Los Angeles. -- Every once in a while, I tune into KKBT radio, a youth-oriented urban station here, to catch up with the latest hip-hop sounds. "Sounds" is the right word, since distinctive melodies and intelligible lyrics are few and far between anywhere on the dial. But there's one very lucid refrain that KKBT plays for its young audience that's worth a listen:
"There are no color lines."
The station promotes its "no color lines campaign" on the air, in the schools and throughout the city at public events. It explains, "KKBT believes it has a responsibility to entertain and to serve the unique multicultural diversity of Southern California. . . . Our message of 'no color lines' encourages positivity."
This measure of on-air activism might seem heavy-handed to some jaded freeway commuters just looking for some music to keep them awake. But the message is infectious and refreshing to a growing number of young people who refuse to be labeled, categorized and pigeonholed according to skin color. And it has important applications far beyond the urban radio air waves.
The government's race and ethnic designations lump Americans into four neat boxes -- American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, black and white. (Hispanic origin is defined as an ethnic category separate from race.) The number of people rejecting the classifications grew 45 percent between 1980 and 1990 to 9.8 million. Many young adults check no box at all.
The federal government had ignored those responses in the past by having its imperial computers simply assign a race/ethnic classification to those who refused to pick one themselves. Such small but significant acts of personal defiance have paid off. The Office of Management and Budget, which devised the designations in 1978, is now reconsidering the directive and may add an official "multiracial" or "other" category.
I'd prefer if they just ditched all those noxious little boxes. But slowly, the color lines are fading.
Young people are also making a difference in refocusing the old civil-rights agenda and moving beyond the rigid black-white spectrum. At the opening of the NAACP's 85th annual convention in Chicago this month, 17-year-old Angel Walters from Pasadena delivered this message to her elders: "We can't blame another race for our problems. The new generation of African-American youth wants to stop blaming the white society. It's up to us to change." Go on, girl.
NAACP executive director Benjamin Chavis takes credit for recruiting more than 650,000 new members -- 65 percent of whom, like Angel, are under 24 years old. But he is guilty of continuing to promote the tired, blame-whitey attitudes that Angel so rightly criticized. Hobnobbing with gang members and virulent bigots like Louis Farrakhan is no way to set an example for young adults who seek personal and educational empowerment and renounce collective victimization.
A new generation of civil-rights advocates -- committed to equal opportunity, the entrepreneurial spirit, sense of family and individual responsibility -- has eschewed the NAACP altogether. Project 21, a group of young adults of all races in Washington, recently published an extraordinary book called "Black America 1994: Changing Direction."
One essay, "The Death of Race" by Kevin Pritchett, a recent Dartmouth College graduate and now an aide to Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, resonated with me. Commenting on his own racial awakening in college, he wrote: "I took for granted back then what it meant to be 'black.' I did and still do to some extent think about 'blackness' in terms of culture . . . But I realized after a while that my fellow undergraduates of color -- many from such elitist prep schools as Boston Latin, Exeter and Episcopal -- believed that if you have a high level of melanin, you were supposed to be at least Democratic (preferably socialist), talk slang, hate whitey, and keep with the brothers and sisters."
This phenomenon is not exclusive to African-Americans, but affects too many "students of color" who enter college with strong convictions like Angel's -- and depart with crippling insecurities planted by tenured racists masquerading as "multiculturalists." As Emmanuel McLittle, publisher of Destiny magazine, notes: "Colleges are supposed to teach students how to think and form critical valuations. They are shirking that duty."
There is growing awareness of this abdication -- as the insights of Angel Walters and Kevin Pritchett suggest. That gives me hope. As Mr. Pritchett observes, "The day -- and it must come soon -- when we will all call each other by name instead of color will be a great day in history." I do believe I will live to see that day before my own brown skin wrinkles.
Michelle Malkin is a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News.