CLARENCE PAGE: Long before the big ball drops over Times Square, we started thinking about the next century. Already we can see problems.
A hundred years ago, the great black scholar W. E. B. DuBois looked at the new American century and predicted that its biggest problem would be the color line.
In many ways, he was right. Now, after years of hard-fought struggle, the color line is fading. Still, we wonder, will color be the problem of the next century, too?
Prejudice and hate crimes persist. They hang over us like a cloud.
Yet opportunities for people of color are growing.
SPOKESMAN: It's time to unite as one tribe.
CLARENCE PAGE: So are our numbers. By the year 2050, demographers predict that America will no longer have a white Anglo majority. In California, blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native American Indians already are beginning to outnumber non-Latino whites. Americans are looking more like the world. Our rainbow of colors are growing richer and bolder, crossing over the fading color lines and blending together, at least at the edges, in the time-tested American process of assimilation and intermarriage.
Young people seem to be more willing than their elders to tolerate diversity and to embrace it, depending on how they are taught. Picking up where the civil rights generation left off, the generation of MTV and hip-hop seems to dwell with remarkable comfort in a zone of cultural sharing -- a place where white youths appreciate gangster rap, where black youths strive to dress like preppies, where the "New Latin sound" of Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez has gone mainstream -- with a light dash of salsa for flavor. Perhaps the time has come to update that century-old metaphor of the melting pot. At the dawn of the new American century, perhaps we should be talking about a mulligan stew. Or a gumbo. Or a stir fry.
Reading the future in the tea leaves of the present, one can see a new problem for the 21st century. The color line will be with us for a while, but a bigger and more worrisome line is the knowledge gap. The gap between haves and have-nots is growing in the information age. It is a great divide, a not-so-grand canyon defined increasingly by who has higher education and who doesn't.
Knowledge is power. It is also increasingly essential. Those who don't have the knowledge are likely to be the last hired and the first fired in the new information age. Those who do have it will find themselves increasingly judged by their ability to apply it, regardless of their race, creed or ethnic ancestry in a marketplace hungry for talent. The next civil rights revolution may have to be waged by the knowledge-poor to gain access to resources that can make them knowledge-rich.
In a harbinger of such battles to come, a group of Latino students in Los Angeles has filed suit to get tougher classes in their high school. Now that California voters have banned affirmative action, the high school students are beginning to demand access to the same college-level advanced-placement courses that the better-off high schools have.
A wise African American man once told me that problems are only opportunities in disguise. The knowledge gap poses a big problem for America's future. It also offers big opportunities.
It can bring new attention to brutal inequalities in our public schools.
It can lead us to patch up some badly frayed holes in the American Dream.
It can lead our children to a better America in the next century than the one we are leaving behind.
I'm Clarence Page.