The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Children of the Segregated Corn

Children of The Segregated Corn
By Brian Wagner
April 21, 2006

Omaha, Nebraska. The name evokes corn, corn, and people who work with corn, the so-called cornhuskers. But now we have a new word to roll around with our tongue when talking about the city: segregation.

Senator Ernie Chambers, Nebraska’s only black state senator, has been described as “the angriest black man in Nebraska.” Think Al Sharpton with credibility. And now Chambers is channeling a bit of Malcolm X in the heartland. Chambers was the only Democrat involved in the recent passage of LB1024, a bill that thwarted the Omaha school district’s “One City, One School District” plan to integrate the mixed-race, urban schools with the white, middle-class, suburban schools. The goal of that plan was to create equality in funding and opportunity. The Republicans, responding to legitimate suburban complaints, came up with a defensible plan to maintain district borders while enforcing a common tax levy among a “learning community” of 11 school districts. The goal was to address questions of equity without raising fears of forced integration.

But Chambers decided that to truly serve fellow blacks, he should segregate them, or as he put it, create an area “over which we [blacks] would have control.” With a two-page amendment, he proposed to radically alter a moderate Republican bill to mandate three separate school districts: One majority-white, one majority-black, and one majority-Hispanic.

Anyone have a problem with this? The Republicans surely didn’t see anything wrong with it, giving Chambers 30 votes to pass the amended bill 31-16 in the Senate. Nebraska’s governor, Dave Heineman, didn’t see anything wrong with the bill, signing it immediately during the middle of a competitive Republican primary election.

Luckily for the future of race relations, some people are not happy, including one of Nebraska’s largest employers. David Sokol, CEO of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, raised his voice to object meekly. “This is going to make our state a laughingstock,” he said quietly from his pulpit of power, “and it’s going to increase racial tensions and segregation.” Warren Buffett, Nebraska’s richest man, also registered his complaints. If money truly could talk, Sokol and Buffett would have blown out Chambers’ eardrums.

The bill’s supporters claim that, since the law doesn’t go into effect until 2008, it will send a message to the Omaha school district, encouraging more responsible and popular education policies.

Chambers even hopes it will send a message about the inequality of the system. But this is no “message”: a “message” is Charlie Rangel making a point about the military by introducing a draft bill with no chance of succeeding. The governor signing a bill to segregate racial groups is not a message; it is either racism, ignorance or stupidity, or a blender-full of the three elements.

It can be argued that the amended bill is not one which promotes segregation, because the bill isn’t specifically grouping minorities. Instead, it targets geographic areas that happen to be dominated by one racial group. Yet this is nothing more than an argument in semantics, as it accepts the separation of races in housing as a condition that justifies the separation of races in schooling. It goes without saying that race relations today operate on a different level than they did a century ago. But Chambers’ folly proves that many people refuse to accept the idea that a segregated city, whether divided geographically or educationally, is socially unhealthy and unacceptable.

The current debate on illegal immigrants has the American blood of many an individual boiling, but in the end, unless we plan to put out a new sign on the Statue of Liberty proclaiming, “Send me your bankers, your wealthy, your elite. Please keep the rest,” this current vacillation between the notions that ours should be an integrated nation or that ours should be a white nation filled with many oddly colored individuals needs to stop. Let us be clear when we talk about Omaha. Economic disparities between races poison relationships and lives, and further segregation, advanced by those such as Mr. Chambers, does nothing except relieve prosperous groups of the responsibility of compromising and cooperating.

You know, maybe I am wrong to be alarmed by this. Perhaps “separate but equal” does work. The practice of legislated segregation would be so much easier to discuss if there were a court case that could speak more clearly as to whether or not “separate but equal” is a justifiable concept. Maybe we’ll have an answer to that question someday. Until then, I’m going to stick with my guns on Nebraska LB1024—segregation, even cloaked in political-speak, is unhealthy and unacceptable.


  • At 10:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The Omaha Public Schools' "One City, One School District" plan did not involve integration in any way. All it would have done was take property tax money and lined the pockets of the excess of adminitrators that sit around at the OPS district office. The same kids would go to the same schools. The OPS schools would have remained as segregated as they already are. The segregation occurs not because of the school districts, but because where people choose to live, just like every other mid to large-sized city in the US.


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