The ambiguity of race

One can look at Thursday’s Supreme Court decision on school integration as a mockery of the Civil Rights movement and unjust on its face. As Hendrik Hertzberg put it in the New Yorker, the Supreme Court just ruled “…that conscious racial integration is the moral equivalent of conscious racial segregation.”

The Court does seem to be saying that race no longer matters. It’s as if 40 years of Civil Rights and affirmative action (which was instituted by Richard Nixon, who cannot be called a liberal, despite efforts by revisionist conservatives to do so) have wiped out more than 200 years of the effects of slavery.

I disagree with the Court’s decision. But I wonder whether the Court was influenced by a nation where race relations have become ambiguous and less polarized than in the past. This is the unspoken theme of my piece Seeing Family in Black and White, which ran in Sunday’s Boston Globe magazine’s parenting issue. I wrote about my own experiences as the white father of children who are multiracial, but may well be identified as black. My kids are still young, but the black-white issue seems less stark now than it did when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, and I know from talking with friends that they, too, feel that the race question is more ambiguous now. There is certainly far more racial diversity in the U.S. now than there was even 20 years ago, and immigration patterns mean that’s likely to continue.

Race certainly hasn’t gone away, and what the Court did may not help. But perhaps towns and cities and school boards and parents will respond with creative ways to boost educational facilities in all their neighborhoods, so that parents don’t care so much where their kids go to school.

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