Racial Politics on MLK's Birthday
The idea that only one political party's policies can benefit persons of color is a hazardous notion does not benefit any Americans.
by Jerome F. Winzig
Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 72 years old today if it hadn't been for that fateful day in Memphis 33 years ago. One cannot help but wonder how America might be different if Rev. King had been able to continue to grow and to live to see his grandchildren. South Africa comes to mind, because it has been enormously blessed with the steady leadership of Nelson Mandela, who was himself almost 72 when he was released from 27 years of imprisonment that left him tempered and strong, but not bitter.
All too often in the United States today, racial politics are almost synonymous with party politics. In the latest presidential election, the Democrats carried an astonishing 91 percent of the African-American vote, even though it is hard to believe that only 9 percent of African-Americans would consider themselves conservatives on values and issues.
What has happened to cause this racial divide along party lines? Shelby Steele, the black author and commentator, believes that since the 1960s, minority identities have been shaped far more by ideology than by culture. Steele says, "Especially for blacks...group identity is now shaped more by a liberal politics in which past victimization is deferred to, and for which redress is sought with preferential treatment, than by a unified culture."
This is not to say that there aren't serious racial problems that persist in the United States today. But when one political party receives unquestioning support from black Americans, the result is not healthy for any Americans. This unquestioning support assumes that liberal Democratic policies are better for persons of color, even when there is clear evidence to the contrary.
In Steele's words, the Republican administration that will take office five days from now has "reached out to blacks more than any Republican in memory," yet George Bush seems to be more completely rejected than any Republican in memory. Bush's nominations of persons of color to his cabinet and key staff positions are disparaged. Some say that they're not really black, or are completely out of the mainstream of their respective minority communities.
Is it fair or reasonable to assume, however, that all Republican policies are bad for persons of color? Then one is led to the inescapable solution that personal responsibility, individual initiative, hard work, and other conservative values are somehow harmful to persons of color.
Is it fair or reasonable to assert that persons of color nominated by a Republican president somehow really aren't persons of color? If so, then what it means to be a person of color takes on a strange new meaning, one that enables President Clinton to consider himself "black."
Is it fair or reasonable to assume that white conservatives of either gender cannot, by definition, be a good Attorney General or Secretary of the Interior? If so, then we run perilously close to equating "goodness" with being a Democrat, and "evil" with being a Republican. But if the situation were reversed, and large numbers of people began asserting that it is impossible for liberals to uphold the law or conserve the environment, there would be great consternation in the land.
We are at a point in our history when playing the race card can be incredibly harmful to minority Americans. Liberal Democrats do not have a lock on the solutions needed to heal the racial divide in this country, nor do they have the only right answers to enable persons of color to succeed in the United States. It is time for all of us to wait and see what effect Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Rod Paige, Gale Norton, Spencer Abraham, Karen Hughes, Norman Mineta, Mel Martinez, Christine Todd Whitman, and Elaine Chao will have on this diverse nation of ours.