Mayor Lee Brown recently called a meeting of black and Hispanic politicians to cool anger and air differences that arose over bilingual education policies in the Houston Independent School District. The need for the meeting sends an ominous warning.

Houston has long taken pride in its diverse population assembled from all over the nation and the world, as well as the way citizens of many cultures have been able to work together for the common good. In a city in which all residents want the same things – safe neighborhoods, smooth streets, ample parks, good schools, swift mobility, abundant opportunity – why should it be otherwise?

The heated controversy over the future of bilingual education, however, demonstrates how easily diversity can cease to be an asset and become instead a source of hostility.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, ever the voice of reason, observed that the new policy emphasizing quicker transition to classes taught in English was probably satisfactory and wanted only more input from Hispanics. Unfortunately, some people and factions were all too ready to turn a disagreement over teaching methods into a source of racial insult and mistrust, arousing suspicion that they might be more concerned with power than policy.

Houston cannot afford to descend to the point at which the beliefs of its politicians and their choice of enemies are dictated by skin color. In an effort to avoid such a tragedy and build upon Houston’s history of openness and cooperation, Mayor Brown is organizing a conference here Sept. 9-10 to promote permanent partnerships uniting community and business leaders of all races. The conference will feature workshops on education, economic development and equity, and speakers who will discuss what this city must do to improve those areas.

Houstonians of all ethnicities must realize that the status quo will not preserve strong economic growth or safeguard equal opportunity and justice. Too many children are not getting an education; too many will not be able to support themselves in a high-tech, information-age economy; too many will endure lives ruined by poverty, crime and drugs.

Beneficial changes must be cooperatively sought and accepted and the politics of racial identity strongly discouraged. The reverse would quickly rot Houston’s urban core, pit neighbor against neighbor and undermine prosperity for the entire region.

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