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Lawyers and Other Felons

I’ll be traveling to Chicago this week for the American Bar Association’s annual meeting, where I’ve been invited to talk about voting law issues and the upcoming elections in 2016.  I plan to make three points.

First, lawmakers should resist demands that felons be automatically re-enfranchised on the day they walk out of prison (currently, only two states — Maine and Vermont — allow prison inmates to vote).  If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote.  Or, to look at it another way, we don’t let everyone vote:  not children, not noncitizens, not the mentally incompetent, and not felons.  We have certain minimum, objective standards of trustworthiness and commitment to our laws, and some people can’t be presumed to meet those standards—like those who have committed serious crimes against their fellow citizens.

The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison.  After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in.  Read more about this issue in my congressional testimony here.

Second, when it comes to ballot security issues — like voter ID requirements — it is inevitable that a balance will have to be struck between making sure that everyone who is eligible to vote can do so, and making sure that those who are not eligible to vote don’t do so.  That balance can be struck in various ways; but the race of those involved should not matter, one way or the other, in how that balance is struck.  Lawmakers and courts should not care if this or that group is more likely to be affected by a legitimate effort to stop voter fraud; conversely, of course, if efforts are being made to disenfranchise particular racial groups, that is and should be illegal. 

And, finally and similarly, race should not be a factor in redistricting either.  There are all kinds of reasons — political, geographic, historical, you name it — for zigging and zagging when these boundaries are drawn, but no zig or zag should come about because of racial considerations.  And it doesn’t matter if those racial considerations are “progressive” or “reactionary.”

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The felon voting issue often gets mixed in with opposition to the “War on Drugs” and to “mass incarceration”:  The suggestion is that most people who are in prison are in their for drug offenses.  But on this point there was an interesting op-ed this week in the Washington Post by a professor at Fordham Law School.  I don’t agree with all of it, but the facts that he marshals are important.  He sets straight President Obama’s statement recently in his NAACP speech: “But here’s the thing: Over the last few decades, we’ve also locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before. And that is the real reason our prison population is so high.”

This claim, which is widely accepted by policymakers and the public, is simply wrong. It’s true that nearly half of all federal inmates have been sentenced for drug offenses, but the federal system holds only about 14 percent of all inmates. In the state prisons, which hold the remaining 86 percent, over half of prisoners are serving time for violent crimes, and since 1990, 60 percent of the growth in state prison populations has come from locking up violent offenders. Less than a fifth of state prisoners — 17 percent — are serving time for nonviolent drug offenses.

And contrary to Obama’s claim, drug inmates tend to serve relatively short sentences. It is the inmates who are convicted of violent crimes who serve the longer terms.

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For my sins, I watched the much-hyped MTV show “White People” last week.  It was not quite as awful as I feared, and the concluding section on the assimilation of immigrants was actually all right. 

The worst part was a segment on scholarships.  It featured a white girl who said she was discriminated against in the award of financial aid because of her race, and that minority students were treated preferentially.  The narrator of the show purported to disprove this by producing statistics showing that the percentage of white students getting such assistance is higher than the percentage of all students who are white.  But that proves nothing.  After all, if white students are generally better qualified to receive scholarships than others, that would explain their “overrepresentation” among recipients; and of course this particular girl might have been discriminated against because of her race in any event. 

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Some final thoughts on the notion of “white privilege,” which was also discussed on that MTV show.

I’ve noted before that it is, for starters, a divisive phrase, much more likely to hurt race relations than help them, as it lumps together all white people — many of whom cannot be considered “privileged” by any reasonable standard — and points an accusatory finger at them, asserting, “You don’t deserve what you have.”  It’s overtly antiwhite.

It is also, at bottom, just another way of complaining about stereotyping, even though all racial groups — indeed, all groups, period — face stereotyping, some negative and some positive, and there’s nothing new or remarkable about it. It overstates the extent to which stereotyping occurs and the consequences it has.

It also seems to me odd to complain about positive stereotyping rather than, as used to be the case, focusing on negative stereotyping.  That is, let’s suppose that African Americans tend to be profiled as likely shoplifters and whites aren’t.  Doesn’t it make more sense to criticize antiblack profiling than the blame white people for not being profiled?

