Hagerstown Moose are locking antlers with the inevitable

February 18, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

As everyone must know, it's Black History Month. Which makes it the perfect time for the yahoos over at the all-white Hagerstown Moose Lodge to turn down a black applicant.

You have to admire these Moose-heads. They sure stick by their principles, such as they are.

These guys are already facing a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination. They don't care. They get pressure from the Head Moose himself, who sent representatives from the national lodge to try to talk some sense into the good old boys. No dice.

They vote their, uh, consciences instead.

I don't know much about fraternal orders. Most of what I know is from watching Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton at the Raccoon lodge. But, from what I understand, the basic requirement for membership is a willingness to wear funny headgear and an ability to master the secret handshake.

For the Moose set, there are a few other considerations. You have to believe in a supreme being. You can't be a Commie. You can't be a felon. You must be alive.

As far as I know, the black candidate for membership fit most of the criteria, if you don't count skin color, which the Moose-heads may well have done in voting him down Wednesday night.

This is a wonderful thing. It's wonderful to have some out-and-out, in-your-face, George-Wallace-on-the-steps, segregation-forever news to remind us that racism is alive and well in 1994.

You wouldn't think we'd need reminding.

L You wouldn't think that, unless you'd been paying attention.

There's another bit of related news out of Washington in this Black History Month. By the way, if I were black, I'd hate the whole concept of a month for black history, in which they trot out the obligatory look at quaint African customs and officially white-washed African-American heroes.

I'm not saying schools shouldn't teach about Harriet Tubman. I'm saying they shouldn't teach about her only in February.

Black history, like all history, is a continuum. Black history, for instance, is the saga of the Hagerstown Moose-heads.

And black history is the news that the Clinton administration has determined it's OK for colleges and universities to offer scholarships reserved for minorities.

They can do this to remedy historical discrimination or to improve campus diversity (yes, the dreaded "d" word).

The reason Clinton had to make this decision was that the Bush administration had proposed, in the wake of a lawsuit at the University of Maryland, that these scholarships be eliminated. Since 1990, the scholarships have been in limbo.

You may remember some of the Reagan-Bush-speak of that era. are, they said, a colorblind society.

Tell it to a Hagerstown Moose.

The Bush administration was speaking for the beleaguered white male we hear so much about. You know what part of scholarship money is set aside for minorities? It's four percent of all the awards.

The scholarships in question on the College Park campus are part of a merit-based program founded in the 1970s. The Banneker program -- which awards about 30 full, four-year scholarships annually to black students -- wasn't born simply of good intentions. A judge ordered Maryland, and many other schools, to do something to rectify the effects of past racism.

College Park was segregated into the 1950s. By 1989, it was graduating more blacks than any other majority-white university. The Banneker program helped.

This is a success story of a kind. Ironically, Maryland's success is being used as the argument against the continuation of the program. The argument is that racism is no longer a problem on campus.

If racism isn't a problem at College Park, that must be the only place. That's the lesson of the Moose-heads.

Here are some other numbers: The College Park campus is 10 percent black; the state of Maryland is 25 percent black.

The student who brought the suit is part Hispanic. A straight-A student, he applied for the Banneker program and was turned down.

He said that wasn't fair. Well, there's fair and there's fair. It isn't fair that blacks are not sufficiently represented on most campuses. It isn't fair to black students or to white students.

I mean, if we can't begin to get this right even on our college campuses, from which we hear so many stories now of racial tension, where can we get it right -- at the Moose lodge?

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