As I slid into the back seat of the cab, I was more than a little bit perplexed. It took no longer than a slam of the door to learn that I was not alone.
"You're late again," the cabbie said. I apologized.
"Did you read William Raspberry's article the other day (op-ed, Dec. 13)?" he asked. I barely had time to nod my head.
"How can he call you an 'infiltrator'?" he rushed on. "I mean, there's never been any secret about your position on busing. I knew it; Raspberry knew it; heck, we all knew it. Like the president and the attorney general, you're against forced cross-town busing -- and most of us agree with you."
So why did Raspberry come out so strongly against our position in the Norfolk case, I asked. Norfolk had desegregated its school system. Its problem was white flight and a dramatic drop-off in parental involvement due to the cross- town busing order. Did you know that white enrollment in Norfolk fell from a high of 58 percent of the student population to a projected 22 percent by 1987? I added. The school board came up with a neighborhood plan that allowed students to transfer voluntarily to enhance desegregation. It's a good plan; it has court approval. While there may be some additional one-race schools, that seems better than the massive continuing resegregation under forced busing.
The cabbie nodded. "You won't get an argument from me or most people on that," he said. "In fact, I can't figure out why Raspberry came on so strong. He's told me that the Norfolk plan makes good sense for blacks. I save all his columns, you know -- those where he writes about me as well as the others. In at least 10 of them he has said the same thing you have said about forced busing. Do you remember the one he wrote on the Norfolk plan back in July?"
I admitted that I did not. "Well, I am supposed to pick up Raspberry later," he offered, "so I pulled it out this morning." He lifted a crumpled clipping. "Here's what he wrote in July, after pointing out that the Norfolk cross-town busing plan had caused the loss of 'between 6,000 and 8,000 white students who otherwise would have enrolled there.' stopped for a light and he read from Raspberry's July column: "Does it make sense to pursue, in the name of integration, a policy that is demonstrably reducing the proportion of white students and therefore the possibilities of integration?"
Not to me, I interrupted, nor to most parents of Norfolk elementary school children -- both black and white. "Raspberry agrees with you," the cabbie pressed on. "Listen to this." He read again from the July column: " sense to argue . . . that the school system's resources will, under the new plan, be unequally distributed to the disadvantage of blacks, when the superintendent, two of three regional assistant superintendents, 52 of 88 principals and three of seven school board members are black.' Raspberry talking," the cabbie stressed.
The light turned, and we started moving again. I know, I sighed. That's what makes the Dec. 13th column so disturbing. He now suggests that because I dare to ask the same questions in my Norfolk brief and give the same emphatic "No" for a response that he gave in July, I am not only acting against the best interests of blacks, but being "devious" about it in the process.
"I'll have to ask him about that," the cabbie said as we pulled to the curb in front of the Justice Department. "It sure is hard to figure this one out. In his July column, he almost sounds like you. Just listen." As I reached for my wallet, he again read Raspberry's words:
"parate but equal, where children are assigned to schools, however distant from their homes, on the basis of their race. But isn't it time for those black leaders who care about education of black children to stop pursuing policies that enhance neither integration or education.'
I reached across the seat and paid. "Maybe he just forgot about his July column," I said with a smile.
"Well, he sure is talking out of both sides of his mouth," the cabbie answered. I nodded and stepped out of the cab.
The cabbie stuck his head out the window. "If you're an infiltrator," he asked, "what's that make Raspberry?" I don't know, I answered. Why don't you ask him?