Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, Spring 2010
Editor’s Note: This is adapted from chapter two of Jared Taylor’s book White Identity, available for purchase here.
Diversity has joined apple pie, motherhood, and the flag as a symbol of America. Politicians praise diversity in their stump speeches, and corporate CEOs boast of diverse workforces. The idea that diversity is one of our country’s great strengths—perhaps even its greatest strength—now goes largely unchallenged.
When people praise diversity they may have many things in mind—differences in language, religion, sexual orientation, culture—but diversity’s most important ingredient is race. A university could have a student body composed of people from ten different European countries, but it could not claim to be “diverse” if all its students were white.
It does not take much study to discover that America’s racial diversity is not a source of strength.
PRAISE FOR DIVERSITY
Practically every American public figure from the president on down praises diversity. To mark the Mexican celebration of Cinco de Mayo, President Obama said, “Today reminds us that America’s diversity is America’s strength.” When he gave the commencement address at West Point in 2010, he told the cadets, “You include the vast diversity of race and ethnicity that is fundamental to our nation’s strength.” (emphasis added) When the US Supreme Court upheld racial preferences in college admissions, President George W. Bush approved, saying, “Diversity is one of America’s greatest strengths.”
President Bill Clinton once invited black columnists to the White House and told them, “We want to become a multiracial, multiethnic society . . . to prove that we literally can live without . . . having a dominant European culture.” When Mrs. Clinton spoke at her former high school in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge she said she was glad to see many non-white faces in the audience. “We didn’t have the wonderful diversity of people that you have here today,” she said. “I’m sad we didn’t have it, because it would have been a great value, as I’m sure you will discover.”
Then-governor of California Gray Davis noted in 2003 with unintended humor that “my vision is to make the most diverse state on earth, and we have people from every planet on the earth in this state.” In 2007, Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland said diversity is “our greatest strength as a people.” In 2003, Governor Gary Locke of Washington, who is Chinese-American, went farther: “Diversity is our greatest strength. . . . In our diversity lies our humanity.” When Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York said, “Our city’s diversity is our greatest strength,” he was only repeating his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, who noted in his farewell address that “we’re a city in which our diversity is our greatest strength.”
The CIA seeks diversity. “At the Central Intelligence Agency, workforce diversity is a mission imperative,” the agency noted in Black Enterprise magazine. In 2007, General George Casey, who was in overall command of American troops in Iraq, announced, “I firmly believe the strength of our Army comes from our diversity.” The private sector agrees. In 2008, no fewer than 352 companies competed to be included among the “Top 50 Companies for Diversity” selected by the magazine Diversity Inc. JP Morgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon sent a message explaining that “our collective diversity is our strength.” Chairman Ivan Seidenberg of Verizon Communications said, “What I want the company to be is relevant. If you’re not diverse you’re not relevant.” In its final press release the day before it went bankrupt in 2008, the banking conglomerate Washington Mutual boasted about coming in sixth in Hispanic Business’s annual Diversity Elite list.
Many companies claim that diversity offers tangible business advantages, but some executives pursue diversity as an end in itself. In 2005, Wal-Mart’s General Counsel Tom Mars told the company’s top law firms that they would be graded not just on price and performance, but also on the diversity of their lawyers. It was possible to outrank other firms on price and performance but lose Wal-Mart business because of insufficient diversity.
Like many large companies, Wal-Mart requires reports from its suppliers on the number of nonwhite employees and executives. It does not require reports on such things as budgeting methods, materials handling, or computerization. It insists on diversity without regard to commercial advantage. The New York Times pays its executives up to 10 percent of their base pay in bonuses if they hire enough women and non-whites.
Actual advantage may be sacrificed for diversity. North Miami used to require that police officers know how to swim because they may have to rescue someone in the water. In 2004, the department dropped that requirement because it desperately wanted Haitian officers, and most Haitian applicants could not swim. “Our swimming requirement may give the false perception that we are not serious in our efforts to hire Haitian police applicants,” explained police chief Gwendolyn Boyd-Savage.
Suzanne Bump, Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development for the state of Massachusetts, explained in 2007 why she wanted diversity: “I could fill my office with white lawyers. We’re choked with applications from them. But they’re not going to get the job done. A diversity of skills, perspective and cultural background is necessary for success in creating more and better jobs in this state.” Miss Bump, who is white, did not explain what skills and perspectives whites lack that prevent them from doing the job.
Universities promote diversity. On April 24, 1997, 62 research universities led by Harvard bought a full-page advertisement in the New York Times that justified racial preferences in university admissions by explaining that diversity is a “value that is central to the very concept of education in our institutions.” Lee Bollinger, who has been president of the University of Michigan and of Columbia, once claimed that diversity “is as essential as the study of the Middle Ages, of international politics and of Shakespeare.”
Many companies and universities have a “chief diversity officer” who reports directly to the president. In 2006, Michael J. Tate was vice president for equity and diversity of Washington State University. He had an annual budget of three million dollars, a full-time staff of 55, and took part in the highest levels of university decision-making. There were similarly powerful “chief diversity officers” at Harvard, Berkeley, the University of Virginia, Brown, and the University of Michigan. In 2006, the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse decided that diversity was so important that its beneficiaries—students—should pay for it. It increased in-state tuition by 24 percent, from $5,555 to $6,875, to cover the costs of recruitment to increase diversity.
American law schools are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA), which uses its power to promote diversity. In 2000, the ABA discovered that 93.5 percent of first-year students at George Mason University law school in northern Virginia were white. The ABA recognized that GMU had made a “very active effort to recruit minorities,” but said it had not done enough. With its accreditation at stake, GMU law school lowered standards for non-white applicants and admitted more: 10.98 percent in 2001 and 16.16 percent in 2002. That was still not enough. In 2003, the ABA summoned GMU’s president and law school dean and threatened them to their faces with disaccreditation unless they admitted more non-whites. GMU lowered standards even further, and managed to raise its non-white admissions to 17.3 percent in 2003, and 19 percent in 2004. This was still not good enough. “Of the 99 minority students in 2003,” the ABA complained, “only 23 were African American; of 111 minority students in 2004, the number of African Americans held at 23.” True diversity required more blacks, but what of the blacks GMU did admit? From 2003 to 2005, fully 45 percent had grade-point averages below 2.15, which was defined as “academic failure.” For non-black students, the figure was 4 percent. GMU officials pointed out that the ABA’s own Standard 501(b) says that “a law school shall not admit applicants who do not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its educational program and being admitted to the bar.” Law school dean Dan Polsby explained that this requirement was the greatest obstacle to increased diversity.
American institutions pursue diversity with such enthusiasm that it would be easy to misunderstand their goals. There is a kind of diversity that is essential for any group undertaking, and one might think this is what Americans are celebrating. A contractor, for example, cannot build houses if he hires only electricians. He needs a diverse workforce of carpenters, roofers, masons, etc. If the advantage of hiring people with different skills had only just been discovered, it would make sense to promote it, but that is not the kind of diversity Barack Obama or Lee Bollinger are extolling. They would insist that a “diverse” construction team have the right mix of blacks, whites, Asians, handicapped people, Hispanics, and American Indians. It is not clear how this would result in better houses.
IMPACT OF DIVERSITY
Los Angeles is often called the most diverse city in the United States—perhaps in the world. Whites have been a minority in Los Angeles County since 1990, and its inhabitants represent more than 140 nationalities and speak 130 different languages. The city should be a showcase for diversity’s strengths. The schools, in particular, should be ideal opportunities to practice “contact theory.” Southern California also has an important advantage in that the most salient racial mixes are not the historically freighted one of black and white. Blacks and Hispanics, for example, came into contact with no past grievances—no real past at all. There is nothing like the specters of slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, or segregation to poison their relations. If anything, two groups that share common experiences as minorities should find contact especially rewarding.
They do not. For decades, students in Los Angeles have stubbornly defied the expectations of those who praise diversity. For decades, calming racial tension—usually between blacks and Hispanics— has been one of the top goals of the school district. In 1999, the district was putting more effort into conflict resolution than any other organization in the city. It did not appear to be succeeding.
Racial violence in schools can erupt at any time. For a great many students, conflict and tension are the most vivid consequences of diversity. It would be scandalous if only a few students in America were trying to get an education in the shadow of the threat of racial violence. In fact, tension and violence touch hundreds of schools, perhaps thousands. There does not appear to be any central organization that monitors racial violence in schools, nor is it something that gets attention outside the neighborhoods in which it occurs. That means it is hard to grasp the true dimensions of the problem or even to know if it is getting better or worse. In any case, a recitation of statistics would not convey the harrowing circumstances under which some Americans are trying to get an education. Some of the following examples may seem repetitive, but only descriptions of specific incidents can suggest the extent of the problem or provide a sense of what diversity can mean for a school.
On November 20, 2004, a black-Hispanic brawl involving an estimated 1,000 students broke out at Jordan High School in South Los Angeles. Gang members from adjoining neighborhoods joined the fighting, and it took 60 policemen in riot gear to break up the fray. The school was locked down, as were two other schools in the area, for fear the violence might spread.
Three days later, there was a fight between 100 blacks and Hispanics at Manual Arts High School, also in Los Angeles. Dozens of officers, some in helicopters, restored order. A week later, in what police said was a related incident, black students broke the jaw of a Hispanic student in front of Crenshaw High School.
The next year, there was a series of racial eruptions at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles. On April 14, more than 100 blacks and Hispanics fought each other in the cafeteria after Hispanics told blacks to “go back to Africa.” Police broke up the brawl; administrators locked down the school and let students out early.
The next day, the violence at Jefferson jumped to two other schools in the area, Norte Vista High School in Riverside, and Santa Monica High School. Norte Vista was locked down and police made five arrests. Santa Monica High School was also locked down, and students were dismissed methodically, building by building, to be sure they did not mix and start fighting again. “It was more racial tension than it was gang-related,” explained district superintendent John Deasy, no doubt in an attempt to be reassuring.
Back at Jefferson, no fewer than 16 school and city police officers were patrolling the campus to keep tensions under control, but three days later there was another cafeteria brawl involving 100 blacks and Hispanics. One student suffered a broken hip and several others were arrested. Administrators announced they would get a metal detector for the main entrance and shut off all other entrances. They also closed the cafeteria so students could not congregate. Students got bag lunches rather than hot meals, with nothing in them that could be used as a missile—just hamburgers and burritos.
The next day, 29 police officers were assigned to the school, and 12 more patrolled the neighborhood. Even so, attendance was down by almost half because so many students were afraid. Those who did come to school were dismissed through a phalanx of teachers, administrators, and police in riot helmets. “We just have a lot of issues with race,” conceded Principal Norm Morrow.
As tensions continued, the president of the school’s Black Student Union said many blacks were thinking of transferring because they were afraid of being “jumped.” The Nation of Islam offered to escort outnumbered black students to school to protect them from Hispanics. Fifteen-year-old Stephanie Alonzo said she thought the solution was to keep blacks and Hispanics apart whenever they were not in class.
Hispanic students started wearing brown T-shirts as a sign of racial solidarity. Blacks started wearing black T-shirts. During the two months that followed, there were at least two more large-scale melees despite the stepped-up police presence. There were many small skirmishes and a number of organized attacks in which a group from one race cornered and beat a student of another race. Twenty-five students were arrested, three had to be hospitalized, and dozens were suspended or transferred. An anonymous Hispanic student wrote about the fighting at Jefferson in the independent publication LA Youth. “I felt good defending my race,” he wrote. “I was hitting anybody I could get my hands on . . . .”
Ron Rubine, a counselor at Carver Middle School in South Los Angeles, which had its own blackHispanic conflicts, suggested that if the chips were down the staff, too, would square off along racial lines. It was all very well for outsiders to call the students at Jefferson “savages,” he said, but asked, “Is it really that different with adults? If there was a fight among the staff, we’d align ourselves with the people we hang around with. . . . We have our public face, but look at what we do in private.”
Jefferson High School got a new Hispanic principal from East Los Angeles and regular visits from human relations experts, ex-convicts, former gang members, and Justice Department officials, but racial tensions continued.
There was more violence in 2005. That spring, a rumor went around the district that Hispanic gang members were going to celebrate the Mexican Cinco de Mayo holiday by killing blacks. Administrators added extra police patrols, and principals sent home letters saying the rumors were groundless. Some schools mounted mass telephone campaigns to tell parents it was safe to come to school. Despite these efforts, 51,000 middle and high school students—18 percent of total enrollment —stayed home. At Crenshaw High School in South Los Angeles, about 1,700 of 2,800 failed to appear. “I’m devastated that a rumor can cause such fear,” said Randy Cornfield, assistant principal at Hamilton High School.
Channa Cook, a black teacher at the highly regarded Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, explained that even there, black students routinely skipped school on Cinco de Mayo. “My first year here, I didn’t believe it,” she said, “but the students told me, ‘No, Miss Cook, if you come to school you’re going to get shot.’ When I arrived at class, all the black kids had stayed home.”
The next year saw more violence. On March 21, 2006, fighting broke out between black and Hispanic students at Fremont High School in Los Angeles. Police locked down the school and dismissed students in small groups to keep them from mixing. The school hired extra security officers.
In neighboring San Bernardino County on October 13, police arrested five students, and 80 more were suspended after a black/Hispanic brawl at Pacific High School. The fight involved 80 to 100 students and was the third time in three weeks that dozens of students had fought each other. Eight campus security men were present, but could not stop the fighting. Police used pepper balls to separate blacks and Hispanics. The riot was a replay of the previous year’s racial violence that greeted the start of the school year.
On the same day in the same county, an estimated 500 blacks and Hispanics pitched into each other with bottles, rocks, and fists at Fontana High School. It took more than 100 officers, including the Fontana SWAT team, more than an hour and a half to restore order. Helicopters circled overhead as officers fired beanbag rounds, sting balls, and hundreds of rubber pellets. “It all started with blacks versus Mexicans, as always,” explained sophomore Abigail Orozco. Sixteen-year-old Samantha Dorgey said there were fights about once a week, but this one just got out of hand. Police locked down Fontana as well as nearby Citrus Elementary and Truman Middle School.
Journalists noted that during the previous four years in San Bernardino County, police had had to quell racial violence at A.B. Miller High School, Redlands High School, Bloomington High School, Wilmer Amina Carter High School, and Silverado High School. The Fontana school district later installed an anonymous tip line, hired an intervention specialist, and started making students wear identification badges.
Early the next year, 2007, police fired pepper balls to break up a black-Hispanic riot at San Bernardino High School during a pep rally. “This racial stuff has got to stop,” said Tami Manning, whose daughter was suspended for fighting a Hispanic girl. One black father said that the high school had become so dangerous for blacks that he would send his 10th-grade son to a different school. “This is why I took him out of Pacific [High School]” he added.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, police arrested a 16-year-old black student for stabbing to death a 17- year-old Hispanic student at Washington Preparatory High School. Other students said it was the culmination of persistent racial tension.
In 2008 it was Locke High School’s turn when as many as 600 blacks and Hispanics fought each other in a campus-wide brawl. There were only two officers on duty when the fighting started, but campus security brought in 60 more guards and the Los Angeles police sent a dozen patrol cars and 50 men to help lock down the school. One black student explained that the races do not mix at Locke —“Everybody usually just sticks to themselves”—and that violence on such a scale was unusual.
Locke High School has a history of racial violence. In February 1996, 50 police officers broke up a lunchtime riot involving hundreds of blacks and Hispanics. Boys and girls beat each other, and one boy jumped out of a second-story window to escape pursuers. Police in riot gear had to keep students from resuming battle in the streets. Tensions were particularly high because Hispanics resented the February celebrations of black history month.
In April 2009, at least 10 students at Silverado High School were arrested after two large groups of students—one black and the other Hispanic—faced off during the lunch period and began fighting.
Can it be a surprise that a 2008 survey of 6,008 South Los Angeles high school students found that only one quarter said they felt safe in school and that many showed signs of clinical depression? Anna Exiga of Jordan High School who helped organize the survey explained that “there’s racial tension and gang violence, and also many feel that their schools are not schools—their schools look more like prisons.”
Schools may have to be run like prisons simply to avoid liability. In 2005, the parents of four black students received a $300,000 settlement when they sued Valencia High School in northern Los Angeles County for not having done enough to protect their children from racial attack. Racial conflict undoubtedly contributes to the Los Angeles school district’s official graduation rate of only 67 percent.
The Los Angeles area may be the worst for black-Hispanic violence in schools, but the rest of the state is not immune. The Elk Grove Unified School District near Sacramento has long had a task force to try to stop violence. Marjorie Beazer, a black mother with three children in the district, said that race was so close to the surface “it’s like breathing, almost.”
In 2010, blacks in Union City, California, filed a class-action suit in federal court, claiming that the school district had failed to curtail “severe and pervasive racial harassment” by Hispanic students. The suit alleged that Union City police had told black students and their families that if they didn’t like how they were treated they should move to a different town.
Black-Hispanic school violence is concentrated in California because of its large number of Hispanics, but other states also suffer. In Paterson, New Jersey, administrators at John F. Kennedy High School tried to curb black/Hispanic violence with “conflict resolution” and “peer counseling” programs. In 2001, after police broke up a fight between blacks and Hispanics near the school, blacks went swarming through the streets and beat to death a 42-year-old homeless Hispanic man. In 2007, at Lakewood High School in Lakewood, New Jersey, a fight that began between rival black and Hispanic gangs spread to 150 students. Seventy-five police officers in riot gear from five towns helped reestablish order.
In Chicago in 2005, police made seven arrests after they broke up a brawl between black and Hispanic students at Washington High School. The teachers’ union reported that many teachers felt unsafe and were pressing the district to increase security. Likewise in Chicago, in 2006, blacks and Hispanics fought at Roberto Clemente High School, where Hispanics outnumber blacks. “They don’t want us here,” explained Stephen Flagg, a black student. “We don’t want to be here,” he added. “Everybody is different, and that’s why everybody is fighting.”
In late 2008, Hempstead High School on Long Island was wracked by two days of severe blackHispanic fighting. The school suspended dozens of students, canceled the homecoming pep rally, and finally stopped the violence by blanketing the school with uniformed police and undercover officers. “They be groupin’ up, and I just had to defend my people and that’s what I do,” explained one of the combatants.
No state with substantial numbers of blacks and Hispanics is safe from violence. Five detectives and ten police officers set up a command post at Memorial High School in Madison, Wisconsin, after fighting broke out between blacks and Hispanics in October 2008. Officers followed school buses home to make sure the fighting would not continue after dismissal. A Hispanic girl who was beaten unconscious in one melee said the trouble started when a group of blacks called Hispanics “wetbacks.”
In March 2001, 400 black and Hispanic students rioted at Andress High School in El Paso, Texas. One hundred officers responded, and there were 11 arrests as a police helicopter hovered overhead. Terrel Tate, a 16-year-old white student, explained that “they [blacks and Hispanics] hate each other because of their skin.”
In 2004 in Phoenix, Arizona, three black girls from Maxine O. Bush Elementary School were convicted of assault for attacking a Hispanic girl. The parents of the Hispanic, who were convinced the attack was racially motivated, threatened to sue the school district, and asked the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) for help. LULAC demanded that the principal be fired for failing to protect Hispanics.
The consequences of racial tension can be poignant. In 1997, classes from two Chicago middle schools happened to book cruises on the same ship on the same day to celebrate eighth-grade graduation. The principal of Logandale Middle School, which is largely Hispanic, refused to let the students from Brown Elementary School, which is black, board the ship. The black children were left on the dock in tears as the Spirit of Chicago set sail. The Hispanic principal, Luis Molina, explained that the risk of violence was too great, even if the two schools were on different decks.
The tension can spread to adults. The 2010 kindergarten graduation ceremony at Puesta del Sol Elementary School in Victorville, California, was disrupted by a fight between black and Hispanic women that turned into a racial brawl. Police locked down the school and made two arrests.
Blacks do not see the arrival of Hispanics as an opportunity to celebrate diversity. By 1999, there were 26 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District in which Hispanics were a majority of the students but blacks were a majority of the staff. Hispanic parents demanded more Hispanic staff but blacks would not step down. As Celes King III, president of the Congress for Racial Equality, who once led a demonstration against a white principal at Manual Arts High School, noted, with no apparent sense of irony: “The situation has gone full circle. The Hispanics are using the same thoughts and practices we used 30 years ago. . . . We need to organize and maintain our positions in education because we worked so hard for them.”
In 2007, one advisory council to the Los Angeles Unified School District that had black and Hispanic members fought for months over whether to hold its meetings in Spanish or English. Hispanics stormed out of one meeting when the blacks voted to censure the Hispanic chairman. The district brought in dispute-resolution experts and mental health counselors.
Some Hispanics take proportional representation for granted. In 1999, Burton Elementary School in Panorama, California, was 90 percent Hispanic, and parents sharply criticized its white principal, Norman Bernstein, when he tried to phase out bilingual education in accordance with the provisions of a 1998 ballot initiative. He said two Hispanic men waylaid him on his way to work. “We don’t want you here, white principal,” they said and then beat him unconscious. The Los Angeles school board president condemned the beating but noted that Hispanics often ask for Hispanic principals at their schools adding, “I don’t think this is an unreasonable request.”
Although the primary ethnic fault line in America’s schools today seems to be black-Hispanic, any mix can cause conflict. In Hamtramck, Michigan, the tension is between blacks and Arabs. After a racially motivated brawl at Hamtramck High School in 2004, the superintendent of schools promised a constant police presence, but that was not enough. The next year, the school spent $22,000 on surveillance cameras to try to stop fights that were breaking out several times a week. The cameras were in addition to metal detectors and photo IDs students had worn for years. “Blacks and Arabs don’t get along,” said Terrell Beasley, who was hospitalized after an attack by Arabs. “It’s been like that since the beginning.”
In rural Gentry, Arkansas, between November 2005 and January 2006, police arrested 14 students for what they called “racially motivated” fights between Hmong and Hispanics. The town called in professional help to try to ease the tension. “We really want to make people aware of what’s going on over there before someone gets killed,” said Tessie Ajala, who led an intervention program.
In 2000, at Valley Center High School in San Diego County, California, 30 police officers put down a fight between dozens of Hispanic and American Indian students. Juan Granados, who is the founder of an organization that tries to train young people in peace-making, said that Hispanic and Indian students had been feuding for 40 years.
At Sanford Middle School in Minneapolis, there is friction between Native American students and some 200 Somali immigrant children. In May 2003, parents of Indians held a rally outside the school to protest bullying and violence by Somalis. School officials promised a program of cultural awareness and sensitivity.
At Purnell Swett High School in Lumberton, North Carolina, blacks and Lumbee Indians do not get along. Thirty Indians and nine blacks were suspended after an October 2002 fight, prompting 100 Indian students and their parents to demonstrate against what they thought was unfair treatment. Someone circulated an anonymous letter filled with expletives about blacks that said, “I am a soldier in the Lumbee’s army. I will never surrender to the enemy.”
There is trouble between Armenian and Hispanic students in Los Angeles County. In 2000, when 17-year-old Raul Aguirre came to the aid of a fellow Hispanic who was fighting two Armenians, they stabbed Mr. Aguirre and crushed his head with a tire iron. Police booked three Armenian teenagers—including one girl—in connection with the killing. Hispanics took revenge a few days later. After a community meeting held to promote ethnic harmony, three Hispanics shot at a group of Armenians, sending an 18-year-old to the hospital with a bullet in his knee.
In March 2005, there was a riot involving 200 to 400 Armenian and Hispanic students at Grant High School in Los Angeles. Helicopters circled as police officers put down violence that sent four students, two teachers, and a police officer to the hospital. There was so much chaos that police ordered a child development center across the street locked down to keep its 72 children safe. According to a Hispanic student, the riot began when “the Armenians hit a 14-year-old girl in the face because she was Hispanic.”
Grant High School has had an Armenian-Hispanic problem for years. In October 1999, 20 or so Hispanics crossed the invisible line that divided the Armenian and Hispanic areas, and soon 400 students were rioting. Two teachers and 14 students were injured, and it took more than 30 Los Angeles police officers—some brandishing shotguns—to bring peace. The school’s dean, Daniel Gruenberg, explained that there had been similar ethnic battles at least once a year for more than a decade. The school tried conflict resolution programs, cultural awareness classes, group mediation, peer counseling, and teacher training, but nothing seemed to work.
So many whites have left urban public schools that those who remain are a small minority. They have a reputation for not fighting back and almost never take part in the massive riots that wrack some schools. Perhaps this helps explain why the problem attracts so little national attention.
The exceptions usually involve white ethnics. At Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, 200 white students—all Albanians and many of them refugees—refused to be intimidated. They were vastly outnumbered by blacks and Hispanics, but stood up to mass attacks that had to be stopped by police. “They all hate us,” said 17-year-old Diana Gjoljaj of blacks and Hispanics. “That’s why we hang together.” Evan Small, a black junior, said blacks stick together, too: “If you see guys fighting you are going to jump in and protect your people.”
Occasionally non-immigrant whites are involved in group violence. At Canyon High School in Riverside County, California, 18 students were suspended and eight faced expulsion after two days of fighting between whites and Hispanics. The violence reportedly began when a Hispanic girl started singing in Spanish and a white boy told her to shut up.
In 2010, police in Torrington, Connecticut, were put on alert when they learned that as many as 50 Dominican gang members, armed with machetes, were planning to converge on the town and “kill any white guys they see walking on the street.” The attacks never materialized but were believed to be a response to racial violence at Torrington High School.
Like whites, Asian students have a reputation for not fighting back, and black and Hispanic students often bully them. Aimee Baldillo of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium said that this was “something we see everywhere in different pockets of the U.S. where there’s a large influx of [Asian] people.”
In 2010, Asian students at majority-black South Philadelphia High School filed a complaint with the US Department of Justice, alleging “deliberate indifference” to no fewer than 26 separate racial attacks by blacks during the preceding school year. In the worst attack, 13 Asian students were treated at hospitals after black students beat them in the halls and chased them into the streets.
Ethnic celebrations that are supposed to promote multiculturalism and bring students together often drive them apart. In the 1980s, Inglewood High School was overwhelmingly black, but by the late 1990s it was 60 percent Hispanic. 1998 was the last year it celebrated Cinco de Mayo; it took dozens of police to stop the race riot that broke out during the observances. The high school also stopped celebrating Black History Month because it provoked so much resentment among Hispanics. Many schools have dropped specifically black or Hispanic observances for the same reason.
School officials held an assembly at Skyview High School in Nampa, Idaho, in 1999 that was supposed to promote racial understanding and tolerance but had the opposite effect. A dozen police officers had to be called in when whites and Hispanics began screaming at each other and then started fighting. The school canceled the rest of the tolerance program.
In 2010, Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez of Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, California, sent home five white students who were wearing American-flag clothing on Cinco de Mayo. They said they often wore patriotic clothing, and intended no provocation. When their parents and others protested, about 200 Mexican-American students walked out of class in support of the Hispanic assistant principal, and demanded that the white students be suspended. They said wearing red, white, and blue on Cinco de Mayo was an insult to Hispanics.
Some schools have banned the American flag. After Mexican students at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in Santa Barbara County, California, brought Mexican flags to school, whites replied with American flags. They said they were simply being patriotic, but Principal Norm Clevenger said the American flags suggested “intolerance” and confiscated them.
Likewise, at Skyline High School in Denver, Colorado, American flags were banned from campus when Principal Tom Stumpf decided they had been waved “brazenly” at Hispanic students. He banned all other flags, too.
The entire Oceanside Unified School District in San Diego County banned flags and flag-motif clothing. The district decided they were too provocative after Hispanics participated in large-scale marches demanding amnesty for illegal immigrants. Officials said flags were being used to taunt other students and stir up trouble.
Thirteen-year-old Cody Alicea liked to fly a one-foot American flag from his bicycle to show support for veterans in his family. Officials at Denair Middle School in Denair, California, made him take it off, explaining that the flag could cause “racial tension” with Hispanic students.
It is difficult to think of diversity as a strength when Old Glory is treated as gang colors.
Administrators are often reluctant to admit there is racial tension in their schools, but Mara Sapon-Shevin, a professor of inclusive education at Syracuse University, says they are being dishonest. “The truth is that every school has a racism problem, and the only differentiation is between schools that are doing something about it and schools that aren’t.”
Schools have tried just about anything to try to calm racial tensions: professional mediation, multicultural training, diversity celebrations, anger-management classes, and a host of other interventions. In 2004, the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, in Riverside County, California, even considered a rule that would have forbidden any student to “form or openly participate in groups that tend to exclude, or create the impression of the exclusion of, other students.” The school board narrowly rejected the proposal when it was pointed out that the ban would have prohibited membership in the Hispanic group, La Raza, and could have been read to forbid playing rap music around white students. Absurd measures like this show how desperate schools are to solve the race problem.
A 2003 survey found that 5.4 percent of high-school students had stayed home at least once during the previous month because they were physically afraid. This was an increase over 4.4 percent ten years earlier. Racial violence was undoubtedly an important factor.
The circumstances under which some of our least advantaged citizens must try to get an education are nothing short of scandalous. Is it a wonder their test scores are low, that many drop out, that they fail to see the value of an education? How many times must school race riots be put down by SWAT teams before school authorities realize that this may be a problem that will not be cured with sensitivity training? The purpose of schools is to educate, not to force on children integration of a kind their parents do not even practice.
REWRITING THE CURRICULUM
A different effect of increased school diversity is the pressure it puts on textbooks. Beginning in the 1960s, schoolbooks were rewritten to reflect the views and contributions of blacks, women, and— increasingly—Hispanics. Now there are new challenges.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, Sandhya Kumar led a successful campaign to force the school district to revise its fifth-, ninth-, and tenth-grade materials to show proper respect for Asian Indians and Hinduism. Miss Kumar said she wanted the school curriculum to instill in her three children a love of India.
Muslims are changing American textbooks. The founder of the Council on Islamic Education claimed the group had achieved a “bloodless revolution… inside American junior high and high school classrooms.” For example, it succeeded in having “jihad,” usually considered to mean holy war, redefined as “to do one’s best to resist temptation and overcome evil.” As other immigrant groups grow in numbers they may press for similar changes.
Names of schools must now reflect diversity. The New Orleans school district, for example, which is overwhelmingly black, decided in 1992 that no school should bear the name of a slave-holder or Confederate officer. Schools named for Robert E. Lee and General P.G.T. Beauregard were duly renamed for blacks. Even George Washington Elementary fell afoul of the slave-owner rule and was renamed for the black surgeon Charles Drew. As long-time black activist Carl Galmon explained, “To African-Americans, George Washington has about as much meaning as David Duke.”
The search for a name can become a racial tug-of-war. In Berkeley, California, when Columbus Elementary had to be rebuilt after earthquake damage in 1999, it was rechristened Rosa Parks Elementary, but only after a fierce fight with a strong Hispanic contingent that wanted to honor Cesar Chavez. At the end of 2008, there was a bitter struggle between blacks and Hispanics over whether to name a new high school in honor of Cesar Chavez or of a black police officer killed in a shootout.
Also in Berkeley, in 2005, teachers at Thomas Jefferson Elementary decided they could no longer bear to work at a school named for a slaveholder, but there was a racial battle over whether to name the school after Cesar Chavez or Sojourner Truth. In a compromise that is likely to become more common in diverse areas, the school settled on the neutral name of Sequoia. In Palm Springs, Florida, even after two years of wrangling at what used to be Jefferson Davis Middle School, blacks and Hispanics could not agree on a hero so they replaced the Confederate president with the bland name of Palm Springs Middle School.
Cesar Chavez was Mexican, so he is not a model for all Hispanics. In 2007, Los Angeles opened Monsenor Oscar Romero Charter Middle School, named after an assassinated Salvadoran archbishop, to help neighborhood Salvadoran children maintain their heritage. If the demographics change, that name will no doubt have to be changed, too.
Racial diversity causes violence in prisons. Prison race riots appear to be at least as common as school race riots—though more deadly—and no more likely to attract national attention. Again, Southern California leads the way.
Hispanics outnumber blacks in the prisons, and racial tension has boiled beneath the surface for decades. It was already old news in 1995 when the Orange County Register ran the headline, “Black Jail Inmates Say They Live in Fear of Being ‘Ambushed’. ” Blacks in the Orange County Men’s Central Jail said they were afraid to leave their cells for fear of being attacked by more numerous Hispanics.
Until 2000, when they started using effective, non-lethal crowd-control equipment, guards routinely used firearms to put down riots. On February 23 that year, when 200 blacks and Hispanics at Pelican Bay State Prison started slashing each other with homemade knives, guards shot 15 inmates, killing one and critically wounding another. Prisoners still managed to stab at least 32 fellow inmates.
That may have been the last California prison riot put down with rifle fire. A long series of incidents at the Pitchess Detention Center in Los Angeles County later that year proved the effectiveness of more modern riot-control equipment. The problem at Pitchess—as in many other California prisons—was that the more numerous Hispanics had a policy of attacking blacks whenever they gained a sufficient numerical advantage. Critics said the authorities knew this but sometimes let the numbers in a dormitory tip as far as four or eight to one against blacks.
Whatever the cause of the outbreak, in April 2000, hundreds of blacks and Hispanics fought each other for three straight days. Approximately 80 men—most of them black 97—were injured and a black prisoner was beaten into a coma. Hispanics stuffed him under a mattress during a search for casualties, and would have finished him off if guards had not found him just in time.
Whenever the guards thought they had stopped the fighting it would break out again, and as a last resort, guards formally segregated the prisoners. Noting that there had been more than 150 major race-related disturbances since 1991, Sheriff’s Chief Taylor Moorehead explained that “it would be foolish to do anything but segregate.”
The families of black prisoners were pleased. “I know that people say segregation is not fair, whatever, whatever, but segregation is safer for our boys,” explained Ethel Fuqua. “Can you imagine how it feels to go and visit your son and see 43 stitches ’cross his face?” asked Janice Cooper. Christopher Darden, who helped prosecute O.J. Simpson for murder, said black prisoners had to be protected at all costs, and that “if it takes segregation, then that’s exactly what the sheriff should do.”
The inmates enjoyed the respite. “It’s good to have us like this,” said a Hispanic prisoner. “We want to stay with who we know.” Blacks agreed. “I shouldn’t have to come to jail as a parolee and have to fight for my life,” said Leonard Bryant. The prisoners knew, however, that segregation was illegal and would be temporary. Asked what it would be like when the dormitories were reintegrated, a tattooed Hispanic gang member replied, “The raza [the (Hispanic) race] is always ready to fight.” A black did not want to share quarters again with Hispanics: “It’s going to be very difficult for me to go to sleep with someone above me, next to me, under me who would kill me at the drop of a dime,” he said.
After several weeks of peace, the authorities reintegrated the prison, though they did develop computer programs to track the racial balance throughout the complex to make sure Hispanics never achieved a crushing majority over blacks. Still, it did not take long for violence to resume. On July 8, 2000, blacks launched simultaneous attacks in three different dormitories to retaliate for the beating they took during the April riots that led to segregation. The next day, Hispanics in three other dormitories attacked black prisoners. Twenty-two men were hurt and two were hospitalized. Other Hispanics wrecked their own dormitory when they learned they were going to be moved from all Hispanic housing to share quarters with blacks. Sheriff’s Chief Moorehead said segregation would permanently eliminate racial tension but that the law required integration.
A month after the April riots, black inmates filed a class action suit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, claiming that it was a violation of civil rights to let the violence continue. “These riots have happened year after year,” said Leon Jenkins, the lawyer who brought the suit, “and if you don’t take corrective action it shows a deliberate indifference to the rights of these inmates.”
In 2003, an estimated 150 blacks and Hispanics battled for 90 minutes at the Eagle Mountain Prison about 60 miles east of Palm Springs. Two prisoners were killed, four had to be helicoptered to hospitals, and another 50 were treated by prison medical staff. “I walked onto the yard when it was over, and it looked like Beirut,” said Lt. Warren Montgomery, adding that prisoners attacked each other with “anything they could get their hands on.” Eagle Mountain is a low-risk prison for nonviolent offenders.
In 2005, San Quentin State Prison had its worst prison riot in 20 years, when Hispanics attacked whites, and 400 inmates joined in the fighting. Thirty-nine needed medical treatment and three were hospitalized. The fighting took place in part of the prison that had already been locked down for a week because of racial violence. Likewise in 2005, five inmates at the state prison at Chino, California, had to be hospitalized after some 200 black and Hispanic prisoners battled each other.
Also in 2005, a white prisoner paid with his life for violating racial etiquette. At the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail, mealtimes reflected the racial balance of power: Hispanics ate first, then blacks, with whites last. A white got in line with 30 Hispanics, who beat him to death. “Race is the predominant issue in everything going on in these jail modules,” explained Michael Gennaco, head of the county Office of Independent Review.
On February 4, 2006, 2,000 inmates went on a four-hour rampage at the North County Correctional Facility in Castaic, California. It took 200 deputies to stop what Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca called “massive chaos.” One black was beaten to death and 20 inmates went to the hospital. Sheriff Baca locked down the 21,000-man system and segregated prisoners even though it was against the rules. “Human life is more important than appearance,” he explained. The sheriff released a letter from a Hispanic inmate that said: “If blacks come into the dorms we will fight. . . . Please separate us race by race for everyone’s safety.”
According to official records, the riot was the seventh major incident in the county jail system in just two months. In the previous year, there had been 33 major inmate disturbances, including 19 at the North County jail, a state-of-the art facility that went into service in 1990.
The February 4, 2006 riot triggered racial violence that went on for nearly a month and spread throughout the Los Angeles County jail system. Six straight days of black-Hispanic riots in the Pitchess Detention Center left one black inmate dead and dozens injured. “Black inmates are begging us for help,” said an Islamic minister who visited the prison. “They want to stay segregated and be protected.”
On February 13, 2006, another black prisoner was killed, this time at the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail. Sheriff Baca locked down the entire county system and segregated as many dormitories as he thought he could without provoking a civil rights challenge. Meanwhile, the black/Hispanic violence spread to three youth detention centers. That fall, five inmates had to be hospitalized with stab wounds when whites battled Hispanics in a riot at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility about 25 miles southeast of San Diego.
For ten years, Asians were kept in segregated dormitories in Los Angeles County jails. The Mexican mafia had a “green light” on them, meaning that Hispanics were to attack them on sight. They were only about 3.5 percent of the prison population, so it was relatively easy to house them separately. In early 2004, when the “green light” went off, prison authorities decided to return Asians to the general population. “It’s like feeding us to the sharks,” said Raymond Lim, serving time for attempted murder. Some Asians barricaded their cell doors with beds and set fire to mattresses to protest the decision.
Nearly two dozen family members of Asian prisoners met with Sheriff Lee Baca to urge him to keep the “Asian-only module” at the downtown Los Angeles jail. Rosie Tse, whose husband was in jail awaiting trial, said she was disappointed Sheriff Baca thought ending segregation was more important than safety.
It didn’t take long for the “green light” to go back on for Asians, reportedly in retaliation for Asian attacks on a Hispanic gang in Garden Grove in neighboring Orange County. Inmates at two Orange County jails were put on several weeks of strict lockdown to keep Asians and Hispanics apart. Privileges were to be restored gradually if there was no violence. Strict racial segregation of Asians was not restored.
When California firefighting crews are overwhelmed, they get help from prisoners, but they are not always much use. In December 2007, white and Hispanic prisoners who were supposed to be fighting the Poomacha fire in San Diego County fought each other instead. The fire burned 50,000 acres and 217 homes and other buildings.
In February 2009, Camp Scudder, a Los Angeles County juvenile probation camp for girls, was locked down after two girls and eight staff members were injured in a fight. Kerri Webb, a probation department spokeswoman, said that racial tensions at the camp “are very common, unfortunately.” A manager noted that racial antagonism was increasing and warned staff to “remain vigilant and on the alert for racial tension.” In September 2009, authorities used pepper spray to control an hour-long brawl at the Camp Kilpatrick juvenile facility in California after name-calling touched off violence between blacks and Hispanics.
Other states have prison riots. At the Dominguez prison near San Antonio, Texas, Hispanics ambushed blacks during a lockdown. A 19-year-old Hispanic explained that “all I could think of was hurting (the blacks) best I could.” The prisoners wanted segregation but as guard captain Don Dalton explained, “They’re going to have to learn to live together.”
In April 2000, 300 prisoners rioted at the Smith Unit in Lamesa, Texas, when a Hispanic inmate told a black to stop fondling himself in front of a female guard. One prisoner was killed and a kitchen went up in flames before 300 guards managed to stop the violence. In Oregon’s Snake River Correctional Institution two guards went to the hospital in 2000 after a black sat down in an area reserved for Hispanics and triggered a riot. In October 1999, more than 280 inmates were involved in a two-hour race riot at Fort Grant State Prison in Arizona. Eighty inmates were treated for injuries and the guards put the prison on indefinite lockdown. At High Desert State Prison in Nevada, blacks crushed the skull of a Hispanic prisoner with a rock during a race riot in 2004. Prisoner advocate Mercedes Maharis blamed guards who “let the wrong people out in the yard together.”
In 2007 in the Prince George’s County Detention Center in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, tensions were so high that guards resorted to segregation. A supervisor noted that the prison was abiding by “jailhouse law:” housing inmates only with people of the same race. Guards also made sure blacks and Hispanics were let onto the recreation field at different times.
In March 2009, James Ingram, a 28-year-old inmate at Lafourche Parish Detention Center in Louisiana, spoke for other blacks when he explained that he wanted whites out of his cellblock, either “on their own or through the hospital.” He and nine other black prisoners attacked several whites in the cellblock and beat them unconscious.
In June 2009, Sheriff Joe Arpaio ordered all jails in Maricopa County, Arizona, placed on indefinite lockdown after he learned that inmates were planning large-scale racial assaults. The approximately 10,000 prisoners were allowed to leave their cells only for court appearances.
In August 2009, race riots and fires completely destroyed six buildings, and forced the transfer of 700 of the 1,200 inmates from the Northpoint Training Center near Danville, Kentucky. The prison had already been locked down for three days after a dozen Hispanic prisoners attacked a white and a black prisoner.
Inmates would overwhelmingly welcome segregation. As Lexy Good, a white prisoner in San Quentin State Prison explained, “I’d rather hang out with white people, and blacks would rather hang out with people of their own race.” He said it was the same outside of prison: “Look at suburbia. . . . People in society self-segregate.”
Another white man, using the pen name John Doe, wrote that jail time in Texas had turned him against blacks:
[B]ecause of my prison experiences, I cannot stand being in the presence of blacks. I can’t even listen to my old, favorite Motown music anymore. The barbarous and/or retarded blacks in prison have ruined it for me. The black prison guards who comprise half the staff and who flaunt the dominance of African-American culture in prison and give favored treatment to their “brothers” have ruined it for me.
He went on:
[I]n the aftermath of the Byrd murder [the 1998 dragging death in Jasper, Texas] I read one commentator’s opinion in which he expressed disappointment that ex-cons could come out of prison with unresolved racial problems “despite the racial integration of the prisons.” Despite? Buddy, do I have news for you! How about because of racial integration? (emphasis in the original)
A man who served four years in a California prison wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times called “Why Prisons Can’t Integrate.” “California prisons separate blacks, whites, Latinos and ‘others’ because the truth is that mixing races and ethnic groups in cells would be extremely dangerous for inmates,” he wrote. He added that segregation “is looked on by no one—of any race— as oppressive or as a way of promoting racism.” He offered “Rule No. 1” for survival: “The various races and ethnic groups stick together.” There were no other rules. He added that racial taboos are so complex that only a person of the same race can be an effective guide.
In 2001, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit bowed to reality when it ruled that prison guards may sometimes have a duty to segregate prisoners. A black plaintiff claimed guards had let blacks and Mexicans mix in an exercise yard even though they knew this could lead to attacks. Judge Harry Pregerson agreed, saying prison officials must take reasonable measures to prevent violence, and that segregation is reasonable when tensions are high. This ruling became law in California, Nevada, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon 130—but not for long.
In 2005, the US Supreme Court ruled that segregating prisoners was unconstitutional. Until that time, the entire California system put new arrivals in double cells with someone of their own race while they were initially evaluated. Really dangerous men were then sent to single cells, and others were put into the general population. The ruling meant that even this initial, temporary segregation had to be stopped.
By mid-2009, integration had been officially attempted in only two of the state’s 33 prisons, beginning with non-violent inmates considered most likely to accept it. At Sierra Conservation Center, southeast of Sacramento, integration began in the fall of 2008. For three days, hundreds of prisoners protested by refusing to work, eat, or leave their cells. Rules violations increased five-fold. Prisoners refused to share cells even though they could be punished with withdrawal of television, commissary, and exercise privileges, and have up to 90 days added to their sentences.
“To me, this is like using us like lab rats, to see if it works,” said black inmate Glenn Brooks. “It ain’t ever going to work. All it’s going to do is get somebody hurt, get somebody killed.”
Mr. Brooks was right. In August 2009 at the California Institution for Men in Chino, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles, overcrowding and attempted integration led to an 11-hour black-Hispanic riot in which 250 men were injured and 55 had to be hospitalized. Inmates also burned down six of eight 200-man dormitories. Prison spokesman Mark Hargrove explained that mixed-race housing had increased tensions and that prisoners were resegregated after the riot. Nine other prisons in Southern California were locked down as a precaution.
Prison segregation would be a blessing to both inmates and guards. It would save lives, relieve tension, and probably, as prisoner John Doe suggests, improve race relations on the outside by sparing convicts racial violence that permanently embitters them. However, because the United States is committed to integration, we ignore those who have the strongest case against it.
Some would say that racial violence in prisons says nothing about diversity as a national goal because the prejudices of the dregs of society have no relevance for the rest of us. We should not be so hasty to condemn people who face challenges we can hardly imagine. Prisoners must suffer the company of strangers in acutely invasive ways. It is nothing short of cruelty to then force them into racial integration that is vastly more intense than anything most of us would choose voluntarily. Federal judges should search their souls before putting men’s lives at risk in the name of principles they, themselves, probably do not practice in their own lives.