Montgomery County, Md., is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, noted for its diversity and deep blue political liberalism, and a place where Democratic presidential candidates routinely command over 70 percent of the vote. It is hardly one of the first counties that comes to mind when one thinks of “hotbeds for racism.”
But for today’s social justice crusaders, racism is never far away, which requires fighting back with “anti-racism.” That’s why the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) leadership recently conducted a series of “community conversations” as part of the district’s “anti-racist audit,” a comprehensive review of the district’s policies and operations aimed at identifying and rooting out vestiges of racial prejudice in the school system.
The goal of eliminating the relics of racial discrimination in the public school system is laudable, but what’s bitterly ironic is that the conversations hosted by MCPS, ostensibly aimed at reducing racial barriers, are carefully segregated by skin color. That’s not only self-defeating — it’s also a potential civil rights violation.
Montgomery County is not alone. Last year, Harvard’s American Repertory Theater put on a performance of “Macbeth” that was reserved for Black-identifying audience members, an act that is directly contrary to the theater’s stated policy of “making a welcoming and accessible space for people of any identity, background or ability.” New York City, Boston and Texas schools established race-based “affinity” groups for discussions and other activities. Colleges have moved toward “affinity,” i.e., segregated, housing. The University of California San Diego proposed a race-based orientation. And an elementary school in Denver, Colo., hosted racially segregated playground nights.
It’s worth thinking about the thought process underlying this “affinity” grouping: The only safe space for discussing one’s views is a place with others of the same race. That leads to an ironic outcome. People who want to discuss ways to eliminate the vestiges of racial discrimination must first be racially segregated. In Montgomery County, for example, Black parents met on a Monday, white parents on a Tuesday, and Asian parents on a Wednesday. Parents who identified as Hispanic, Native American, and Middle Eastern were similarly separated and given a time slot for just their group.
This is wrong on several levels. First, most racial and ethnic groups tend to be crudely defined categories, typically reflecting bureaucratic convenience and not objective reality. For example, government agencies, educational institutions and corporate entities routinely use “Asian” as a standalone racial category. But the term covers more than half of the world’s population and individuals from dozens of countries, including China, India, Japan, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam, all of which have unique histories and people. These countries have different languages, cultural practices, and majority religions, among many other things, not to mention the differences within each country. Crudely categorizing these billions of people as “Asian” denies their vast individual differences.
Obsession with identity politics divides people based on the arbitrary and unimportant attribute of “race” and assumes they all have the same experience. Even if that were true (and it isn’t), it would be a reason for exposing people to different backgrounds, not sheltering people from different views.
To be sure, non-mandatory school orientations or after-school discussions do not compare in magnitude to other forms of segregation that have plagued this nation’s history. But they are part of an increasingly popular and disturbing trend of divvying people up on the basis of race. To take just a few examples: California has enacted race-based hiring quotas for corporate boards; the Biden administration has attempted to implement race-based loan forgiveness; and some of the best public elementary schools in the nation are changing their admissions criteria for the avowed purpose of racial balancing. This crude and pernicious endeavor has even infected science: Public health agencies in New York are being sued for prioritizing COVID treatment based on race.
The Constitution abhors these racial classifications, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits public entities from segregating individuals or denying them benefits based on race. In fact, many of these instances have drawn lawsuits from people who value equality before the law. Montgomery County and other government bodies enacting “affinity groups” should scrap their insidious and illegal plans to divide us based on race.
This op-ed was originally published at The Hill on October 17, 2022.