During the 2008 Presidential campaign, one fear that surfaced was whether Obama would implement restitution for racial minorities if he were elected. Part of that fear was based on restitution we provided to the Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. On the other hand, that fear was mitigated by knowing that we never provided restitution for Native-Americans that were placed on reservations located where no one else wanted to live. Our history of dealing with non-whites has not been a pretty one and flies in the face of democratic principles that we hold to so dearly, such as equality for all.
Even though one outcome of the Civil War was that no one could buy and sell another person, non-whites were still denied access to equal opportunity until the 1960’s and the Civil Rights Act. I graduated from a segregated high school in 1963 and still remember the arguments surrounding “separate but equal.” There was a glass ceiling set so low back then that in spite of legislation to the contrary, non-whites, nor women, had a ghost chance in hell of acquiring jobs or privileges available to most any hard-working white man. The conditions of the 60’s and 70’s came to be known as “white privilege.”
To break that glass ceiling, legislation created affirmative action programs that were designed to level the playing field and give non-whites an advantage in a system that had been gamed against their success. Over time, these programs were applied to all people of color. In other words, everyone but a white person was receiving favorable treatment, even legal immigrants that had never been discriminated against by our government. The previous whites-only system got turned on its head to the point that anyone but a white could receive favorable treatment.
Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) argues, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece (7/23/2010), that the time to dismantle diversity programs is here. He points out that “America still owes a debt to its black citizens, but government programs to help all ‘people of color’ are unfair.” He goes on to say, “Beyond our continuing obligation to assist those African-Americans still in need, government-directed diversity programs should end.” The Senator makes a very persuasive argument that the government should enable opportunity for all and not be in the business of picking winners. After 25 years, it is time to bring diversity programs to a close. It is time to truly level the playing field.
I think it is fair to say that the Obama administration leans heavily in this direction. In fact, they lean so heavily on the side of demonstrating fairness to all that they over-reacted to the Sherrod story. By wanting to show America that this administration does not tolerate racism, they fired a black woman on incomplete information. They have egg on their face, as does Andrew Breitbart, the conservative who selectively, and deceptively, posted a video suggesting reverse racism. Another case in point is Charlie Rangel (D-NY), who has been in Congress since the 1970’s and unless he resigns quickly, will be put on trial for significant ethical violations. Most of you know that Rangel is black. No one is defending his actions, neither the Democratic administration nor the Democratic Congress. It is the Democrats that have brought one of their own into the public spotlight during an election year for egregious misbehavior.
Remember that a black President can bring an end to diversity programs without significant rancor or charges of racism, something a white President would find very difficult. So, is Obama leaning toward restitution? The evidence would point in the opposite direction.