It's been a long couple of years for women and blacks under this administration -- affirmative action attacks and tax exemptions to segregated schools are just two affronts that leap to mind. So last week's news that the Reagan administration has taken its antibusing campaign to the Supreme Court in hopes of making it easier for lower courts to cancel desegregation plans had me bitterly humming Dionne Warwick's old tune, "Deja Vu." What's new, I thought, about another ploy injurious to blacks -- this time by avoiding equal education to all children regardless of color?
But as I reflected, it seemed instead of saying "okay, they've done it again" and just floundering in resignation, blacks instead should focus on this issue with a recognition that groups of blacks do react differently to administration policies such as busing. It is time to address this: All blacks are not in the same boat.
This recognition is important because it will help blacks better deal with the myriad problems they are facing. The reason blacks seem to be floundering now is not only because of the blatant assaults by the politicians in power, but also because they have few strategies that are applicable in today's world.
Most blacks seem to be proceeding with an overall assumption that was valid 20 years ago, but is less valid today -- that black people in this country are all in the same boat, and face the same problems, and therefore should be looking for the same solutions. Obviously, all blacks share some similar problems, such as the impact of racism. But according to the census figures, young black couples in the Northeast and in California earn almost exactly as much as comparably educated young whites. Suggesting that they are in the same boat as welfare mothers with three children or blue-collar skilled men in industries where jobs are disappearing is simply wrong.
Folks living in Washington, D.C., who send their children to public, private or parochial schools won't have the same reaction to busing as the black woman in South Boston who did not want to bus her child to a school in a poor white neighborhood because she believed the school wasn't any better than her own. The professional Washington couple earning $50,000 won't have the same reaction as my friend in Louisville, a single parent with a school-aged child who can't provide a private school option. The D.C. professionals may have a symbolic anger, but not the gut-wrenching torment of my friend in Louisville.
There are at least three definable strata of black people. Broadly speaking, they are the middle, working, and welfare levels.
It isn't a bad thing that everyone isn't in the same boat. Wasn't the point of the civil rights movement to provide equal opportunity?
The major programmatic thrusts of the black leadership today are affirmative action, busing and economic development. These thrusts may have potential for the middle strata and working strata, but could fail those in the welfare stratum who have different problems.
Mine is not the same argument as that of social scientist Dr. William J. Wilson, who contended that economic opportunities for black Americans are shaped more by class than race. I side with the eminent psychologist Kenneth B. Clark, who disagreed with Wilson and went around the country delineating how race is the dominant factor in the economic and educational opportunities blacks get.
Differences shouldn't be used to overlook the fact that blacks share an important common belief system -- all abhor discrimination and will band together to fight it.
This idea that not all blacks are in the same boat can be a difficult one to swallow for it requires a change in orientation and some new thinking about solutions to problems. Yet clearing this conceptual hurdle will be necessary in order to break new ground. Part of that new thinking has to be about effective ways to make the middle stratum care deeply about the problems of those who have not succeeded.
And couldn't we better achieve that and fight oppressive government policies if we could admit that they affect different groups in different ways? If that happens, when the next assault comes, we'll be able to do more than hum, "Deja Vu."