Backward step in Arundel

December 30, 1992

Thirty-eight years after Brown vs. Board of Education, equalit and understanding between the races remain an elusive dream. Perhaps they always will. Perhaps the differences between people guarantee that a day of perfect harmony will never dawn. Getting along will never be easy. Overcoming prejudice will always demand vigilance.

That is why Anne Arundel County must be wary of a new proposal for neighborhood schools in the Annapolis area, a plan that would erase artificial attendance boundaries drawn to create racial balance.

The idea has some practical advantages. But they are far outweighed by the danger of deluding ourselves that race relations have come far enough that it is now safe to stop trying to get along.

The impending local battle mirrors a nationwide reaction, spawned by the Reagan-Bush era, against strategies for achieving racial equity, such as busing and affirmative action.

The local issue stems from a decision handed down last March by the U.S. Supreme Court. It said that federal courts have no duty to prevent school re-segregation caused by population shifts or changes in housing patterns. The ruling essentially abandoned the philosophy behind Brown, namely, that there is no such thing as separate but equal.

That is just as well, some people argue. Despite 30 years of sending black and white children to school together, most places still have white and black neighborhoods, often with friction between the two communities. So why inconvenience people? The cultures are different; why not let them be different?

That is treacherous thinking. It ignores the fact that, compared to centuries of racial injustice, 30 years is a blink of the eye. Our expectations were unrealistic if we assumed racial divisions would have disappeared by now.

Such reasoning also ignores that while school integration is not a cure-all, we are much further ahead in the quest for harmony and fairness than we would have been without it. Opportunities for minorities are vastly better than they were 20 or 30 years ago. And while racial hatreds still exist, it is a measure of how far we have come that public figures spew epithets at their own peril and that incidents of bigotry make headlines.

Neighborhood schools would make life easier for many people. But with racial issues, the path of least resistance always leads backward. It is a road we must not take.

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