- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Racial equality: Is the road to this goal to be color-blind or color-conscious? That's the daring theme of "Beyond the Color Line," this remarkable and courageous two-publishers book with sharp views by 26 contributors including Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell and Linda Chavez. The editors are senior fellows at the Manhattan Institute, with Abigail Thernstrom a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Education and her husband Stephan Thernstrom a Harvard historian. Together they wrote a pioneering book in 1997, "America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible."
Indivisible? That's the question. Well, as Al Smith used to say, let's look at the record. "Two societies, one black, one white separate and unequal," declared President Lyndon Johnson's Kerner Commission Report in 1968 after race riots during the Vietnam War. But back then blacks had a lot less schooling, steeper high-school dropout rates, more solidly black neighborhoods, poorer jobs, and less higher education and progress in the professions. All these trends have since been reversed, if more ought to be done.
But how? The editors and authors hardly seem ready to buy a kind of Kerner Commission follow-up report, that of the Franklin Commission appointed by former President Bill Clinton and headed by John Hope Franklin. The Franklin Report appears to warm over the Kerner Report and claim that minorities yet face an oppressive "system of racial hierarchy" and that America still abounds with "racial stereotypes" and "racist concepts." Mr. Franklin endorses the case for black "reparations."
Worse, this line of thinking seems to come up with a somewhat Orwellian firm civil rights orthodoxy that national color-consciousness has to be heightened, that minorities have to be treated differently, with hiring quotas for employers or lower minority admission standards for colleges, so as to achieve racial "equality." But is such treatment true equality or but another kind of discrimination this time a state-imposed bias under the heading of "affirmative action" via a federal watchdog Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)?
Mr. Sowell, of the Hoover Institution, says that noncompulsory treatment of intergroup differences, so upsetting to liberals, have been the rule, not the exception, in history and in countries around the world. He notes, for example, that U.S. beer producers and piano manufacturers were mostly founded by those of German ancestry. How unfair. And what of sports? As he writes:
"Today, one need only turn on a television set and watch a professional basketball game to see that the races are not evenly or randomly represented in this sport and are not in proportion to their representation in the general population of the United States. Racially, the teams do not 'look like America.' "
Contributor Michael Barone, a U.S. News & World Report columnist, also takes heart from noncompulsory solutions of racial and ethnic bias. He notes how his Irish-American grandmother reminded him of "No Irish Need Apply" signs that were displayed at employment offices in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, which explained her support of the interventionist Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the 1960 presidential election, 78 percent of Catholics voted for John F. Kennedy, while 63 percent of white Protestants voted for Richard Nixon. But today, Mr. Barone writes, "Irish Catholics vote pretty much like the electorate as a whole."
Contributor Ward Connerly, a member of the University of California Board of Regents, takes heart from the board's action in 1995 in repealing race, gender, color, ethnicity and national origin as factors in the admissions, contracting and employment actions of the university. He takes more heart from California's similar Proposition 209 which Californians approved in 1996, and from an identical initiative in Washington State, approved in 1998 despite opposition from Boeing, Weyerhauser, Microsoft, the Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, and four visits from Vice President Al Gore.
Mr. Connerly sees affirmative action as bestowing on America "one hell of a mess." Agreed. He too longs for the day when Martin Luther King Jr.'s four little children will live in a nation where, in King's words in 1963, "they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

William H. Peterson, a contributing editor to Ideas on Liberty, is an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

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