Georgetown law professor Sheryll Castin isn't afraid to call gang violence an alternative norm.
Georgetown law professor Sheryll Castin isn’t afraid to call gang violence an alternative norm.

Last Tuesday, five years after the Supreme Court struck down programs in Seattle and Louisville that used race to assign students to schools, Talk of the Nation broadcast a segment focusing on forced integration. For this segment, host Neal Conan interviewed a Georgetown law professor and a UC-Berkeley public policy professor. The motion was made and carried that poor children are more likely to succeed if they’re educated in communities more affluent than their own. It was agreed also that integration has by and large failed to find a way to innoculate schools against the explosive effects of dropping angry black or Hispanic kids into a box with self-satisfied white kids.

Neither Conan nor his guests could bring themselves to say exactly that, though. Here’s the closest any of them came, this from law professor Sheryll Cashin:  You take any kid that comes from a high-poverty culture, and I don’t care if it’s a kid in Western – you know, in Appalachia or a kid in an inner-city ghetto, there tend to be alternative norms that are not mainstream norms, some of which are necessary to personal survival but don’t – are completely antithetical to middle-class values.

Alternative norms? Middle-class values?

So let’s see … popping a cap in somebody’s ass, for example … that would be … let me get this straight … an alternative norm? Not a bad thing necessarily, rather one of many “alternative ways of being,” as Cashin put it earlier in the interview. That would be the same Cashin who said not once, not twice, but three times that she was “not afraid” … as in not afraid “to be honest about alternative ways of being” and about the “grain of truth to every stereotype.” But went on to say virtually nothing.

This seems to be how the conversation goes everywhere. Or goes nowhere. Nor will it. Not until we permit ourselves to call a spade a shovel.