Sunday, July 19, 2009

Is Racism Ever Justified?

We tend to think that the roots of racism go back to slave ships sailing from Africa with a cargo hold full of black men bound for America. If they make the trip, they will live out their lives in somber duty to a harsh master, and die at an early age – penniless and without hope. I know that public school impressed this upon me, as did the release of Alex Haley’s Roots when I was in junior high. Of course, racism goes back much farther than that, likely to the very moment when the first race became two. We read of racial events in the Bible itself.

There is a group of people in our country who believe that they are right to counteract former acts of racism – by supporting the practice of reverse racism. In their mind, since blacks were repressed by the white man during a period of time, it seems reasonable to write and pass laws which favor blacks over whites (you can substitute American Indians or Chinese railroad workers in here – it doesn’t matter). One of the very definitions of affirmative action is “to redress perceived disadvantages due to overt, institutional, or involuntary discrimination”. Said a little differently, it is “to pay back wrongs inflicted by one race on another”. This may feel like justice to some…but it is actually, in itself, racism – giving advantage to one class of people over another because of their race.

Call it what you like, but reverse racism is still…racism.

In politics, it is truly of no importance to me whether our president is white, black, yellow, red, or green. Nor does it matter whether or not he has one arm, bad breath, or speaks with a lisp. What I do care about are the policies and beliefs to which my president ascribes. I care about what he is willing to fight for, and what he considers to be non-negotiable due to principle. And yet, there are people who were absolutely enamored by the prospect of having a black man elected to our nation’s highest office. Indeed, it seems as if some were even more excited to picture themselves in a voting booth casting their vote for a black man. Be careful - there is a real difference between the previous two sentences. If we were truly past racism, would we make such a big deal over the skin color of our president?

We are nearing the point where we are going to see Sonia Sotomayor appointed to the Supreme Court. I don’t really know what to think of her (she’s clearly giving evenhanded answers in an effort to hurdle the appointment process), but I do know one thing. In nearly every article that I have read about her, the opening sentences are about how she overcame a poor economic upbringing. And also, that she is a Latina. And that she’s a woman. In all seriousness, do those three things matter when evaluating someone for their ability to apply constitutional law fairly to Americans? Does anyone believe that the “poor-Latina-woman” triple-score is an accident? Or do you think that the Obama administration, like many prior administrations before them (Republican and Democrat), created a list of potential nominees based on judicial experience…and then began handing our extra credit for “poor”, “Latina”, and “woman”? Of course they did. And lest you think that a high judge is really above racism, consider the prior ruling of Sotomayor’s which was recently overturned by the very Supreme Court that she wishes to join – a ruling where she discriminated against potential white firefighter applicants by tossing out the results of a promotions test which “did not yield enough minority applicants”.

Finally, I can’t help but share the following video. In the video, California Senator Barbara Boxer is completely flummoxed by Harry Alford, a black man who challenges her insistence on quoting “black” groups who have passed policies on clean energy. She clearly cannot see that good energy policy ought to come from people who know something about energy – not based on lines of race. I wish more people had the tenacity of Mr. Alford, who came to an energy meeting with facts gathered from energy-related companies, but who left with disappointment in a senator who cannot see past her own reverse racial bias. Well done, Mr. Alford!