Lamar Alexander announced the...


December 11, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

EDUCATION SECRETARY Lamar Alexander announced the administration's new rules for black-only scholarships last week.

Alexander came up with this: Colleges may not use their own funds for race-exclusive scholarship programs, but may take race into account in awarding those scholarships; colleges may administer race-exclusive scholarship programs if they are under court orders to rectify past racial discrimination; colleges may administer race-exclusive scholarship programs if the funds are so earmarked by private donors or by Congress.

That would be a pretty good plan coming from a liberal Democratic administration. It is a very good one coming from a somewhat conservative Republican administration.

Yet the reaction from some civil rights and black leaders has been antagonistic. William H. Gray, who heads the United Negro College Fund, said of it, "It's beginning to smell awfully political to me. It has the stench of Louisiana politics."

That is absurd. It is outrageous. If he doesn't know the difference between Lamar Alexander and David Duke, he shouldn't be running such a prestigious organization. But of course, he does know the difference. He is a recently resigned member of Congress, and he is still reacting politically, partisanly and, I would even say, demagogically to events.

His other motto is "a big mouth is a terrible thing to waste."

The biggest mouth of all commenting on race relations this week was David Buchanan, er, Pat Duke, er, Pat Buchanan. Appearing on David Brinkley's interview show on ABC, Buchanan said this:

"If we had to take a million immigrants in, say Zulus, next year, or Englishmen, and put them in Virginia, what group would be easier to assimilate and would cause less problems?" This was a gratuitous insult to blacks. The question he was responding to had nothing to do with race. The immigration debate is not about such choices. He chose to answer it in the most demeaning and stereotypical way. Even if he believes the answer to his rhetorical question is "Englishmen," there was no reason other than demagogy to phrase it that way.

(As a matter of fact, the answer to the question is probably "one group would be no easier or more difficult to assimilate than the other group." In many Southern states, if not Virginia -- where there are more people of African than English ancestry -- the answer would be "the Zulus would be easier to assimilate."

It is often said of the sort of racist rhetoric that the Buchanans resort to, and also of the sort that the Grays indulge in, that it polarizes politics. But the races are already politically polarized. What is really wrong with this rhetoric is that it poisons politics. It poisons society. It engenders evermore racial suspicion, fear, hostility and even hatred.

It has no place in mainstream political debate.

Saturday: Some thoughts on the Maryland Republican primary.

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