I have to say that it also seems to me unfortunate to make “privilege” into a negative thing.  Privilege is nice, and there should be more of it, for everyone.  Rather than have less privilege for some, we should have more privilege for others.

And, finally, playing this particular race card suggests that racial disparities — and, indeed, racial stereotyping — are due solely to racism simpliciter, and have nothing to do with culture and, in particular, cultural dysfunctions. It is, in other words, the “conversation on race” that we have come to expect from the left: All whites must accept blame for all disparities of any kind, and any suggestion that some nonwhites have failed to act responsibly is blaming the victim.

How To Be a Parent

The cover of Harper's Magazine's August edition was intriguing: a lovely portrait of a mother and sleeping infant with the caption "How To Be a Parent." I remain fascinated with the topic, though my children are grown and even my older grandchildren are becoming young adults. So, I eagerly read each of the 10 entries by various poets, novelists and journalists, wondering what wisdom the current generation of mothers and fathers had to offer. Sadly, some of the entries left me worried that our culture has become so self-centered that we seem on the verge of losing that essential element of what it means to be a mother or father: selflessness.

Becoming a parent was once just a natural part of most adults' lives, something that happened without a great deal of thought or planning. Now parenthood has become a choice -- and increasingly one that has more to do with parents' desires, hopes and fulfillment than it does with the children who are born of that choice. That is not to say there isn't a great deal of love bestowed, perhaps more than in the past. But the love seems increasingly self-referential, even self-indulgent.

Two of the Harper's entries were written by lesbian mothers, a category that is tiny but growing in the population. Michelle Tea is the author of "How To Grow Up," a memoir whose Amazon blurb describes Tea as an aspiring young writer in San Francisco "who lived in a scuzzy communal house; she drank, smoked, snorted anything she got her hands on; she toiled for the minimum wage; and she dated men and women, and sometimes both at once. But between hangovers and dead-end jobs, she scrawled in notebooks and organized dive bar poetry readings, working to make her literary dreams real."

Perhaps she has indeed grown up and her choice to become a mother, thanks to the implantation in her womb of an embryo created from her wife's egg and a donor's sperm, will turn out well for the child. But Tea's essay, "Part Neither, Part Both," though touching, is really all about her.

The same can be said of several other entries, by fathers as well as mothers. One father, A. Balkan, writes compellingly in "Self-Portrait with Daughters" of the amputation of his leg after a reckless speedboat driver capsized the small boat he was in, throwing Balkan into the path of the engine that nearly severed his leg. His twin daughters were 8 months old and safely ashore with their mother at the time, and they are minor characters in the story. Another, "The Grand Shattering" by Sarah Manguso, is all about the author's fears that motherhood would ruin her writing career -- a fear she turns into a strength once her child is born. "Those who have not passed through the gauntlet of motherhood cannot be equal in experience to those who have," she says. Motherhood, it seems, is the way to make her a better writer.

Only Harper's editor Ellen Rosenbush contributed an essay, "On Being a Stepparent," that actually focuses exclusively on being a parent. The shortest in the collection, Rosenbush nonetheless describes her role helping her two stepsons as confidant and friend as "a privileged one." She shares short anecdotes about one son wanting to drop out of school and the other son wanting to hide from his father that he'd received a driving ticket. In both cases, she guided them to make the right choices.

Parenthood entails sacrifice. It isn't about realizing your own ambitions through your progeny. It isn't about seeing your own reflection in your child's face or creating someone to love, who will in turn love you. Being a parent requires enormous responsibility not just to love the child, but also to teach him or her how to become a good, contributing member of society. Becoming a parent is a commitment we make not to ourselves or even just to our children, but one that binds us to all humanity.

Too bad Harper's didn't choose more writers and thinkers who might have shed some meaningful light on those responsibilities and commitments. One thing I've learned after almost 47 years is that the job of parent isn't one from which you ever retire.

Celebrating Democracy

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." These words from the Declaration of Independence helped launch the great American experiment in democracy that we celebrate this July 4th. And while most Americans do so by grilling hot dogs with friends and family and attending fireworks displays in their hometowns (or watching them broadcast live from the National Mall), maybe we ought to spend a little time actually thinking about those words and what they mean.

