IT CAME A SHOCK to some people last week when the U.S. Civil Rights Commission charged that eight restrictive riders attached to appropriations bills now before Congress would undermine civil rights gains of the past 20 years. President Carter has pledged to eliminate the riders, and civil rights strategists are garnering their limited resources to do battle in the remaining weeks of this year's Congress.
Yet there's a consideration about one of the riders which the strategists should note carefully. It's the rider that would further limit government efforts to achieve school integration by not only cutting off funds to school systems that refuse to bus, but also barring the Justice department from seeking court-approved busing plans.
What the strategists ought to remember is that over the past few years there has been a change in the mind-set of some blacks about the wisdom of efficacy of busing there is no longer a consensus that busing is best.
With the exception of Prince George's County, busing is generally a moot issue in the Washington area. But the fact is that is other cities, the violent politics of busing has forced some black parents to reexamine whether their children, ispso facto, learn better in a white environment as the Supreme Court was convinced in 1954.
This is not a new issue, but the upcoming fight against the civil rights riders lets us look at the busing issue anew and realize that it has changed and is more complicated now.
The shrinking financial pot for public education seems most often to put the greatest resources into white schools, thereby making busing attractive for many black parents. Ideally, it would be wonderful if we could all learn to live together, respecting both cultural pluralism and assimilation for those so inclined. But the reality of school into two antagonistic camps as white Americans have responded to desegregated education by fleeing the cities.
So whether we admit it or not, in the neighborhoods of America, white and non-white, there is taking place a reappraisal of some aspects of school busing for desegregation. and while we identify the villain as conservatives in Congress, it's a safe bet that these guys are not going contrary to the sympathies of their constituents.
Facing this reality, some cities have taken a different course. In atlanta, for example, the black leadership traded integration for power when it accepted a plan for minimal classroom desegregation. Instead of busing 30,000 students as the original plan called for, Atlanta chose to bus only 3,000. The local NAACP extracted promises from the school board that blacks would get nine out of 17 key executive positions in the system, including superintendent and assistant superintendent. It was a break from official NAACP policy of maximum integration, but Atlanta opted to negotiate on the basis of real power rather than the illusion of power.
So perhaps now is the time to look at this problem in the light of today's reality. Barring court action is so blatant a tactic that civil rights strategists may decide that now is not the time for a total reappraisal of busing. But they must gauge what the effect will be in a decade or two hence. It is a potentially dangerous course. If the busing rider is passed in its current form, will it drive us even further apart than the large scale desegregation efforts of recent years? How can we reappraise some aspects of busing without turning back the clock? With the reality of many all-black urban school systems, how do we move toward quality that would prepare today's children for meaningful jobs instead of the present epidemic unemployment?
Without a doubt, the forces of reaction are at work in the eight restrictive riders that are threatening civil rights progress of the past. But blacks cannot afford to let reactionary forces dictate their course they must look at situations independently and come up with strategies to suit the realities of today and a vision of freedom for tomorrow.
Reappraising this issue does complicate a difficult task for the strategists in a dangerous political atmosphere, for the threats against civil rights are powerful and well organized. Yet failing to reexamine tenets that were accepted as conventional wisdom in earlier times would amount to knee-jerk reaction to reactionaries, and that is a move in the wrong direction.