and exposure to crime, decay, and police underenforcement.  

White people make sense of different group identities associated with material inequality—e.g. in dress, dialect, and mannerisms—by constructing stereotypes of blacks as on welfare, uneducated, and idle, among other things. This stereotyping is rooted in “attribution bias,” the tendency to attribute behavior to internal rather than external causes. To Anderson, this is the “core” link between segregation and group stigmatization: “the attribution of negative stereotypes to dishonorable traits, which rationalize antipathy toward the group” (p. 46).   

Anderson identifies additional cognitive biases that attach to spatial segregation (e.g., in-group favoritism and shared reality bias) versus role segregation (e.g., illusory correlation bias (overemphasizing relatively unusual events) and stereotype incumbency bias (identifying characteristics of effective job-holders with that status quo ante)). As conscious and avowed racism have faded, these more subtle and unconscious forms of bias have become the vehicle of continued racial stigmatization.  

Racial stigma is an “expressive harm,” according to Anderson, such that it has a public character that affects relationships between blacks and whites even among individuals who reject the stigma. Although in different ways than material or psychic harms, expressive harms injure blacks by placing them under a general cloud of suspicion, damaging their reputation, and introducing ill ease into interactions between blacks and whites. The effects of stigmatization are not confined to whites; the stereotypes on which it is based are self-confirming in several ways. Black students stigmatized as low-achievers may disidentify with academic demands and reinforce the stereotype. In a twist, they may also produce lower performance as a result of the anxiety produced by stereotype threat.  

Anderson links several kinds of unjust discrimination to stigmatization. Prejudicial discrimination is conscious discrimination based on racial antipathy. Anxious discrimination is associated with stereotype threat experienced by whites (that they will be seen as racist). Statistical discrimination is using baseline frequencies. Evaluative discrimination is attribution bias. The normative complaint and the nature of the remedy vary according to the mechanism. For instance, prejudicial discrimination exemplifies “naked racism,” whereas evaluative discrimination is unconscious. And so on. Patterns of racial inequality are not per se unjust. A policy is unjust if it is coded black. For instance, support has increased for capital punishment and decreased for welfare payments as these policies have been coded black. And the policies themselves have changed as a consequence.  

Anderson challenges the idea that discrimination is the principal cause of racial inequality. This is the “standard [causal] model” such that in the absence of overt discrimination, the attributes of blacks are seen as the cause of racial inequality. As with stigmatization, Anderson contends that segregation is a more central cause of racial inequality than is discrimination. Her causal model is basically this: segregation causes material inequality and racial stigmatization, which, in turn, underlies the various types of discrimination. The various elements of material inequality, stigmatization, and discrimination loop back, as it were, reinforcing one another, as well as segregation.

The Imperative of Integration

Anderson contends that racial inequality in the U.S. is the “legacy of state-sponsored anti-black racial discrimination,” which warrants a “powerful claim on the part of those disadvantaged by these processes for their results to be undone” (p. 69). To buttress this assessment, she criticizes three alternative causal explanations of racial inequality that deny it is unjust.

The first is that it is “morally innocent.” Although once marked by antipathy and conscious intent, today, racial inequality is associated with ethnocentrism (in-group affiliation versus out-group antipathy). Anderson rejects this hypothesis on the grounds that the empirical evidence indicates first, that blacks engage in residential self-segregation primarily to avoid white antipathy, and second, whites integrate with other racial groups (e.g., Asians) at significantly higher rates. Anderson also rejects the claim that discrimination is morally innocent where it is born of unconscious stereotyping and, thus, not “racist.” For “it is injustice born of negligence. We are morally responsible for insuring that our racial stereotypes do not lead to unfair evaluations and treatments of others” (p. 74).