John Agresto is one man who has thought long and deeply about our founding, and he has a new book out that every American who cares about our democracy should read: "Rediscovering America: Liberty, Equality, and the Crisis of Democracy" (Asahina and Wallace 2015).

Agresto aims big. He says in the preface to his book that it "will try to explain the core meaning of the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and of the Constitution of 1787. It is a book that rises to defend the intelligence and patriotism of the Founders who wrote those documents and the ideas and the wisdom those documents contain. It is a book centered on a hope: the hope that a renewal in understanding the principles of the founding will lead to a restoration of those principles in our public life, and the hope that such a restoration will mitigate the crisis we are in."

Agresto has spent a lifetime on the project of restoring an appreciation for our founding principles. As a college professor and administrator (he was president of St. John's College in Santa Fe, N.M.) and as deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities during the Reagan years, Agresto says he watched for years as our schools and colleges abandoned the mission of teaching the Constitution or explaining our beliefs. "On one level," he says, "this is a book written by an old professor for his students, past and future." But it is much more than that.

Agresto spent several years in Iraq after the U.S. invasion as senior adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. That experience informs his understanding of how truly difficult it is to create and sustain democracy as our Founders conceived it -- a project that seems to have failed utterly in Iraq despite so much loss of American blood and treasure trying to transform that nation in our image. Anyone who has read Agresto's previous book, "Mugged by Reality: The Liberation of Iraq and the Failure of Good Intentions" (Encounter Books 2007), will not be surprised at what has happened in Iraq and throughout the Middle East over the past few years.

Democracy -- or the right of individuals to elect their leaders -- is not an end in itself. It would have been unthinkable to most Americans until just a few years ago, Agresto says, "that the rise of democracy itself would be, in many places around the globe, the harbinger of new and often greater repression." As he notes, the Arab Spring did not usher in liberty, but Islamic fundamentalism in many places. And the Middle East is not the only place where elections have resulted in less freedom. "Putin may rule both corruptly and with ferocious force, but he does it under the cover and through the mechanism of open elections," Agresto notes.

"Rediscovering America" walks readers through the underlying principles necessary for democracy to survive and thrive. With chapters devoted to the proposition that "All Men Are Created Equal," economics and justice, and the role liberty and equality play in the character of American life, among others, Agresto argues that unless we fully appreciate the foundations of our liberty, we risk losing it.

The book also contains a wonderful compendium of foundational documents, including the Declaration, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and other Amendments, three of the most important Federalist Papers, Nos. 1, 10 and 51, and Abraham Lincoln's speech of July 1858 defending the principle that all men are created equal. It is a book that asks the right questions and points us to the right answers so that, in Lincoln's words, "this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Choosing Dishonor

The president has said that the United States will be safer because of the nuclear deal his administration and five other nations fashioned with Iran. "Without a deal, we risk even more war in the Middle East," he said in an hour-long press conference on Wednesday. It was an unfortunate historical reminder, one the president would rather we all ignore.

In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed a four-party pact with Adolf Hitler allowing Nazi Germany to seize a portion of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain returned from the Munich Conference, claiming "peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time." But his Conservative Party rival Winston Churchill's words turned out to be more prophetic: "You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war." In less than a year, the Nazis invaded Poland, and the British declared war on Germany.

It is too soon to know exactly how events will unfold in the Middle East, but certain things are clear. There will be more nuclear weapons in the region because of this deal, not fewer. It isn't a matter of whether there will be war -- there are already several wars ongoing in the region, wars in which Iran participates directly or through its proxies. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force is already on the ground in Iraq, our erstwhile ally in the fight against ISIS but, in the long run, a great threat to our interests. Iran is supporting the Assad regime in Syria and the rebels in Yemen and is the major sponsor of terrorism in the world. With the estimated $100 billion in unfrozen assets soon to be available as Iran sanctions are lifted, more money will flow into wars where Iran hopes to expand its influence and ultimately create hegemony in the Muslim world.

But don't expect Saudi Arabia or other Sunni countries to sit idly by. The Saudis, rightly, do not trust Iran to keep its promises -- and nothing in the agreement should increase their comfort. Saudi Arabia has little choice but to pursue its own nuclear program in the face of the likelihood that Iran will build a bomb, if not secretly during the term of the agreement, then soon after it lapses.

