An American Tragedy
The Civil Rights movement, and the legislation it spawned in the
1960s, delivered the promise of a huge additional resource for this
nation: black Americans, now able to make their full contribution
in every field of endeavor. The forces marshaled against such a
development during the decades since might represent the first time
America has squandered a great opportunity. And "white racism"
has nothing to do with it.
While millions of black Americans quietly make their daily contribution
- whether in economics, public safety, or nursing - the ever-visible
national leadership has become the most intractable obstacle to
What constitutes real progress? In one sentence, the opportunity
for all individuals of dark skin to make the most of their ability,
and for society to reward accomplishment in an even-handed manner.
Few would - and even fewer could successfully - argue that education
is key for such conditions to prevail. Because it was recognized
that "separate but equal" is not really equal, the people
of this country went along with the wholesale assault upon their
children, upon their lives, known as busing. Year after year, the
tax payers of America have given up a significant proportion of
their earnings in the hope that money will buy quick, as well as
substantive, results. Even more significantly, people have countenanced
- assuming that all this would be temporary - an overall dilution
of scholastic requirements, a deliberate hold-back so as to afford
the widest possible berth for those who did not have an opportunity
to catch up before the Civil Rights laws of the 1960s.
All to no avail?
The Lawrence Summers/Cornel West controversy at Harvard, regardless
of one's view of either protagonist, places the unpalatable reality
in sharp focus.
For one who was outraged to find segregation upon my arrival in
Tallahassee, Florida in 1959, the point was to do away with it -
not merely as a matter of law, but as reality in day-to-day living.
That is possible only if all or most of us who live here believe
in America, study the same basic canon, adhere to common standards
of personal conduct.
The opposite is happening because diversity has been applied to
the wrong side of the equation. Diversity among the recipients of
education was supposed to be the result. Instead, it has been making
a mockery of what is being taught.
Black Americans need a thorough immersion in Western Civilization
more than white Americans, because many have had little or no previous
exposure. There is nothing in the African tradition or experience
- if indeed there is such a thing, given that Africa is a huge and
diverse continent - to prepare young people for serious participation
in the life and organization of a vast, complex, highly industrialized,
sophisticated society. No one, not even black Americans who wear
pseudo-African garb, wish to replicate African conditions in the
Now you can get all offended and start throwing accusations of
"racism" all over the place, or face reality and start
responding to it.
The trouble is that the black leadership has been most vocal about
what they want in terms of test results, positions of power and
influence, and general prosperity. Little has been heard about wanting
the young to understand and know things - the only long-term path
to better test results, positions of power and influence, and lasting
As for ramming down everyone's throat irrelevant authors, customs,
and events, who is going to suffer most? Those who depend on the
school for their entire education, or those who have parents and
libraries at home to close the gap?
But what can one expect when the self-appointed leader, Jesse Jackson,
has never bothered - trust an immigrant who speaks with an accent
to point this out - to learn how to articulate words in the English
Poor immigrants from Europe rose so fast because they understood
the immense significance of sending their young to good schools
and colleges for the first time. They sacrificed, toiled, starved
if necessary to rise through educating the next generation. Most
of us thought that the big thing was to open the doors of education
wide for black Americans. Most of us knew it would take a mighty
combined effort to bring about in a few decades what in the course
of history has been known to take many centuries.
But, if anything, we have been going backwards. The atmosphere
has been poisoned, the goals misstated, precious time and opportunity
"A mind is a terrible thing to waste"? Cornel West, John
Hope Franklin, and the multitudes involved with "Black Studies"
are doing incalculable damage by diverting time and attention from
desperately needed, useful knowledge. How dare the same group of
people whose agenda is black consciousness and "self esteem"
complain about test scores in English and Mathematics?
The aftermath of September 11 has brought Americans together in
a way we have not been since the 1960s. It is time to expose the
fraud perpetrated under the labels "multiculturalism"
and "diversity." It is time to say loud and clear that
a lifetime is not enough to learn a fraction of that which has genuine
It is time to admit that Black Studies, as Hispanic Studies and
Women's Studies, benefit neither the individual, nor society.
The Civil Rights Movement will have succeeded when the Cornel Wests,
like Thomas Sowell, will be known as great scholars in the Western