2008 September 16

     Boy, here's a hot button in America. The whole race issue is based on so many faulty lines of reasoning that it is almost impossible to figure out what's really happening. Lines like "Have you stopped beating your wife?" or "The moon is smaller than the earth, but it's further away" come to mind. Maybe it's more like "You must be a bad person because you have five legs and fought on the Spanish side in the Vietnam War." By the time you point out that you have three fewer legs than five, you have tacitly admitted that there might have been a Spanish presence in Vietnam all those years.

    Quick history lesson:
• People have been living in North America for thousands of years.
• European colonists came and took over.
• Black people were brought here as slaves until 1865.
• Black people were treated shabbily after they were freed.
• Officially, institutional discrimination ended in 1964.
• For decades Blacks have had affirmative-action programs.
• Hispanics and women have also had affirmative-action help.
• Immigrants have come to America and prospered over time.
• Blacks and Hispanics continue to lag behind economically.
• American native tribes ("Indians") also are doing poorly.
• There is strong racial hatred and resentment in America.
• There is strong association between Black people and crime.
• The whole issue is enmired in "political correctness."

     Let's concentrate here on Black versus White in America.

     For the near-century interval 1865-1964 between official freedom and official civil-rights equality, the game was decidedly rigged against Black people. If they failed, then nobody helped them and few felt bad about it, "They have no ambition. That's why they don't succeed." If they succeeded, then government intervened, laws were passed, "They're getting uppity. They should know their place." They were openly excluded from American success in jobs, real estate, and social circles. The same happened to other ethnic groups as well as they entered our country and climbed America's economic and social ladders.

     Our entertainment media have portrayed Blacks as silly and stupid. From the dancing darkies of mid-twentieth century movies to "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" on television, we are shown Black males as bumbling idiots, young Black women as foxes, and older Black women as dominating mother figures, Black-Mama and Aunt Jemima. The silent movie "Birth of a Nation" was a sad example because it was so effective at communicating its bitter racist message. Other ethnic groups have received similar treatment following their stereotypes.

     Worse, they were the ongoing victims of vandalism and violence. Lynchings in the south were blatant and there were more-subtle physical threats in other areas. When I went to Stanford in the Bay area, I remember Black people off campus were particularly careful not to go out at night in the wrong "white" places and Black students were frequently stopped by campus police for nothing more than walking from one building to another. I've never noticed it being this flagrant elsewhere, but I'm sure it exists. While other groups may have been at the wrong end of mainstream people's bad behavior, this special nastiness seems to have been reserved for America's Black community.

     For some of us, this sort of resentment is an old story. As American's Black people remember slavery, I remember Egypt, Babylonia, Rome, the crusades, Russia, Germany, and Jerusalem, to mention some high points. The term "ghetto" refers to a walled Jewish section of a city and has been applied metaphorically to American Black communities. I can assure readers it's not fun being a victim. Wave after wave of America's immigrants came here with hope and found themselves facing similar resistance to their success.

     So America awoke around 1960 with the hippie generation and flower power and free love and drug culture and decided to put an end to hate. That's a big goal, but a smaller goal was realized with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At least schools, public places, and employers were required by law not to discriminate against anybody because of race, ethnic group, religion, or sex. It was a beginning, it defined a journey, it brought hope.

     Alas, it only took five years before the vision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was dimmed by a new vision of institutional discrimination, Affirmative Action. The idea was simply that Black people couldn't make it on their own, for whatever reason, and needed our help with forced quotas and lower standards. If you want to believe Affirmative Action was well intentioned, the test is simple: What is its defined goal? What are its ending conditions?

     For example, we have men's and women's sections in sporting events like running races. There is no end planned for this separation because there is consensus that the fast female runners are slower than fast male runners and that they always will be. As offensive as it may be to the so-called "politically correct" (PC) crowd, women may even be genetically different from men in ways that makes them run slower. Never mind the sea of females along with males I see ahead of me in the races I run, never mind how much faster the fast women are than they used to be, never mind how much the gap has narrowed, we are comfortable that top men are superior to top women in the arena of sports. So there is no defined end to the sex discrimination and separation of sexes in that arena.

     So what does an open-ended, no-goal-defined Affirmative Action program tell us? It tells us that the conceivers, at some level, believe that Black people will never achieve parity with their White counterparts. If you support these programs without clearly defined ending conditions, then you must believe that Blacks are inferior somehow. You can debate "nature versus nurture" until you're blue in the face, but support for long-term racial discrimination is the belief in racial difference in ability.

