Eight Decades of Ethnic Dilemmas

Jason Willick, Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2018.


Ethnic politics has existed throughout American history, as the country absorbed successive waves of immigrants. But Mr. Glazer sees contemporary identity politics as something new—an offspring of the civil-rights movement. “What happened was black identity became the model. It became the model for a revival of feminism,” Mr. Glazer says. “It became the model for all kinds of groups.”

Many sociologists of Mr. Glazer’s generation expected that black Americans after civil rights would follow the pattern of ethnic Europeans: They would continue to face discrimination and retain some ethnic distinctiveness, but the process of integration would be possible without state interference like quotas or set-asides. “We didn’t think of blacks in the North as we thought of blacks in the South,” Mr. Glazer says. “The blacks in the South have to be freed from a political oppression—separate schools, separate public facilities.”

Mr. Glazer hoped the Northern model of race relations could spread to the South after civil rights. Instead, liberals began thinking about race in the North along Southern lines—an unfortunate turn, in Mr. Glazer’s view. “I kept on fighting the word ‘segregation’ of blacks in the North,” he says. Northern blacks “didn’t have money, they lived where they could.” But they “were not segregated in schools; they were concentrated because that’s where they were”—just as ethnic neighborhoods in midcentury New York had schools that were heavily Puerto Rican or Italian.

Wall Street Journal