Letter to Professor Fels: Maintaining an Integrationist Vision

Written by Foghorn Staff 

Neema Jyothiprakash

Eric Schroer

Professor Anthony Fels, in his Foghorn opinion piece “Letter: Be Proud of Being Colorblind” argues that pride, rather than white guilt, should be the basis for relationships in a racially integrated world. We respond that being proud of one’s accomplishments and being proud of the civil rights movements’ accomplishments are not enough to forge the path to racial justice. We agree that a “common effort by all to remove the economic and educational impediments to equal opportunity” is necessary. We would add that along with an integrationist vision, we need an awareness of how America’s racial past continues today. If we don’t take time to understand the particular racial realities of this present moment, but assume “the racial divides of America’s past are no longer powerful,” we commit a grave injustice because structural oppression goes unnoticed.

For example, legal punishment for crack is 100 times worse than it is for its powder form, cocaine. 93% of those punished for crack are black, while those punished for cocaine are predominantly white. Unconscious racism, such as the internalized fear of young black men, informs legal discrimination, and appears at a heightened rate in the War on Drugs (Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”).

In education, a color-blind attitude leads to a dangerous ethics of individualism and choice, where disparities are seen as character faults of the individual, not as embedded in racist institutions. 43% of Latinos and 38% of blacks attend “intensely segregated schools,” where only 10% of their peers are white (U.S. Department of Education). In a survey about school desegregation, 44% of respondents said they regarded blacks as lazy and 63% of those respondents did not favor welfare reforms, part of which would include school desegregation. (Colorblind Justice and Desegregation). To impose the myth of equal opportunity leads to the unwillingness to desegregate schools, which results in a lack of equal educational quality across racial lines — an injustice which was supposed to have been resolved in Brown v. Board and the civil rights era.

A color-blind attitude neglects implicit biases, where individual agents concretely and significantly reinforce structural racism. A U.S. federal housing audit revealed that “Black and Hispanic renters and homebuyers experience discrimination in most if not all aspects of their interactions with real estate agents” (Housing Policy in The United States), and that this discrimination occurs at numerous levels of the house-buying process, and can result in serious consequences, such as lower property values and lower quality schools.

Fels argues that “what does divide people” is wealth. He does not see wealth disparities as racialized, which is why he asserts that “racial advantages in themselves are practically nonexistent,” and that “racism is practically dead.” The historical legacy of race relations in the U.S. mediated wealth disparity through slavery and Jim Crow laws. Wealth disparities along racial lines exist without explicitly racist institutions because structural racism does not require individual agents to perpetuate racism, but is entrenched in societal institutions.

Color-blinders narrow our scope to overt racism but neglects systematic racism that continues today. Acknowledging race as an active and meaningful category means we can be more receptive to conversations on race and equality.



6 thoughts on “Letter to Professor Fels: Maintaining an Integrationist Vision

  1. It is a very sad day when someone as humble and as well-versed as Professor Fels feels compelled enough to speak out over this issue, only to generate a response as pithy as this.

    It is us, the students, that should be attending these events on our own accord, and not baited or forced. As I can say from experience, the easiest thing to do as an undergraduate is let the administration’s agenda continue unchallenged, despite that we may disagree with or remain passively resistant toward their methodology. It is our university, we pay the tuition, and we shall be the ones who ultimately have the say as to how we are represented. It is time for the undergraduates to start paying attention to who is steering the boat and where it is going, so that they may not be sour about where they have arrived after four years.

  2. “Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more importance than the color of his eyes…there’s war”
    – Bob Marley

    I think he knew more about racism than you or Tim Wise

    PS: nice royal “We…”

  3. “No matta what color you…yellow, black, pink, orange, purple, maroon…one race bra, the human”

    – Isreal Kamakawiwo’ole (R.I.P)

  4. This is the most illogical excuse for a rebuttal I’ve read in a long time…grow up. Professor Fels is a wonderfully intelligent academic, and his article is spot on.

  5. Who ever wrote this article needs to read Prof. Fels’ argument again. Tim Wise has clearly brainwashed you with his charismatic and aggressive speech that was eloquently full of crap. If he had been talking in more of a boring monotone, you’d realize how bad his arguments are – both morally and logically. Tim Wise is propagating and reviving racism, resentment, and hate with excellent oration skills – reminds me of a little someone who leaded the National Socialist German Worker’s Party.
    Intellectual Noam Chompsky says that he (Noam) is a boring speaker, and he likes it that way because people are interested in the issues and he does not want them to be swayed by superficial eloquence and emotion. Tim Wise takes the opposite approach.


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