The Corner

Don’t Forget ‘Content of Their Character’


America has always been a multiracial and multiethnic country, and it is getting more so. Already one in four Americans are something other than “non-Hispanic white,” and the demographers tell us that soon most will be. Latinos, not blacks, are our largest ethnic minority; Asians are our fastest-growing group. More and more individual Americans are themselves multiracial — starting with our president.

Immigration policy can affect this mix, and no one knows for sure what future immigration patterns will be, but the fact is that America will continue to be multiracial and multiethnic, and so on Martin Luther King Day we should think some about how to keep such a society working.

That’s because, while diversity is inevitable, it can be a source of either strength or weakness. It can cause division and friction, but it can also provide vibrancy and new ideas, and sometimes the new ideas will be good ideas.

To secure the benefits and minimize the costs of diversity, America has always done and we should continue to do two things. One is to encourage patriotism, to encourage people to think of themselves as Americans, no matter where they came from, and to see other Americans as Americans, too. Identity politics, on the other hand, will inevitably cause friction, as do laws that divide up opportunities by race and ethnicity.

The other is to encourage common values that are likely to lead to success. This is particularly so if there are disparities among different groups, since this will lead to friction, with charges of discrimination and so forth.

#more#To give an obvious example: language. One needs to speak English in the United States to succeed. What’s more, being able to communicate with one another is an essential national glue holding us all together. We can’t all know every language, so we all must know one language, and that language should be English. Bilingual education, foreign-language ballots, and the like are bad ideas.

Here’s another good idea for succeeding in America: Don’t have children out of wedlock. If you look at the racial groups that are doing well in the United States, and the ones that are not doing as well, you can see this. African Americans have more than seven out of ten children out of wedlock; Asian Americans have fewer than two out of ten. This is true within racial groups, too — that is, for example, white children do better with two parents compared with white children with single parents.

One more obvious example: Don’t commit crimes. Some are now suggesting that there are no racial disparities in crime rates, but only in arrest rates.  This is nonsense, but in any event it makes no sense to make excuses for the criminals who are caught — no one denies that they are guilty — rather than encouraging them not to commit crimes.

This points up a larger problem in the area of racial disparities. If a group is not meeting a particular standard, one “solution” is to lower the standard for that group (that is, to use affirmative action), and another is to suggest that the standard itself must be defective precisely because it has a “disparate impact.”

Of course, neither approach really makes any sense in the long term, particularly if the aim is a society of individuals holding the same values and being held to the same standards. Rather, the solution is for people to study hard, work hard, follow the law, and so forth. Then the disparities will fade.

Dr. King understood that. He believed in standards; he was, after all, a minister. In his most famous declaration, he said he dreamed of a day when his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. We shouldn’t skip over that last part. Dr. King expected — welcomed — that his children would be judged by their character.

Our laws and our traditions will push us in this direction, and conservatives should lend a shoulder here. Equal and high standards have served America well; unequal and lower standards will not. It ought to be possible to communicate this message cheerfully and patriotically, since this is what America has always been about: A striving country, with opportunity for all.

— Roger Clegg is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.


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