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Jewish World Review Aug. 23, 1999 / 11 Elul, 5759

Tony Snow

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The New Segregationism -- THE AFFIRMATIVE-ACTION ESTABLISHMENT is expressing shock at a study released recently by Hamilton College in New York. A national survey conducted by pollster John Zogby indicates that a hefty proportion of people age 18 to 29 has become comfortable with the cornerstone of Jim Crow segregation laws -- the "separate but equal" accommodation of races.

Zogby asked whether it was OK for races to live separately as long as they received equal treatment: 50.3 percent of the respondents said "yes," and 47 percent disagreed. The most surprising thing about this result is that anybody would be surprised. Government policy in this nation has moved gradually but perceptibly toward resegregation for years, as the struggle for civil rights has given way to a more controversial march toward quotas and separatism.

The federal government has been the chief advocate of the New Segregationism. Consider just a few examples. Attorney General Janet Reno wants juries to assess harsher penalties to "hate crimes" motivated by racial, ethnic or religious animus. Yet even a cursory glance at crime statistics indicates that whites -- who are the chief target of such legislation -- are most often the victims and not the perpetrators of interracial crime.

Similarly, the Department of Labor peppers businesses with questionnaires demanding to know the racial composition of management and labor. The Bureau of the Census does the same -- threatening to smack those who refuse to answer with $500 fines and those who fib with $10,000 penalties. At the same time, managers of federal agencies furtively produce race-based hiring and promotion programs, trying to hide the rules from Congress, the press and even their own employees.

Tiger Woods drew attention to the simple-minded nature of such racial counting several years ago when he refused to be pigeonholed as "African-American." He, like many people in this nation, can trace his ancestry to various branches of the tree of humanity, and he refuses to disavow any of his forebears.

Such multiculturalism irks Uncle Sam. Even though demographers have counted nearly 150 distinct ethnic groups in this country, the Washington bureaucracy admits only a handful: Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Native American.

Jacob Sullum of Reason Magazine notes that the government doesn't ask such questions to get a more accurate picture of the nation's racial composition. (Otherwise, it would seek more nuanced answers.) It merely wants to distribute federal booty to targeted racial and ethnic groups.

But in so doing, the feds have revived the old "one drop of blood" doctrine -- the belief that even one drop of African-American blood makes a person "black" in the eyes of the government, and thus deserving of differential treatment.

As horrid as this may seem, no institutions do more to advance the cause of separatism than elite colleges and universities. The egghead class has made a fetish of segregationism, splintering the humanities into black studies, gender studies, gay and lesbian studies, and other nonsense -- thus giving the impression that such differences betoken cultural superiority. Leftist academics use speech codes to discourage what they consider white racism while simultaneously praising anti-white bias as a spur to multicultural tolerance. Students, taking the hint, have set up black and Hispanic student unions and grabbed university funding for clubs that celebrate highbrow Jim Crow rituals.

This great leap backward has gone unchecked because storied civil-rights veterans champion the cause. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases in which heroes have become bitter and impatient with age. The old civil-rights movement relied on soul power and faith in American goodness. Its twisted progeny has a darker view of human nature, and thus tries to improve behavior by employing the methods of Bull Connor -- government muscle, applied indiscriminately. The president and his votaries evidently prefer thuggish liberalism to compassionate conservatism.

There's a glimmer of light in the Zogby poll: Generation X respondents seem refreshingly unbiased when it comes to interracial dating, marriage and commerce in the workplace. This may show that desegregation has worked. Having thrown open the doors at public schools, we have given kids a chance to interact naturally with one another and thus have smitten the ignorance that feeds racism.

Unfortunately, the message hasn't filtered into educational and governmental offices. Today, in cathedrals of learning and citadels of power, our leaders unwittingly mimic their Deep South predecessors. They spend their days conjuring up scapegoats so they won't have to confess that the old ways (such as quotas, welfare and race norming) are an indefensible failure.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate