African American News

"Becoming Post Racial - Commentary by Joseph C. Phillips"

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“Race has no place in American life or law.” President John F. Kennedy spoke these words the evening of June 11, 1963 following the desegregation of the University of Alabama. In the speech Kennedy delivered that evening he chose not to appeal to legal arguments; rather he asked Americans to look into their collective hearts and weigh the moral question of continued racial discrimination. “The heart of the question,” said Kennedy “is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities…”

This week the Arizona state legislature answered that question with a resounding, “yes!” The state legislature cleared the way to place the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative or ACRI, on the Ballot in 2010. ACRI is a constitutional amendment that would prevent the state from discriminating on the basis or race or sex in the areas of public employment, contracting or education.

The action taken by the State legislature now makes it possible for the people of Arizona to actually decide if their state (and ultimately our nation) agrees with the sentiments of former President Kennedy.

That is not to say the opposition rolled over. No longer able to gum the petition process; they resorted to stalling tactics and back biting.

Hispanic legislators claimed that Rep Steve Montenegro, who sponsored the measure in the assembly, was not truly Hispanic because he is Puerto Rican and not Mexican. No doubt this must come as a shock to the Obama Administration. Judge Sonia “wise Latina” Sotomayor is being hailed as potentially the first Hispanic to sit on the United States Supreme Court. Sotomayor is Puerto Rican. The good news is that thanks tot his revelation Senate Republicans are now free to oppose Sotomayor. Because she is Puerto Rican and not Mexican, Republicans need no longer fear losing the Hispanic vote.

More fascinating were the words of State Representative Cloves Campbell. During testimony before a legislative committee Campbell insisted that special preferences [based on race] would be necessary for years to come. When asked exactly how many years he responded, “400 years!” Thus Campbell provided credence to the growing sense that he took the small bus to school and also that a good many supporters of racial preferences are more interested in exacting payback then they are in actually realizing equity.

The Rationale of Campbell and others that favor preferences is that they are needed to ensure diversity. Racism in America is systemic so if left to its own devices the system will naturally deny Black people (and other minorities) access. As proof they offer what is known as disparate representation or disparate impact. In other words the fact that a particular minority group is not statistically represented in any endeavor or policy at the same percentage they are of the population is proof of discrimination and it is therefore necessary to cook the books as it were.

The problem, of course is that people are not statistics they are individuals and ought to be judged as such against the same criteria. The very idea of disparate group representation as a rationale for race preferences turns that proposition on its head as it also does the idea of equality before the law and equality of opportunity. It is as if in answer to Kennedy’s question supporters of preferences have said, “Not so fast.”

They must be made to explain how this nation will ever move beyond its ugly history of racial discrimination if we not only allow but encourage government to discriminate based on race. They must tell us if they believe “the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” Finally they must explain to the citizens of Arizona (and the larger American citizenry)-- what could be more important than having a state constitution unequivocally affirm that it must treat all of its citizens equally and without regard to race?

In 1963 Kennedy asked the country to make a moral decision. In the age of Obama those that continue to support racial preferences must do likewise. They must ground their opposition not in legalese or political correctness but in the terra firma of moral correctness. They must follow the lead of the Arizona legislature and examine their consciences and then take the fist steps toward a truly post racial society.

Joseph C. Phillips is the author of “He Talk Like A White Boy” available wherever books are sold.

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