IN 1983, black and Hispanic graduates of Baruch College in New York sought official approval for a racially segregated alumni association. They wanted campus office space, secretarial help, and all the other services that were provided to the general alumni association. The president of Baruch refused, saying that such an organization would run counter to his goals of integration.
The black and Hispanic group filed suit, saying that the college's refusal was racist. Seven years later, in 1990, the college capitulated, and Baruch now has two alumni associations: one open to all students and the other open only to certain races.
Except for one detail, this was an entirely ordinary incident in contemporary American race relations: Having gained admission to what were formerly bastions of white exclusivity, non-whites commonly band together to create groups of their own from which whites are excluded.
The only unusual aspect was that at Baruch, Hispanics and blacks together outnumber whites. They cannot claim to be doughty minorities struggling against an indifferent and oppressive white majority. They are a majority excluding a white minority.
The original civil rights movement was about doing away with race as a relevant category in American life. Martin Luther King wanted his daughters to be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. To most whites in the North and even to a majority in the South, this has an irresistible appeal. The original civil rights bargain was that whites would dismantle the color bar with the expectation that all Americans would set aside racial consciousness in the name of brotherhood.
Racial exclusivity is a violation of that bargain; yet there is scarcely an organization in America -- from the U.S. Congress to your local police force -- that does not have a black caucus or sub-group. There is also a Black Miss America contest, a National Conference of Black Mayors, organizations for black doctors, lawyers and social workers, and there are black college fraternities. There are so many black-only groups that they form organizations like the National Association of Black Organizations to keep themselves organized.
Civil rights groups were among the first to turn their backs on integration and make whites feel unwelcome. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), for example, was founded with the help of whites and still has white members. As late as 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) had a membership that was two-thirds white and a national leadership that was largely white.
Only a few years later, its leaders were all black, and in 1965 it amended its constitution to limit the positions that whites could hold -- a curious act for an organization with the words "racial equality" in its name.
Racial exclusivity -- which is always denounced when practiced by whites -- is the very opposite of what civil rights were supposed to be all about. Afro-centric education, all-black private schools, the celebration of the African-American winter holiday Kwanzaa -- these are all expressions of an explicitly racial identity and have virtually no white counterparts.
Whether they realize it or not, the racial identity that many blacks have chosen for themselves leads logically to separation. So far, whites have remained silent about a double standard that permits the advantages of racial consciousness and cohesion to blacks but denies it to whites, but they will not remain silent forever.
If an explicitly racial identity and group rights are legitimate for blacks, whites will demand the same for themselves.
White racial consciousness might have died a natural death in the wake of the early civil rights victories, but it will surely return with a vengeance if black racial consciousness (and similar movements among other non-white groups) continues to grow. Thus, though it flies in the face of conventional wisdom to say so, it is blacks -- not whites -- who hold the key to the future of American race relations.
Continued black consciousness as an exclusionary state of mind and a principle for organizations making group demands will spur white consciousness -- and lead to struggles in which there will be no winners.
This essay is adapted from "Paved with Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America," published this month Carroll & Graf.
Jared Taylor lives in Louisville, Ky.