ASSISTANT Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds takes us to task in the adjacent column for knocking the Justice Department's efforts to resolve what he describes as a serious civil rights case. To be fair, his letter blasting us may have been a simple reflex action, for we have, on this page, differed with Mr. Reynolds often and with much feeling on both sides. But the truth is, he was not the target of our editorial at all; he was the intended recipient of our friendly advice. We hoped to save him some time and effort by suggesting that he ignore one kooky aspect of a civil rights case his division is now investigating.
According to an Associated Press report, which was printed in this paper and cited in the editorial, a disc jockey in a Charlottesville nightclub charged the management with discrimination because "white music" was played instead of "black music" in order to drive away black customers at the club. Mr. Reynolds points out that the charges are broader than that and that the club is also accused of requiring different dress codes or forms of identification of blacks. Certainly these are serious allegations and, if proved, would show a violation of the law that requires places of public accommodation to admit and serve all customers on an equal basis.
What struck us as ridiculous -- and still does -- is the allegation that the choice of music is evidence of unlawful discrimination. In the first place, what is white music? The complainant says it's heavy metal or country and western, the playing of which, he claims, will drive blacks away. Does anyone really believe this, let alone think it's unlawful? The implications of this imaginative theory are, first, that it is possible to categorize music by racial preference -- where do Leontyne Price and Paul Robeson fit in, we wonder -- and second, that a nightclub owner is under some kind of legal obligation to offer customers music that is "appropriate" to their race.
Of course we don't blame Mr. Reynolds for having received this complaint. In fact, we sympathize with him. But we did suggest that valuable legal time not be spent on the allegations about music. We still think this is good advice and are encouraged, by his letter, to think that the time saved will be used to continue "the administration's unflagging and persistent civil rights enforcement efforts."