An American Tragedy

Balint Vazsonyi

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 real progress.

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 United States.

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 prosperity.

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 language?

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 abused.

"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 value.

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 tradition.