15 April 1976
Dear Mr. Largess:
Thank you for your thoughtful reply to my letter. On the matter of the concepts of ethnicity and race, may I quote my definitional remarks in my text, "Major Social Problems" (Rand McNally, 1972 edition, p. 183):
"Ethnicity refers to a social characteristic of a population. Its root, ethnikos, means country or nation. Writers originally used the term to describe behavior and attitudes associated with country of origin. Today, however, an ethnic group includes persons who, by virtue of commonly perceived physical or cultural traits, are self-conscious of special group membership and subject to differential treatment by persons outside the group.
"The term ethnicity is akin to, yet broader, intellectually more accurate, and politically more responsible than the term race. Race is fundamentally a biological concept. It grew out of the untested assumption that the human species consists of branches which are biologically distinct from each other. It also grew out of a period of prescientific biological thought. As a result, the scientific shortcomings of the concept are so great that most scientists, social and biological, prefer to work other more exact conceptions of group characteristics which are social and cultural . . . There are . . . two reasons for eliminating the idea of race: the biological delineation is very poor; and even where the idea has relevance, it does not correspond with common social usage."
Your examples of the Cape Verdean and other children are excellent illustrations of my points. Surely, however, you do not believe that the innocence of these students can be protected in the context of a society such as ours! Why not prepare them through education about the matter, education which takes its point of departure from the census you deplore and which goes beyond that into the cultural pluralism based in respect that we should all celebrate? Why not teach them from the book recently published and entitled "Simple Justice," which contains the complete history of school segregation and desegregation in America? No matter how young they are, this will surely provide enrichment for any program of social education! That excellent history shows that our courts never invented racism, though on occasion they have reinforced its presence. The judicial construct of color-blindness proved insufficient to the ravages of discrimination in the 20th Century. The theory of race, specious as it is, will be exorcised in the courts when it has been eliminated as a tool of social, personal, educational, and economic discrimination in our society. At that time, which will come sooner if we all make it do so together, children can took upon all of this as mere history. Today, they must have a chance of share with us in making that time come.