Tuesday, May 14, 2002

The Shame of the Forbidden Notion

Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County, Virginia is one of the nation’s greatest schools. For those who don't live near the Beltway, Jefferson is a legendary magnet school devoted to math and science and regularly supplies squadrons of freshmen to the Ivy League. Jefferson also happens to be a public school and to the political hacks that administer the system, the school’s success is deeply troubling.

The student body at Jefferson does not reflect the diversity of Fairfax County. All the students are smart and hardworking. Not everyone in Fairfax County is smart and hardworking. For that matter, not everyone in the United States is smart and hardworking. Of course, any child of any ethnic background can enter Jefferson and expect to be treated as a full member of the community – but only if they are smart and hardworking.

The Superintendent of Schools in Fairfax has rightly recognized this policy as discriminatory. Yes, Jefferson discriminates on the basis of ability. According to the Superintendent, this will make Jefferson “isolated and elitist” according to an NPR story.

“Jefferson was never meant to cater to the best and brightest,” he says. It was meant to serve the entire community. So in the interests of the community he wants Jefferson to accept a set number of applicants from every grammar school in the County regardless of their intelligence or work ethic. How exactly this will serve the interests of the community is never articulated.

But the presumption is pretty clear – Jefferson’s success starkly reveals “the forbidden notion.”

To a liberal of a certain age, there is nothing more shameful than “the forbidden notion.” The forbidden notion is the crazy aunt locked away in the basement of the liberal psyche. It is the reluctantly held belief that everything Sheriff Bull Connor and Governor Wallace said about blacks was true: that they are less intelligent than whites and inherently lazy.

Of course, this belief is the very essence of American racism. And that’s why it must be concealed at all costs.

If you were liberal and believed in the forbidden notion you would have a choice of two responses. Either you treat African-Americans as wards of the state doomed to being marginalized from the mainstream of society and hope that their frustration and rage does not boil over and consume you, or you pretend the notion doesn’t exist and make sure that no evidence of it ever surfaces. Of the two responses, the first is clearly not acceptable . . . but the second requires eternal vigilance.

This explains quite a lot about the contradictions of the “progressive” movement.

If you did not believe in the inferiority of blacks then you would welcome any opportunity to disprove the forbidden notion. You would crusade against quotas that obscure individual achievement, you would think globally and act locally to create a colorblind society where as Bob Marley sang, “the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes.” And you would hold African-Americans to a higher standard than the mainstream in order to crush tenacious racism under an avalanche of countervailing evidence.

But if you did believe the forbidden notion then you would be singing a different tune, more along the lines of Mrs. Robinson – “most all you’ve got to hide it from the kids.” Rather than reward excellence, you would celebrate diversity. Instead of encouraging competition you would focus on cooperation. Instead of raising standards, you would scrap them, denounce them, and label them mere cultural constructs.

Jefferson High is a golden opportunity disprove the forbidden notion. At Jefferson anyone with brains can excel. Race is not a factor. But rather than support its mission, the progressives want to -- need to – stamp it out. They don’t dare take the chance to disprove the horrible notion they believe is the truth.

Liberals believe “the forbidden notion.” They know it’s wrong and that’s why their policy recipes on issues of race come so heavily seasoned with self-loathing.

The rest of us who believe there is no organic difference between blacks and whites are left to scratch our heads and wonder, "what are they afraid of?"

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