     I don't believe that Blacks are inferior, I don't believe that Blacks are not inferior, I don't really care one way or the other. I want the folks next to me on the job, or the people working for the company I'm paying, to be hired with the same standards no matter what color they are. I'm offended by any program that discriminates and I don't really care which way it discriminates. It was wrong in 1860, it was wrong in 1910, it was wrong in 1960, and it's wrong in 2008. Shame on you, shame on all of you, for supporting this idiocy.

     How bad is it? There are all kinds of horror stories. An Ivy-League admissions officer admits that being Black is worth about 230 points (out of 1600) on the S.A.T. college-entrance exam. That's a huge difference, well over a grade point, the difference between Ivy-League and a mid-level college. One year a statistical survey found the average White medical-school applicant rejected had higher qualifications than the average Black applicant accepted. It's flagrant at big companies and more so in promotions. The cost has been staggering, all the more offensive when our country is struggling to compete with non-discriminating nations in an international marketplace.

     How must good, qualified, legitimate Black employees feel about it? They wake up in the morning, go to work knowing they're the equals of their White co-workers, find themselves surrounded by a community of not-so-good Black co-workers, and have to re-prove themselves in every work situation. I've changed jobs too often and each time I've had to re-prove myself, maybe a dozen times in new organizations that didn't already know me. These people have to re-prove themselves every time they meet new colleagues. They feel every pair of eyes following them wondering if they're real or fake, waiting for the slightest fumble to put them into the token-Black-employee category. When they get their well-earned promotions to management, suspicious looks turn to jealous talk around the office. What a burden to have to live with!

     So here's The Adam Prescription:

     Step One: Level the Public Playing Field. Get rid of all the institutional bias, one way or the other way. If you're a public institution with public exposure or public funding, then you serve everybody equally and hire everybody equally, at least where skin color is concerned. If one race shows markedly lower standards applied than another, then that should be fixed immediately. If there is an ongoing pattern of that behavior, then there is an opportunity for civil-suit compensation with a high burden of proof on the part of the plaintiffs.

     Step Two: The Past is Gone. Between the lynchings and the riots nobody has a clean slate in American race relations. We can squabble over whose offenses are meaner or we can decide that this kind of nastiness isn't going to happen again, not in our country, not on our watch.

     Step Three: Define the Scope of Fairness. This is a tough one. If an institution is public, then the public deserves fair access. On the other hand, what happens in private places isn't anybody else's business. Government agencies are obviously public, individual homes are obviously private. What about restaurants? If a restaurant owner on a busy street wants to keep Blacks out, then maybe that's okay so long as he puts a sign on the door. On the other hand, if the restaurant owner of the only truckstop on a lonely stretch of road wants to do the same thing, then that's not okay because public road users have nowhere else to go. We have over a million lawyers in the United States, many of those are smart people, and they should be able to get together to define the allowable scope of discrimination, to define what is public and what is private for racial fairness purposes.

     Step Four: Punish Affirmative Wrongdoers. Those who supported Affirmative Action programs did so in clear violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They knew it was wrong, how could they not know? Their only appeal is that they were doing what they were told, they were only following orders, and I thought we dealt with that one at Nuremburg. We can turn an evil program into social redemption by treating it as a four-decade test of character. If they discriminated in a public setting by supporting Affirmative Action, then some of them should go to prison.

     Step Five: What Do We Owe? White America owes the Blacks fair play, not a living, not good jobs, not even decent schooling. Poor Jewish kids got sent to Hebrew school for culture when mainstream America wouldn't pay for their public schools. Maybe we should send America's Black kids to Hebrew school. In the meantime, White America owes the Blacks an unobstructed opportunity to make their lives better.

     Black America owes Whites a willingness to take responsibility. Bad schools and high crime in Black neighborhoods are Black problems, not White problems. Whites are free to help, but ultimately it's not our problem. If your school libraries don't have books, then buy them. If your businesses don't have good ideas, then think of some. If your employees can't do their jobs, then hire people who can do their jobs or train them.

     A corollary of this is for Black America to recognize that the problem is not that they look or sound different. People have come to this country with funny accents and recent immigrants have come with yellow faces and these people have done well after a hard generation.

     We've seen what happens when we throw good money and bad legislation at America's race problem. Now it's time to try responsibility and hard work.



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