A coalition of the nation's top business and academic leaders has called for a new national effort -- comparable to the civil rights movement of a generation ago -- to help boost minorities into the American mainstream.
The report of the Business-Higher Education Forum, ostensibly representing the views of more than 90 university and Fortune 500 CEOs, is remarkably focused, serious and candid. The candor begins with the title of the 87-page report released here Wednesday: "Three Realities: Minority Life in the United States."
The first reality is that a lot of minority group members are "making it" by any economic, social or cultural yardstick.
"A growing middle class -- black and Hispanic -- is repeating the previous successes of ethnic immigrants and is doing it in much the same way: by insisting that they be treated with the dignity to which every human being is entitled; by demanding the equal treatment that is every citizen's due; and by diligence, education, seizing each new opportunity, and sacrificing today for the tomorrow of their children."
The second reality is the situation of minorities at the margin: the working poor whose undereducation and lack of marketable skills "prevent them from keeping pace with the rising demands of the workplace -- despite their best efforts."
The third reality comprises the poor and the underclass, whose plight is unchanged and whose numbers are growing.
The three realities describe what we already know but have been strangely unwilling to talk about. Perhaps our minority leadership, which came of age during the civil rights movement and which still uses the civil rights appellation to describe itself, is locked in the memory of the days when (at least in the South) class and attitudinal differences within the group were largely irrelevant. Perhaps it is the fear that acknowledging the palpable progress of at least some blacks and Hispanics might let whites "off the hook," leading them to ascribe the plight of the marginal and the poor to their own personal shortcomings.
Whatever the reason, the theme of the racial advocates -- blacks in particular -- has been that we are all equally victimized by racism. And one result is that the remedies they propose (affirmative action, set-asides, special admissions) frequently serve the interests of the least badly off.
"Three Realities" recognizes that, though the three groups do suffer some of the same indignities, their different circumstances dictate different remedies and different priorities, with the hardest-hit groups at the top of the list.
The recommendations are directed at three different areas:
Public Policy. The report calls for full teenage employment by the year 2000; inflation-indexing of public employment and training programs to their 1980 budget levels; a redesign of public assistance to avoid discouraging work and education; programs to discourage teenage pregnancy and leaving school; full funding of Head Start and Chapter I programs, and the restructuring of student-assistance programs so parents can know by the time their children are in seventh grade that "given high enough achievement, their college education costs will be guaranteed."
Colleges and Universities. Such strategies as "prep years" on campus, tutorial and mentoring programs and departmental recruitment goals should be undertaken to increase the enrollment and graduation rates of minorities. Moreover, affirmative action should be expanded to cover the nonacademic aspects of colleges and universities, including job training, contracting with minority firms and otherwise "making the most of the institutions' considerable presence in their communities as business entities."
Corporations. The recommendations include expansion of entry-level and middle-management job opportunities for minorities, family-oriented policies including child care, capital development schemes and finding ways to increase minority opportunities in franchising.
The task force that produced the report (cochairs: Clifton Wharton Jr., chairman and CEO of the nation's largest pension fund, and Steven C. Mason, president and chief operating officer of the Mead Corp.) makes clear the changed nature of the racial struggle and the need for new strategies.
"A generation ago, a cadre of determined, able, and dedicated men and women threw themselves into the civil rights struggle because they understood that achieving political rights was of paramount importance. That phase of the battle has, by and large, been won.
"But now an unfinished cause issues its call: the struggle for economic equality for minorities. Victory in this struggle is by no means assured. If it is to be attained, it will require new sacrifices, new energies and a new version of the practical vision that has already made good on the promise of political equality."
It will also require what may be the key missing ingredient: a sense of urgency.