Apartheid Made In USA
On May 22, I testified before Congress against the classification of Americans by race or ethnicity. For an immigrant who grew up first under National Socialism, then under Communism, the ability to tell government what you think is thrilling. But in the capital of the free world one should not have to argue that racial classification is wrong. This city, after all, houses a Holocaust Museum "to educate the living" about racial classification.
A subcommittee of the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight is currently examining whether the existing classifications - Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian & Pacific Islander, and White in the racial, Hispanic in the ethnic column - should be expanded. Daniel K. Akaka, U.S. Senator from Hawaii clearly thinks so. He opened the bid lobbying for "indigenous" status in favor of 20% of his state's population.
Throughout the long afternoon, I was waiting for someone to make reference to the Constitution or an act of Congress that would establish some legal basis for granting privileged status to certain groups, owing to their ancestry. If memory serves me right, all everyone talked about were "guidelines in Directive No.15" of the Office of Management and Budget - hardly an entity with legislative powers.
When it was my turn, I recalled that the very concept of classifying people based on origin was an invention of the National Socialists in Germany, practiced extensively by the Bolsheviks of Russia. By contrast, America's Founders set this nation on a course which combined the highest ideals with the consistency of the law. The first "self-evident truth" stated by the Declaration of Independence was that "all men are created equal." The first purpose stated in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution was to "form a more perfect union." The Bill of Rights established that all rights are vested either in persons as individuals or in "the people" as a whole. The existence of groups was not contemplated.
Since people are unequal in every other respect, I continued, equal standing before the law is the only form of equality that is possible in the real world. It has been the noblest aspiration of mankind, and is the most precious asset of the United States of America. Ours was the first nation committed to it in the hour of its birth. The history of America is the noble effort to make this noblest of aspirations a reality. In contrast, the concept of classifying people by ancestry is indefensible whether from the legal, the moral, or the practical point of view.
I am not sure anyone heard me. The other 12 witnesses, and the members of the Subcommittee seemed to be in a world of their own. No one was in any doubt that privileges were appropriate one way or another. The differences of opinion concerned only the manner of distribution. There was the "me too" side, insisting on additional classifications, especially for multi-racial persons. The "over my dead body" side, already enjoying special privileges, was close to panic lest their privileges may have to be shared, perchance diluted.
Mrs. Susan Graham and her son, Ryan, testified in favor of expanded classifications. Mrs. Graham is white, Ryan's father is black. What is Ryan? If he is designated "black," it disregards his mother's genes. To accommodate Ryan, Mrs. Graham argued, a bi-racial category was needed. "My son cannot answer the first question on a test," she reported, "since the first question of every test concerns the student's race." Among the intolerable conditions caused by the absence of a bi-racial classification, Mrs. Graham noted that no medical data were available about the special health risks multi-racial children face. Looking at Ryan, a tall, bright, healthy-looking twelve-year-old, it was difficult to comprehend her indignation.
Question time. Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) of the Committee spoke at some length about oppression and racism, and expressed the view that Ryan was now "a role model for millions." He then asked Ryan to speak about his plight. "Tell us," Mr. Davis said, "have you suffered greatly from all the discrimination that has come your way?"
With all eyes upon him, Ryan took his time. Then came the words: "No - not really. We all get along just fine - really it's a nice bunch of kids..." Mr. Davis covered his disappointment as best he could.
Having arrived here in 1959, I know there was a long way to go for Mr. Davis's generation. But the scene in Rayburn 2154 demonstrated why we can't make progress. Ryan and, presumably, many others of his generation are being programmed to feel disadvantaged and separate. The contrast between his prepared statement - obviously written by someone else - and his unrehearsed response provides a ray of hope.
But here's the puzzle. Privilege, whether for individuals or groups, is incompatible with the Constitution. Why is Congress seeking to expand rather than to terminate racial classifications and group rights?
What makes the defunct practices of Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa more appealing in Washington than the U.S. Constitution?