The Iranians aren't dismantling their nuclear program; they are simply putting on hold some elements -- and even that cannot be assured. The verification regimen put in place by the agreement gives Iranians ample time to stall in order to move, hide or repurpose their weapons-creating capacity once notified that inspectors want to visit a site. The president promised 24/7 access to Iran's nuclear facilities in any deal his administration negotiated -- he accepted in its place a plan that will give Iran 24 days before it allows inspectors in and a bureaucratic maze to get there.

Of course, the country that is most endangered by this agreement is Israel. Our ally and the only democratic country in the region, Israel is small but powerful, with perhaps the best military in the world. Its people have already survived a Holocaust that destroyed one-third of the Jewish population, which ultimately led to the creation of the Jewish state. It has successfully defeated its neighbors' aggression and survived near constant threat of terrorism on its soil and against its co-religionists around the world. Does anyone really expect that Israel will stand by while Iran builds bombs and acquires missile systems that threaten its very existence?

The president has consistently maintained that he had only two choices: forge a deal with Iran or face war. It is a Hobson's choice, and the president knows it. Sanctions brought Iran to the bargaining table, but the administration's eagerness to reach a deal erases what leverage we had. Nor did the president even consider other options. The administration has never been willing to promote regime change in Iran, choosing to turn its back on protesters who took to the streets in 2009 against the regime. It has demonized the pro-democratic National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has tens of thousands of supporters both inside and outside Iran.

In the past, American foreign policy entailed working behind the scenes to promote democratic alternatives to totalitarian regimes. Not so in Obama's administration. The administration's goal has been to reassure the mullahs in Tehran, not to encourage freedom for the Iranian people.
In falsely portraying his options, the president brings us closer to a Middle East conflagration. It is not "peace in our time," but a near guarantee of more bloodshed.

No Defending the Indefensible

I have never been prouder to be a Republican than when I watched South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott -- all Republicans -- call for the Confederate flag to come down on the statehouse grounds. Other prominent Republicans from states that incorporate the Confederate symbol into their own state flags also called for changes. These moves took courage of a kind too many politicians either lack altogether or fail to exercise when they think it might lose them votes.

But not all conservatives are happy. Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh warned that the real motivation of those who want to bring down the Confederate flag is "destroying the South as a political force," and that the next target will be the American flag. Provocateur Ann Coulter told Fox Business News, "I'd really like to like Nikki Haley since she is a Republican, but on the other hand, she's an immigrant and does not understand America's history." Coulter's words say a lot about her own ignorance, not to mention prejudice: Haley is American-born, and it's Coulter's understanding of history that is faulty.

Coulter and some other critics seem to think the flag is a symbol of bravery. Coulter says, "It was a battle flag -- it is to honor Robert E. Lee," the Confederate general who led the Confederate forces. "Anyone who knows the first thing about military history knows that there is no greater army that ever took the field than the Confederate army," according to Coulter. Except, of course, that Lee's army suffered disastrous defeats that finally brought an end to the most deadly war in U.S. history when he surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.

No doubt many Confederate soldiers were brave on the battlefield -- but so, too, were many individuals who fought against the United States of America, and that, after all, is exactly what Lee and the forces he commanded did. Why should we honor their cause, which was to destroy the union?

As military historian Max Boot noted in a blog post in Commentary Magazine, the controversy goes beyond the flag. States in the Old Confederacy go out of their way to honor not only Lee, but also Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States, and Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general known for his massacre of 300 black Union soldiers at Ft. Pillow, Tenn., whom he ordered slaughtered rather than taken prisoner. Boot says such men "were traitors to this country, inveterate racists and champions of slavery. Modern Germany does not have statues to Erwin Rommel even though he -- unlike Lee -- turned at the end of the day against the monstrous regime in whose cause he fought so skillfully."
Conservatives have been in the forefront of opposing revisionist history -- so why is it now so hard for some conservatives to recognize that efforts to rewrite the history of the Confederate flag is revisionism writ large?

