Separate, But Equal ? But Now?

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - A study released by an upstate New York liberal arts college suggests that the 'separate but equal' doctrine of race relations is gaining in popularity among young people, raising concerns of civil rights groups. Most of those surveyed believe "it's okay if the races are basically separate from one another as long as everyone has equal opportunity."

The survey of 1001 randomly selected 18-29 year-olds was conducted by Zogby International for Hamilton College, a liberal arts school in Clinton, New York. Questions included in the poll were composed by 10 Hamilton undergraduate students enrolled in a course entitled Race and the American Democracy.

The results of the poll show that more than 57 percent believe it is difficult for blacks to rise above the "lower class" because of past slavery and discrimination. Furthermore, more than 56 percent believe it is the federal government's role to ensure blacks receive fair treatment on the job.

Zogby International President and CEO John Zogby said, "the attitudes of this key demographic group are significant because it is the first generation to grow up in an America without formal barriers to racial equality, and because it is the generation likely to dominate thought in the first half of the next century."

David Almasi, director of the African-American advocacy group Project 21, an initiative of The National Center for Public Policy Research, expressed dismay over the poll results. Almasi interpreted the data by saying that leaders of the American civil rights movement "put their lives on the line only to have their children and grandchildren use their hard-fought rights and freedoms to segregate themselves by choice."

Phillip Klinkner, director of Hamilton College's Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center, said the younger generation is becoming comfortable with the idea of segregation, which was repudiated by the US Supreme Court in the 1950s.

"This is a cause for concern since many school districts are dismantling their integration efforts at a time when new data shows rising levels of school segregation," Klinkner said.

"Although results of the survey were mostly optimistic, I found it troubling that only 60 percent thought the federal government should make sure that white and black children go to the same school," Klinkner continued. "This could be interpreted to mean a fairly large minority feel blacks and whites shouldn't go to school together."

But Almasi disagreed with Klinkner's assessment. "It just means they don't want to bus their kids across town," Almasi said. "It's a shame that some of these are being interpreted as meaning some people want a segregated society."