Sunday, February 13, 2005

Separate But Equal 

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley writes in the Washington Post today about new efforts to separate races based on expediency. His comments remind me of my opposition to the creation of a black alumni chapter at George Mason University. While it might be easy to form groups based upon our differences, it is in the long run much more valuable to figure out how we can work together toward common goals. From the article:

While many of these are voluntary choices by the students, such self-segregation still frames the academic experience in at least partially racial terms. This lesson was not lost on one Latino student at Amherst College, who was quoted in a report by the New York Civil Rights Coalition as saying: "Before I came to Amherst, I wasn't thinking about race or class or gender or sexual orientation, I was just thinking about people wanting to learn."

The resurrection of separate but equal is not some reflection of its inherent truth or merit. Rather, it is a reflection of a society that has increasingly favored the most expedient over the most ethical means of addressing contemporary problems . The separate but equal doctrine was the very scourge of the civil rights movement, but it continues to have pragmatic appeal -- certainly over the more abstract principle of integration. After all, principle is often quite costly while pragmatism offers at least the outward appearance of tranquility at a bargain price. However, as new citizens walk out of places like the New York schools and California prisons, society may rediscover not just the convenience but the costs of separate but equal programs.

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