Stop playing the race card
Hyped-up charges of bias distract from the real work of correcting racial inequalities.
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When naked prejudice really is at work, dialogue is pointless and condemnation is appropriate. But many of today's racial injustices demand compromise, discussion, and cooperation; a misplaced accusation of bigotry ends the potential for civil conversation and breeds defensiveness and resentment.Skip to next paragraph
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Of course, solutions will entail more than talking. We'll need to be open to bold solutions and daring experiments as well as older, now abandoned policies. And we'll need to be willing to send some cows that are sacred to both conservatives and liberals to the slaughterhouse.
Creating jobs, integrating schools
To overcome the problems of inner-city poverty and the culture of joblessness, we must bring steady work to the ghetto. That might mean public employment, which could give some ghetto residents a first experience with a full-time job and help repair the nation's crumbling infrastructure, just as the New Deal's Work Projects Administration did. (Suppose the federal government had hired poor New Orleaneans to fix the city's levees before Katrina hit?)
It would also require a no-excuses attitude toward antisocial behavior and quality-of-life crimes to protect that infrastructure; and an emphasis on a good work ethic so that public works don't become the "make work" social program its critics have long condemned.
Making good on Brown v. Board of Education's promise will require school districts to actively pursue integration when making school assignments, even at the expense of neighborhood-based enrollment.
Tragically, the Supreme Court moved in exactly the wrong direction last year when it held that the Constitution forbids school districts from taking such reasonable steps to promote integration. We should also be willing to expand successful charter-school programs, provided they encourage integration; and experiment with vouchers so poor parents can leave failing schools.
The challenge for the civil rights movement in the 21st century will be to foster a constructive discussion of the real but often mundane racial inequities that confront many people every day – without being distracted by dramatic but trivial scandals. Let's forget about Don Imus's offensive remark about the Rutgers' women's basketball team and start talking about segregation in New Jersey cities such as Newark and Camden. The challenge will be to talk about and confront the bad news of stubborn racial inequality while acknowledging and capitalizing on the good news that most people really aren't inveterate bigots. Let's quit looking for a bigot to paste to the dartboard and get to work on fixing the levees.