The racial resegregation of America is moving ahead smartly, not that anyone much notices or, if they do, seems to care very much.
Court rulings in Texas and a referendum in California against affirmative action are doing just what their sponsors must have supposed they would do and either don't mind or, if silently, rather like.After years of increase, black and Hispanic applications to the major universities and professional schools in both states have fallen off sharply.
And racial isolation in the nation's public schools is deepening, as the social and political energy needed to sustain integration wearies toward collapse.
Finally freed from segregation in the 1960s - and thus effectively made first-generation immigrants in their homeland of 350 years - black Americans have since been moving briskly into the middle class.
Although still over-represented in poverty, recent generations have impressively reduced their under-representation in elective politics, the professions and higher education.
Black college enrollment has grown 16 percent just since 1990. Last year saw a 17 percent increase in the number of Ph.D.s going to black students.
But can the progress survive the worsening undertow?
Since a court-ordered end to affirmative action in Texas, black applications to the University of Texas have fallen 26 percent, Hispanic applications 23 percent. Black applicants are down 42 percent at the law school.
Same thing in post-referendum California. Although California's universities drew increased applicants over all the past year, black applicants declined 8.2 percent, Hispanic 3.7 percent. Minority applicants to medical schools fell 23 percent.
A Harvard University study finds we're slipping back into school segregation, most dramatically in metropolitan suburbs and among Hispanics, the latter now even more segregated than black kids.
A core sample: Since 1980, racial integration in Florida has declined 10.5 percent. In Georgia, 4.2 percent, North Carolina 4.9 percent, Ohio 4.4 percent, Texas 2.2 percent. Hispanic integration in Florida fell 11.9 percent, in Texas 6.1 percent.
Just 5 percent of heavily white schools are marked by poverty, but 80 percent of heavily black and Hispanic schools have debilitating concentrations of poor students. Segregation keeps the poverty cycle going.
Courts are dismantling black-majority congressional districts and are increasingly hostile to affirmative action, which helps minorities play catch-up. The Supreme Court is canceling school desegregation orders.
The Ronald Reagan folks stopped federal integration aid, and few states help their local schools integrate. Some that have are quitting; New Jersey, for instance, under Gov. Christie Whitman.
Congress last year killed the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowships, which had provided $20 million a year to help 1,200 minority scholars do graduate work. Indifferent enforcement of fair-housing laws is letting residential segregation slide.
This isn't fate. It's policy. Jim Crow may not be coming back, but he's loitering ominously.