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The melting pot: half empty?

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PUBLIC policy, like anthropology, is full of taboos. Certain subjects are so volatile that an open and honest dialogue is almost impossible. Race is such a subject in the United States. Regardless of the taboos, we simply must muster the courage to talk about the pattern of disaffection that is being created among American minorities -- particularly black and Hispanic youth. The risks we run in failing to discuss this issue dwarf all else.

This assertion may seem incredible because our nation believes passionately in the effectiveness of the melting pot and equality of humanity. Both tenets have worked so well here that we enshrine them as universal truths. We not only expect people to be created equal, but we expect each culture to succeed equally once it is fully exposed to our country.

Clearly, success stories are part of the American lore. The poor, uneducated immigrants of one generation are leaders in politics, business, and science of the next. ``Only in America,'' we tell each other with blind faith.

Yet two groups, blacks and Hispanics, continue to face extraordinary crime, joblessness, and illiteracy rates. My generation marched in Selma, Ala., and fought discrimination throughout society. We take great pride in the degree of advancement and integration we have achieved together. But the overall profile is not encouraging. Consider the following:

Blacks account for 12 percent of the US population, but 46 percent of the arrests for violent crimes. In 1982, 49.2 percent of all murders and nonnegligent manslaughters known to police were committed by blacks, often against other blacks. Hispanics account for 6 percent of US population, but account for 12 percent of all arrests for violent crime.

Forty-six percent of this nation's black males over 16 are jobless.


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