Poor language, poor thinking

By Walter Williams

Here’s what the Harvard University Civil Rights Project’s “scholars” said in a July 2001 press release: “Almost half a century after the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that Southern school segregation was unconstitutional and ‘inherently unequal,’ new statistics from the 1998-99 school year show that racial and ethnic segregation continued to intensify throughout the 1990s.”

What’s their evidence? They say that over 70 percent of black students attend schools where the student population is predominantly black, in some cases over 90 percent black. This, to Harvard’s scholars, is re-segregation – but let us examine the term segregation.

Blacks are about 65 percent of the Washington, D.C., population. Reagan National Airport serves the Washington, D.C., area and, like every airport, it has water fountains. At no time have I seen anything close to blacks being 65 percent of water-fountain users. It’s a wild guess, but I’d speculate that at the most 5 percent or 10 percent of the users are black. Would Harvard’s scholars say that Reagan National Airport water fountains are segregated? If so, might they propose bussing blacks in from Anacostia to integrate the water fountains?

What about ice hockey games? These are “segregated” affairs, for at no time have I seen any significant number of black fans in the audience. In fact, most times it was zero. There’s also racial segregation at opera performances, dressage or wine-tastings.

If you want to see some segregated states, visit South Dakota, Iowa, Maine, Montana and Vermont. Not even 1 percent of their populations are black.

What proposal might Harvard’s scholars have for us? Might they propose rounding up blacks where they’re over-represented, such as in Georgia and Alabama, and bussing them to America’s segregated states? Might they suggest drafting blacks to attend operas, dressage and wine-tastings?

Of course, being politically correct, they might feel that blacks should not bear the burden of desegregation. Thus, Harvard’s scholars might recognize that there are two ways to skin a cat and propose that whites leave states such as South Dakota, Iowa, Maine, Montana and Vermont until the percentage of the black population reaches 13 percent?

America’s non-scholars would easily recognize that just because blacks aren’t proportionately represented in some activity, we can’t call the activity racially segregated – at least, in the historical usage of the term. A non-scholar’s test for segregation would be: If a black person is at Reagan National Airport, is he free to drink at any water fountain he pleases? If the answer is yes, then the water fountains are not segregated. That would be true if a black person never uses the fountains.

The identical test applies to the question of school segregation. A non-scholar would ask: If a black student lives within a particular school district, can he attend that school? If he can, then the school is not segregated, even if not a single black attends that school. The same test applies to whether ice hockey games, operas and wine-tastings are racially segregated or not.

At one time, there was racial segregation. If a black wanted to use a water fountain, he was denied, often by law. And he was similarly denied by law from attending certain schools. Today, none of that is true. In turn, that means there is no school segregation. Because an activity is not racially integrated, a better word is heterogeneous, doesn’t mean that it’s segregated.

More importantly to the issue of education, there is no evidence anywhere that supports the civil-rights vision that black education excellence is impossible unless white children have first been captured to sit beside black children in school. From my view, to contend that race-mixing is a necessary requirement for black academic excellence is racially insulting.