The Opposite of Racism Isn't Colorblindness
Posted: Thursday, September 19, 2002
Published: Sept 2 2001
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By Sean Gonsalves
If St. Paul was right, that the wages of sin is death, is it a stretch to say that the wages of white supremacy is colorblindness?
To suggest such a thing, I'm sure, makes a good number of white brothers and sisters uneasy, thinking perhaps Black Americans have deserted Dr. King's dream where people are judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.
Forget that King, just before his death, called for affirmative action in his last book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" His dream wasn't that everyone would not recognize color, but that skin pigmentation would not be used as the key measure of human potential.
King wasn't so naive to think a society steeped in centuries of white supremacy would be magically transformed into a colorblind utopia. I'm not suggesting that affirmative action is our salvation, but neither is it the reverse racism that some opponents claim.
A hard-working white person is sure to raise the question: Why should I be made to pay for America's past racial sins? Evidently, voluntary cooperation is not an option.
In a nation where the majority of its citizens are at least nominally-affiliated Christians, it seems such questions are more knee-jerk deflection than thoughtful reflection.
Eating of the fruit produced by sinful forbears is to partake in the original sin, according to one of the central tenets of the Christian faith.
Deuteronomy 5:9 says: "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of the third and fourth generation of them that hate me."
The point here isn't to promulgate evangelical Christianity. That's Cal Thomas' job. I just find it hard to believe that people in a Christian-saturated society are perplexed by the idea of paying for sins committed by previous generations.
I haven't come across any studies that document how much wealth black slaves were robbed of by two centuries of unpaid servitude, particularly in the cotton industry -- an industry central to America's early economic success.
But, several years ago, a University of California at Berkeley study found that the value of lost income to black Americans because of discrimination between 1929 and 1969 alone comes to about $1.6 trillion.
So, contrary to Thomas Sowell's distortions, the idea of reparations is not about convincing people whose ancestors arrived in America after the Civil War that they owe anybody anything for what happened in the ante- bellum South. Clearly, black economic deprivation goes far beyond the Civil War and the ante-bellum South.
It was AFTER slavery that America allowed the Black Codes, a set of laws designed to restrict the labor mobility of the newly freed slaves, guaranteeing cheap labor for white planters. One code stipulated that any freed slave without "lawful employment" would be subject to arrest and then be leased to a white employer.
So there is a qualitative and quantitative difference between the economic hardships faced by black America and those confronted by every other immigrant group in this nation's history.
Check the history of the U.S. housing market, for starters. Ford Foundation member Dr. Melvin Oliver observes how many of his white colleagues were able to buy a house because of a transfer of assets before the death of their parents. This down payment on their homes was a benefit available to few blacks because of bank red-lining and other such policies.
Oliver also notes the central role Uncle Sam played in creating a strong white middle class with the GI Bill and federal subsidies of mortgages, to name just a few privileges inaccessible to most blacks at the time.
As you read these words, state universities across America are looking to replicate a new admissions approach used by the University of California at San Diego, which hires high school guidance counselors to review the overwhelming number of applications they receive.
One of these counselors who is moonlighting as an admissions officer is from Eastlake High School in San Diego -- not exactly a bastion of the underprivileged.
The counselor, Nancy Nieto, gets inside information that students crave: the outline for the perfect essay and the right combination of high school classes, the Boston Globe reported last week.
"It's really interesting to see what other applicants write in their essays, and how they write," Nieto told the Globe. "My kids can compete better. I know what to tell them to put down."
As that story illustrates, all across America there is an informal social network that gives whites preferential treatment in gaining access to a limited range of economic opportunities. Can colorblindness really be the answer, when, in a race-obsessed society, it renders white-skin privilege invisible?
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and a syndicated columnist. His column runs on Tuesdays.
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