The second explanation of racial inequality as morally innocent deploys the “folk anthropological” framework, where culture is a “sui generis, autonomous product of a distinctive, self-contained community” (p. 76). Responsibility for dysfunctional cultural norms and associated behaviors rests with the culture itself. Anderson does not deny that underclass blacks are “attributively responsible” for their behavior (p. 76). But this does not settle the question of the morally appropriate response. For, in addition to attributive responsibility, which is associated with individual mental states and conduct, there is also “substantive responsibility,” which is associated with more complex mechanisms that are not under the direct control of individual agents. Anderson’s causal model of these mechanisms exemplifies an “economic framework,” in which culture is dynamic, reflecting “peoples’ adaptations to their environments” (p. 76). The dysfunctional cultural norms of underclass blacks are largely the result of segregation and are, thus, something for which society is substantively responsible and morally obligated to address.

This obligation applies with special force to a democratic society. Anderson contends that the importance of racial integration to democracy may be seen in terms of its relation to three central democratic themes: collective inquiry, accountability, and equality (p. 95). Collective inquiry has three elements: diversity, communication, and feedback. Diversity of viewpoints is required to reflect the diversity of social positions regarding policies, which, in turn, flow into a network of communication. Communication is not limited to polite, orderly exchanges. As in the case of the 1963 Birmingham boycotts and demonstrations, communication may need to be loud, dramatic, and disruptive to be heard. Though also, as in Birmingham, it ultimately must lead to negotiation in order to be effective. Finally, because policies typically need to be tested and revised and new problems continually arise, the process of inquiry must be responsive to feedback mechanisms, such as periodic elections and the press.

Democracy requires the accountability of authority to citizens. And again, as in Birmingham, “there is nothing like direct confrontation between claimants and the addressees of the claims to make the addressees feel the force of accountability” (p. 102). Thus, where elites “are segregated from other groups, they effectively escape accountability for the impact of their decisions on those groups” (p. 102).

Anderson construes equality in terms of social relationships rather than with what she sees to be the more prominent view, the distribution of goods. The African American struggle for equality was much less about the distribution of goods than about the forms of “command relation,” which progressed from “slavery, to caste, to (under) class, to an ongoing quest for full equality” (p. 103). For Anderson, “social inequality and lack of freedom are one and the same thing…the quest for freedom is the quest for a mode of relating to others in which no one is dominated…” (p. 103).  

Integration Policy

Gordon Allport’s “contact hypothesis” plays a significant role in Anderson’s analysis of how integration works to achieve such a mode of relating. She argues that empirical findings square with what the contact hypothesis predicts: whereas segregation (lack of contact) causes stereotyping, attribution errors, out-group antipathy, stigmatization, and so on, integration (contact) should reverse these effects. And the reversal is expected in formal contexts where it is indeed found (e.g., workplaces, labor unions, the U.S. Army, police forces, and juries) because institutional authority and roles require a kind of contact not required in informal contexts (e.g., shopping malls and parks). School desegregation provides an apparent counter-example. But integration policy that permits schools to segregate children within schools via tracking, special education, and the like, does not result in a condition of integration. The contact hypothesis requires institutional support. When schools create the condition of integration, blacks are more likely to graduate, less likely to go to prison, have higher career aspirations, and are more likely to lead integrated lives after graduation than blacks who attend segregated schools. They earn higher grades in majority-white colleges and, as graduates, earn higher wages than graduates of historically black colleges.

Exemplifying her general thesis, Anderson holds that affirmative action is best anchored in an “integrative model.” Specific problems apply to alternative models—“compensatory,” “discrimination-blocking,” and “[intellectual] diversity”—but, as a whole, they either fail to be sufficiently forward looking to promote racial justice except in a reactive way (compensatory and discrimination-blocking models), or they can provide no justification for more heavily weighting race than other qualifications (the discrimination-blocking and diversity models).

The integrative model’s point of departure is Anderson’s central claim that segregation is a primary cause of racial injustice. Contact helps to eliminate racial stigmatization, and the inclusion of significant numbers of previously excluded blacks contributes to greater accountability on the part of those in authority. In selecting individuals via affirmative action, the relevant criterion is not who is the most disadvantaged (as the logic of compensation suggests), but who is best able to perform in integrated institutions so as to further integration’s goal of promoting racial justice, including developing “agents of justice” who serve as sources of social capital and provide other benefits to their communities. The integrative model justifies creating a “critical mass” of blacks in an organization via affirmative action because a threshold number is required to overcome tokenism and to ensure that integration works to eliminate these sources of injustice. Because it is forward looking rather than merely reactive to current conditions, the integrative model justifies weighting race more heavily than is permitted by principles such as tie breaking, and it promises to address the root causes of racial injustice.

