Cose's 'Clor-Blind looks beyond race

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"Color-Blind: Seeing Beyond Race In A Race-Obsessed World" by Ellis Cose. Harper Collins. $24.

By naming his book "Color-Blind," Ellis Cose had me worried for a minute that he may have joined the ranks of those engaged in America's latest scam: conservatives who insist that America is now and indeed always has been a color-blind society.

But Cose put my mind at ease in his introduction. After quoting House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich praising the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1996 Republican National Convention and Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster invoking King's name in ending affirmative action in state agencies, Cose quipped:

"Martin Luther King Jr. would probably be more astonished than anyone to hear that conservatives now claim him as one of their own."

Astonished? He'd be downright flabbergasted and no doubt see the conservative commitment to color-blindness for what it is: an insidious scam by white male conservatives whose passion for racial fairness surfaced at roughly the same time they realized that affirmative action meant they would have competition from women and minorities in the job market.

Cose makes clear early on that America may never have a true color-blind society, but we can have a race-neutral one. He examines several topics and weighs the pros and cons of each as building blocks on which we can erect the race- neutral edifice.

The first is the hot topic of mixed-race Americans and their current quest to have a "multiracial" category added to government forms. Cose uses quotes from biracial Americans or their parents to give their views on the issues. He quotes two scholars, Douglas Besharov and Timothy Sullivan, who claim that mixed-race children "may be the best hope for the future of American race relations."

Cose, a contributing editor of Newsweek magazine, is too fine a journalist to take such nonsense at face value. He talked to folks from South Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean - areas with sizable mixed-race populations of their own. The words used to describe the United States, creating a special "multiracial" category were "regression," "crazy" and "disaster." Nor would widespread interracial marriages produce interracial children who are not racist, according to some from highly miscegenational lands.

"Among certain Latin Americans and West Indians," Cose writes, "marrying a lighter person is considered a step up. In the Caribbean, the practice is known as mejorando la raza (bettering the race) - the idea being that the children, who will presumably turn out lighter than the darker parent, will represent an improvement."

In later chapters Cose takes on Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's "The Bell Curve" and tongue-lashes journalists for not seeing the pseudo-science therein. The author suggests that instead of conservatives constantly disparaging the intellects of black students and liberals making excuses for the low academic achievement of black students, what might work is a simple six-step program that has had resounding success at historically black Xavier University in New Orleans.

Cose also tackles the issue of affirmative action. His assessment may be the most cogent and logical around today. He is not dogmatic on the subject. He sees affirmative action as a necessary tool for getting minorities hired and promoted, but a tool that on occasion has been used quite ludricrously at the expense of white males. With more people thinking as even-handily as Cose, race-neutrality may well come within our lifetimes.

Gregory Kane has been a columnist at The Sun since September. Before that, Kane, who grew up in West Baltimore, worked as a police reporter at The Sun.

Pub Date: 1/12/97

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