WASHINGTON. — In 1968, after civil disorders exploded across the nation, the Kerner Commission deplored the fact that the United States really was ''two nations, one black one white -- separate and unequal.'' Last week a unanimous Supreme Court told us that it is probably going to stay that way.
The high tribunal said that where segregated, one-race schools are returning because of ''white flight'' or ''voluntary'' housing patterns, the federal courts have no duty or power to prevent ''resegregation.''
''Where resegregation is a product not of state action but of private choices, it does not have constitutional implications,'' said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
He was saying that the DeKalb County School System in suburban Atlanta had made a ''good-faith'' effort to desegregate, but its program had been frustrated by ''white flight'' and residential patterns. When a federal judge ordered desegregation in 1969 only 5.6 percent of the district's students were black, but white flight was such that blacks now make up 64 per cent of the public school population. The court said that under these circumstances the school system should be able to Let out from under the supervision of federal courts.
This Reagan-Bush court offered no profound change in terms of constitutional rights. What it said, and what is most dismaying, is that white parents who don't want their children to study with black youngsters can avoid integration by moving into all-white enclaves and keeping black families out.
The fallacy in Justice Kennedy's argument is his assumption that Jim Crow housing patterns flow only out of ''private choices.'' Justice Harry A. Blackmun, in a concurring opinion, noted that ''what might seem to be purely private preferences in housing may have been created, in part, by actions of the school District.''
Yes, such as a decision to locate a school in an area where it is near the homes of thousands of white children but of only a few blacks.
To say that residential patterns in this country are based on ''preferences'' is absurd. Many blacks live in black enclaves because they cannot get mortgages to buy homes elsewhere. The very day of the court decision, the Wall Street Journal's lead article said: ''When it comes to buying a home, not all Americans are created equal.
''If you're black, it's twice as likely your mortgage application will be rejected as it is if you're white.''
Banks ''red-line'' areas where they don't want to grant mortgages to blacks. Beyond that, white racists in the Bensonhursts of America use baseball bats and other weapons on blacks who even appear to entertain the notion of moving in.
So what the Supreme Court really said is that injustices and brutalities that keep Americans apart residentially add up to justifications for keeping them segregated in public schools. That is outrageous enough. But Justice Kennedy et. al seem to be saying that white racism is so virulent in this country that the federal courts can't beat it, because white people won't accept busing, teacher transfers, reallocation of funds or much of anything else designed to make learning opportunities equal for all our children.
So the Supreme Court has embraced a defeatist attitude that says, ''After all these years, to hell with it. Let's let federal judges bug out and cop out and let natural passions and prejudices run their course.'' That bow to bigotry by the Supreme Court can only lead to divisiveness and destruction far greater than the troubles spelled out by the Kerner Commission.
8, Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.