The flag that Limbaugh and Coulter want to defend had largely receded from public view in the years after the Civil War except for its use in reenactments and other historical contexts. Segregationists revived its display at the Dixiecrat Convention in 1948, a party formed by Southern Democrats who objected to President Harry Truman's integration of the armed services and a proposal to include a civil rights plank in the Democratic Party platform.

At that moment, the flag took on a clear meaning, if it were ever in doubt. Georgia changed its flag to include the Confederate symbol in 1956 -- two years after Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation. Governors in Alabama and South Carolina raised the battle flag over their state Capitols only in 1961 and 1962, respectively. These acts sent a clear message of resistance to civil rights.

Seven Southern states currently incorporate symbolic references to the Confederacy in their state flags: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee. All of them should rethink those symbols. It isn't just that they evoke a racist past; they are inherently un-American. They should offend not just those Americans whose ancestors were slaves, but all of us.

The Confederate states fought the Civil War to preserve slavery and were happy to destroy the union to do so. Theirs was not a noble cause, but a treasonous one. No one should see a need to defend it, least of all Republicans.

Trumped Up

Donald Trump has decided to double down on his insults of Mexicans living in the U.S. Talking to CNN's Anderson Cooper this week, he said he had nothing to apologize for, a point he made over and over again, as he is wont to do with nearly everything he says that he hopes will resonate with his audience.

In case you were vacationing on a desert island for the past month, this is what he said: "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. ... They're sending people that have a lot of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us (sic). They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

The remarks have cost Trump financially, as one after another high-profile individual and corporation abandons ties, but not politically with some GOP primary voters. He's now either second or first in national polls and in the important primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, though it's important not to overstate the size of his base. We're still talking barely into double digits, 12 to 16 percent nationally.

In his original remarks, Trump made no distinction between legal and illegal immigrants, though he and the media have treated the insults as if they referred only to illegal immigrants from Mexico. The point is an important one -- in fact, Trump and many who think as he does conflate the population. They are not just anti-illegal immigration; they are opposed to immigration overall, especially from Latin America.

This is certainly true of groups like the Center for Immigration Studies, the Federation for American Immigration Reform and NumbersUSA, whose goals are to reduce legal immigration of both low-skilled and high-skilled immigrants. Their ultimate objective is to reduce population overall, as they make clear in their many position papers on the negative impact of population on the environment. Oddly, conservatives have made common cause with these groups, whose roots are in the population control and environmental movements, hardly in tune with conservative values.

But what about Trump's contention that Mexico is sending us criminals and rapists? In fact, the very opposite is true. Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, like all immigrants, have lower rates of criminal behavior than the native born. At the very time that immigration, including illegal immigration, was going up, crime was going down. As a new study from Walter Ewing, Daniel Martinez and Ruben Rumbaut points out, the foreign-born population increased from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent from 1990 to 2013, and the number of unauthorized immigrants more than tripled, but the violent crime rate declined by 48 percent and property crime by 41 percent.

This phenomenon has been studied thoroughly in so-called gateway cities, such as Miami, El Paso, San Antonio and San Diego, which attract large numbers of newcomers. Of the top 10 safest big cities ranked by Congressional Quarterly using FBI statistics, fully seven of the top 10 have very large Hispanic immigrant populations. El Paso, with its 81 percent Hispanic population, including 26 percent who are foreign-born, has ranked as the safest large city in the U.S. for several years. This fact is all the more amazing given that Juarez, a mere dozen miles across the border, is one of the most violent places in the hemisphere.

As for incarceration rates, immigrant men ages 18 to 39 are less than half as likely to be incarcerated than native-born men the same age, according to the Ewing study. Mexican men are even less likely to be incarcerated: Their rates are one-third that of natives with similar demographic characteristics. And Salvadoran and Guatemalan men are incarcerated at one-fifth the rate of native-born men without a high school degree -- the group most likely to commit violent crimes.

There's a reason for this, and it has been true throughout the history of our country. Immigrants are self-selected, even those who come here illegally. They are not the richest -- not "the best," as Trump suggested -- but they are the most motivated. They come here to work, which is why Mexican-born males participate in the labor force at substantially higher rates than whites, 88 percent to 71 percent.

