(Released Aug 2007)
Supporters of racial preferences think the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent rejection of preferences in school admissions heralds the death of diversity in America. Critics of the Court’s promotion of race-neutral standards believe enforced diversity diminishes discrimination and is necessary for black children to get a sound education.
If these people looked at the world outside of their political prism, they would see diversity is all around us.
That is why it is unfortunate that they still consider the 1950s idea of government-mandated school diversity as the primary means of achieving equal opportunities for blacks. This misplaced emphasis ignores the big picture gains in our society and distracts from the primary goal of providing kids with a quality education.
For most of the 20th century, blacks were denied equal rights. We were often refused opportunities for employment, housing and access to business and school admissions. To rectify these inequalities when racist and segregationist views were prevalent, government-mandated desegregation helped.
Times have changed.
For one thing, the demographics of the United States are more ethnically diverse. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, as of May of 2007:
- the overall population tops 300 million;
- the nation’s minority population has reached 100.7 million;
- Hispanics are the largest minority group with 44.3 million people;
- blacks make up 40.2 million of the population.
According to Census Bureau director Louis Kincannon: “About one in three U.S. residents is a minority. To put this into perspective, there are more minorities in this country today than there were people in the United States in 1910. In fact, the minority population in the U.S. is larger than the total population of all but 11 countries.”
A natural consequence of this increasing minority population is a greater everyday exposure between ethnic groups. While past desegregation laws forcibly joined races that might not otherwise interact, our changing society now makes this interaction and exposure inevitable. These interactions naturally break down racial bias and stereotypes.
Consider the wildly successful television program “American Idol,” which showcases the talent of thousands of amateur singers. Viewers vote for the winners. “Idol” catapulted the singing careers for several black performers. For example, Ruben Studdard received the majority of the estimated 24 million recorded votes. The following season, Fantasia Barrino’s rousing performance lead to her victory, a multi-million dollar record deal and a starring role in the hit Broadway musical “The Color Purple.” The fact that Studdard and Barrino are black seems irrelevant compared to their musical talents.
Sports provides more examples of breaking down bias. Jackie Robinson’s 1947 Major League Baseball debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers ended over 50 years of segregation and opened the door for countless future players of different colors. The National Football League and the National Basketball Association now also have a high percentage of black players. Sports fans, especially children, support their favorite athletes by wearing their jerseys and purchasing other memorabilia. Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant tops the list in jersey sales in the U.S. and China. Although the National Hockey League’s roster is predominately white, there is a significant representation of foreign-born players that illustrates the globalization of sports.
Even in fantasy sports – where fans build their own team from existing league rosters and compete against other fantasy team “owners” – players are selected based on performance and not color. Clearly, sports fans could care less about the race or background of their favorite athletes.
In American classrooms, however, the outdated quest for proportional diversity distracts the public and educators from providing our children with the best education available. Denying a child the school he need to meet a quota or forcing him to travel long distances to supplement a school’s diversity is a betrayal of our commitment to our kids. Color-coded classrooms and preferential treatment doesn’t teach children about the importance of confidence, hard work, perseverance or self-esteem. An educated child taught to appreciate the differences of the cultural backgrounds of others is a sound way to diminish racial bias.
Significant strides have been made in accepting blacks and other minorities into American society. Education that instills good character and values does more to break barriers than enforced classroom quotas.
Diversity, like nature, cannot be forced. It is strong enough to succeed on its own.