Saturday, July 22, 2006
From The Chicago Sun-Times…
Racism still blocks opportunity for blacks, Hispanics
BY RALPH MARTIRE
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review whether race can be considered when assigning children to schools. The cases concern Seattle and Louisville, Ky., but the practice is followed in various ways by school districts from coast to coast. For instance, Downstate Champaign is under long-standing judicial supervision to ensure none of its schools have concentrations of black pupils that are significantly greater than the overall percentage of black students in the district. Having a district under court supervision isn’t novel, considering the numerous desegregation cases that followed Brown vs. Board of Education. Recall that the Brown case exposed the fallacy that racially segregated public schools provided “separate, but equal” education.
Brown vs. Board was decided five decades ago. Some believe that’s long enough to render the case an anachronistic vestige of America’s racist past. Under this reasoning, American society has effectively become color-blind, so affirmative action programs are no longer needed, and in fact are unconstitutional. In a color-blind society, giving any consideration to the race of a minority applicant when making job or school admission decisions would violate the constitutional rights of the white person who lost the applicable slot.
Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, is a proponent of this world view. He denigrates affirmative action as a “touchy-feely” social science that has no role in American society when admitting individuals to any schools. Similarly, Clegg rails against affirmative action in jobs, claiming ‘there is no logical, empirical or moral justification” for the practice. Were that it was so.
There’s all too much data that indicate racism is still very much with us, going to the very heart of what America is supposed to be all about: opportunity. Nationally, blacks and Latinos have lower wages and higher unemployment rates than whites. Meanwhile, according to a 2006 Harvard University study, school segregation for blacks and Latinos has worsened since 1992. Some of the problems Latinos experience may be attributed to the immigrants’ willingness to take low-paying jobs and English proficiency issues. None of those factors, however, are at play for blacks.
The Illinois data are as bad or worse. In K-12 education, Illinois ranks as the third most segregated state for blacks, with 82 percent of black children attending majority minority schools. Latinos don’t fare much better, as 76 percent of Latino children attend predominantly minority schools. Ninety percent of white kids go to virtually all-white schools. Clearly, the Illinois school system is still separated by race, but is it now more equal by race? Not from a funding standpoint. Minority school districts in Illinois start out with $1,154 less per child to spend on education than do predominantly white school districts, the second worst funding gap nationally.
It should come as no surprise that economic data reveal striking disparities in wages and unemployment levels between whites and minorities in Illinois. Over the past 15 years, the wage gap between whites and Latinos in Illinois worsened by 24 percent, while the wage gap between whites and blacks worsened by an outrageous 162 percent. Hard to believe that this wage discrepancy would manifest in a “color-blind” society. But wait, there’s more. In addition to wage disparities, blacks and Latinos in Illinois also have much greater unemployment rates than whites. These racial discrepancies exist across all age levels and, notably, across all education levels. So if you’re black or Latino in Illinois, even if you successfully complete college and graduate with a B.A. or better, you’re statistically less likely to get a job, and more likely to be paid less than a white.
Martin Luther King Jr. described the American dream as: “A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed, the dream of a land where men no longer argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; the dream of a land where everyone will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.”
By any metric, America has failed to realize this dream. Until we do, it is a moral imperative that the nation not only be willing to consider the role race plays in society, but that we address it head-on. Only then will we identify and destroy the social structures that, intentionally or not, keep racism alive.