The United States of America has made tremendous progress toward equal justice but remains mired in racial and ethnic conflict. One would think that, with the passage of epochal civil rights legislation in the 1960s, distinctions of color would have no place in American life, but they do. How can this apparent paradox be explained?

More precisely, why do so many people of color (currently the preferred terminology) who have good jobs and live middle class lives speak as if they are as downtrodden as their forebears were?

Everything depends on how people look at the world. If they know and appreciate the fundamental principles of our country equality, liberty and government by consent then they can understand how and why slavery and racial segregation were abolished and thus grasp the real opportunities that now exist. This defines conservatism today.

But if people instead focus on the injustices of the past and see the now infrequent but punishable abuses that occur as evidence that nothing has changed, they will lament their situation and even hold themselves back in this, the freest country in the world. This defines liberalism today.

Of course, there are many Americans whose ancestors suffered great injustices but know that things have changed for the better, but they are typically castigated as "sellouts" to "the man," or even Uncle Toms or "Oreos." What is the obstacle to our people's full acceptance of the great steps forward we have made?

It is modern liberalism (AKA Progressivism). Partisans of this doctrine should be proud of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but not how they have implemented these laws and taught everyone to understand them. For no sooner did these become law then they became instruments of racism, inequality and division.

The language of these landmark laws is the language of equal justice. The public understanding was that that racial discrimination or preference was now illegal. But by establishing so-called "goals and timetables" (i.e., racial quotas) in hiring, college admissions and contracting (in government and interstate commerce), Progressives have pitted race against race and erected new forms of privilege to replace the old.

Routinely members of minority races are given preference over the whites in these cases, and legislative districts are gerrymandered to guarantee that persons of the same color as the mandated 60 percent "minority" are elected.

Currently, cases are pending in the U.S. Supreme Court challenging persistent racial discrimination against whites by the University of Texas and needless continuance of federal supervision of elections in Alabama where now more blacks serve in public office than in states outside the South.

Equally disheartening is the glorification in popular entertainment of the truly hopeless conditions in the ghetto and barrio, and especially the thugs who brutalize, betray and corrupt the law-abiding and decent citizens who have the misfortune to live there. This too implicates liberalism.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served in the Johnson Administration, wrote a famous report following the passage of the Civil Rights Act that warned us against this very situation. He had the temerity to say that full enjoyment of civil rights entails adopting the habits of the prevailing middle class, which honors work, thrift and self-control.

The Moynihan Report was denounced by many as racist. Who was Moynihan to "judge" anyone's choice of "lifestyle?" But the future U.N. Ambassador and U.S. Senator was only saying what sensible people had always known, which was that equal liberty depends on governing our passions and respecting the rights of others. Now the lives of millions of people are miserable because of our indulgence of gross legal injustices and disgusting and/or violent behavior by celebrities and street thugs (sometimes indistinguishable from each other).

What I find particularly disheartening to see and hear are successful black and brown people clinging to attitudes far below them, apparently for the sake of racial solidarity. Songs which speak contemptuously of "bitches" and "hoes" and set women no less than men to dance to their rhythms have a disproportionate influence on popular taste. Why would anyone who doesn't live in the ghetto or barrio romanticize the lawless elements there that terrorize their neighbors?

This worrisome phenomenon has long since crossed racial and economic lines. While our civil rights laws are perverted to serve unjust purposes, we are entertained by those who have been "liberated" from civility. Liberty should never be confused with license.

Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of " Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at