When a Claremont McKenna College professor's car was vandalized last weeksomeone slashed the tires, shattered a window, and spray painted "nigger lover," "kike lover," "shut up" and "bitch" on the car's bodymembers of the tight-knit college community rose up and loudly condemned the act. The college even cancelled classes for a day, a response not even elicited by the attacks of September 11, 2001.
But the next day, as activists organized a rally "to show solidarity" with Psychology Professor Kerri Dunn, many students began to wonder if merely condemning the act was enough.
"A lot of people I know, myself included, want to proactively fight racism, hate and ignorance on the campuses," one student wrote on an Internet message board. "Signing a paper and joining a march seem more symbolic than anything else. Are there some more concrete ways to do this?"
Enter campus politics: an arena in which race and racism remain the most controversial, and most sacred, of all topics. A debate soon raged between liberals who saw the vandalism as evidence of pervasive racism at the Claremont Colleges, and conservatives who cast it as an abhorrent yet aberrant act, unreflective of race relations on campus.
The conservatives were apparently vindicated this week. Claremont Police say two witnesses saw Dunn vandalize her own car. Undaunted, campus liberals continue to maintain that a climate of hatred and intolerance exists on campus, and conservatives continue to expend energy arguing the contrary.
The precise nature of racism on campus is irrelevant. At its root, racism springs from the same mistake: discriminating on the basis of a person's skin color. Liberals often argue that pervasive campus racismthey call it "institutional racism" demands unique solutions, including more racial preferences in admissions, race-specific student centers for minorities, and "a greater awareness of white-male privilege."
But those strategies are counterproductive in any fight against racism. Only the conservative responsea renewed commitment to color blindness and equal treatmentcan ultimately succeed.
One would think that would be the obvious answer. But the color-blind ideal that propelled the Civil Rights Movement has given way on college campuses to identity politics and institutionalized policies that discriminate on the basis of race. Professor Dunn crudely summarized this view at the anti-hate rally: "To say that we should act like we're color blind I really believe is an excuse. I believe it's an excuse to remain lazy; it's an excuse to turn your head. And it's an excuse to allow these idiots to continue with their agenda."
At the Claremont Colleges, for example, race-based admissions preferences are granted for the sake of "diversity"; single-race student centers are established to meet "the unique needs of communities of color"; and students are taught to believe that many of the world's evils are due to "white privilege."
It's no wonder that the racial climate at the Colleges is strainednor is it surprising that some racist acts endure. Like so many academic settings, administrators at the Claremont Colleges have bought into the fraud that they can approve unequal treatment of the races when it benefits minorities, without tacitly approving the very principles that permit racism to occur in the first place.
Unfortunately, they will learn the hard way. A community cannot embrace principles that allow racism to existno matter how well intendedwithout enabling all forms of racism to endure.
This rings particularly true when confronted with a crime like a car vandalism. Individual racist acts cannot be eliminated by repeal, like the racist laws of the past, or by court order, like segregation-era policies. Rather, such acts -- or at least whatever sting lies behind them -- can endure only as long as humans see one another first as members of a racial group, and only thereafter as individuals.
Until the day arrives when skin color is no longer recognized as a person's defining feature, racists will find support for their mistaken ideology in policies that declare skin color to be a paramount human feature. When conservatives start driving that point home when confronted with a racial controversy, rather than dallying in irrelevant arguments about the its significance, we will come closer to extinguishing racial bigotry once and for all.