The alternative to race-conscious policy is colorblind policy. Anderson entertains two justifications to prefer it. The first is that race-conscious is morally wrong in principle. Anderson responds by distinguishing various conceptions of race. Most rudimentary is minimal race, based on bodily differences, shared ancestors, and common geographical origin. Adding normative character traits such as industriousness, laziness, and other traits, yields character race; and accounting for normative character traits in terms of genetics yields biological race. Discrimination based on minimal race is unjust because of its arbitrary connection to normative characteristics. Discrimination based on character and biological race are unjust because they are unfounded ways of eliminating the arbitrariness of minimal race. But the concept of race that is germane to affirmative action does not invoke these conceptions of race but their representations, which produce racialized groups as objects of stigmatization and discrimination. The integrative model of affirmative action is a response to the unjust consequences of these representations fostered by these other conceptions of race.

A second justification for colorblind policy is that it has better consequences. This also falters, according to Anderson. In educational institutions, affirmative action is charged with decreasing motivation and academic performance, harming both the institution and the intended beneficiaries of the policy. Anderson replies that assuming these consequences, the depression of overall academic performance is acceptable in order to avoid producing a democratically “incompetent elite.” Furthermore, it is quite plausible that the feelings of loneliness and alienation associated with tokenism will do more to reduce the motivation and performance of blacks than race-based affirmative action. A second consequentialist charge is that blacks are harmed by the “mismatch” between their capabilities and the standards of elite institutions when admitted via race-based affirmative action. The evidence indicates otherwise, according to Anderson. A third consequentialist charge is that race-based affirmative action is racially divisive. Anderson responds that, over the short run, white resentment always attends advances in black equality; but white resentment has no normative force because it is unjustified.

Critical Observations

Even fellow travelers often have reservations. I have two. First, Derrick Bell’s criticisms of Brown v. Board and the promise of integration are nowhere addressed. Bell’s position seems especially important for Anderson to address given the central place she assigns to Brown and the apparent tension between her normative framework and Bell’s “interest convergence” framework. Bell also has the non-ideal perspective that goes with laboring in the integrationist legal trenches. Second, Nancy Fraser’s work on justice as distribution versus justice as recognition is also nowhere addressed, and it, too, seems especially germane. On one hand, Anderson characterizes contemporary political theory as focusing on distribution to the exclusion of recognition (non domination). But that changed several decades ago, and Fraser is an important figure in questioning the priority of distribution. In general, the recent trend toward deliberative democracy undermines Anderson’s characterization. On the other hand, Anderson’s causal model of racial injustice includes material inequality (unjust distribution) as an important element. In this regard, Anderson, like Fraser, combines both distribution and recognition in her conception of justice.

These are but lacunas. Elizabeth Anderson has written what should become a seminal book. Anyone interested in a fresh look at the requirements of racial justice should study it carefully.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 11, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16381, Date Accessed: 1/26/2022 11:54:45 AM

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About the Author
  • Kenneth Howe
    University of Colorado at Boulder
    E-mail Author
    KENNETH R. HOWE is professor in the School of Education, University of Colorado at Boulder. He has published some 70 articles and chapters on a variety of topics, ranging from the quantitative/qualitative debate to a philosophical examination of constructivism to a defense of multicultural education. He has published four books: The Ethics of Special Education (with Ofelia Miramontes), Understanding Equal Educational Opportunity: Social Justice, Democracy and Schooling, Values in Evaluation and Social Research (with Ernest House), and Closing Methodological Divides: Toward Democratic Educational Research. His recent research has focused on education policy analysis, particularly school choice and the controversies surrounding the nature of scientific research in education. His recent publications include "Educational equality in the shadow of the Reagan era" and "Positivist dogmas, rhetoric, and the education science question." Professor Howe currently teaches courses in education ethics, philosophical issues in educational research, and education policy.
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