Trump won't win the GOP nomination, any more than immigrant-bashing candidate Herman Cain did in 2012. Cain jumped to first in the polls, too, when he started talking about warning illegal immigrants they would be shot on sight in a Cain administration. But Republicans should be worried, nonetheless. Trump's bigotry will further damage the party and could end up costing it the White House.

Teaching and the Times

“Tough Tests for Teachers, With Question of Bias” was the front-page, above-the-fold headline on a story last week in the New York Times. It discusses the fact that “minority candidates” — meaning African Americans and Hispanics — are not doing as well as whites in passing teacher-licensing exams. I have low expectations of the Times for a story like this, so I was pleasantly surprised that it at least acknowledged the arguments that, gee, maybe there’s some logic to requiring some basic level of competence among schoolteachers. But I still have several complaints.

First, the article (starting with the headline) suggests that the tests have “bias” or are “discriminatory” because not all groups pass them at the same rate. That’s true, however, only if one views a test with “disparate impact” as discriminatory, even if it does not discriminate on its face, in its design, or in its application. A normal human being would not call such a test discriminatory.

Second, the article refers to “a long-held goal of diversifying the teaching force so it more closely resembles the makeup of the country’s student body.” That’s a silly goal. Do we want half of all teachers to be men? Do we want more white teachers in Idaho than in New York? Should we be concerned if Jews are “overrepresented” among schoolteachers?

Third, the article talks about the purported benefits of “role models” — that is, that “having a teacher of the same race may be beneficial for students.” But, as I have discussed previously, the Supreme Court flatly rejected the role-model rationale many years ago, in Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education. A decade before that, in Hazelwood School District v. United States, the Court had similarly noted that a school district could not point to the racial makeup of its student body as a justification for the racial makeup of its faculty. The law aside, it’s hard enough to get competent teachers at any level without disqualifying some and preferring others because of irrelevant physical characteristics. Show me a parent who would say, “I’m willing for my child to be taught by a less qualified teacher so long as he or she shares my child’s color.” It is ugly indeed to presuppose that one can admire — one can adopt as a role model — only someone who shares your skin color and, conversely, that a white child could never look up to a black person, or a black child to a white person, or either one to an Asian or Latino or American Indian. And the notion that our schoolteachers and professors must look like our students leads into some very undesirable corners. As Justice Powell wrote in Wygant, “Carried to its logical extreme, the idea that black students are better off with black teachers could lead to the very system the Court rejected in Brown v. Board of Education.

Finally, it’s not clear to me that there is much of a racial imbalance anyway, at least based on the figures in the article. It calls the current teaching force “monochromatic” because “more than 80 percent of public school teachers are white.” But if Hispanics can also be white (the approach the Census takes, for example), then that’s not only not monochromatic, it’s not that different from the general population. And the fact that the percentage of minority teachers doesn’t line up with the percentage of minority students is also likely a function of the fact that younger age cohorts have a higher percentage of minorities than older age cohorts.

So, alas, the Times flunks.

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John Rosenberg, at his excellent “Discriminations” blogsite, flags an ugly new acronym, namely POCLA:  “People of Color Less Asians.”  It’s similar to URM (“Under-Represented Minorities”), in that it’s handy when a university wants to discriminate against both whites and Asian Americans in, say, student admissions or faculty hiring.  But I’d say it’s more pointed and explicit in defining the target and, thus, uglier. 

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Since it’s back in the news, here are some Confederate-flag related thoughts, from a National Review Online column of mine many years ago . . . .

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Finally, and back to the New York Times, here’s my response to one of its editorials from earlier this month: 

Your June 1 editorial “A Bad Voting Ban in Maryland” asserts “there isn’t any” logic behind disenfranchising felons — an unsupported assertion, and one that would be remarkable if true, since the practice has roots in ancient Greece and Rome and has been part of English and American law for a long, long time.

But it is not true.  People who are not willing to follow the law themselves cannot claim a right to make the law for everyone else.  We have certain minimum, objective standards of responsibility and commitment to our laws that must be met before people are given a role in the solemn enterprise of self-government, and some people don’t meet those standards — like children, noncitizens, the mentally incompetent, and those who have committed serious crimes against their fellow citizens.

It makes sense to reenfranchise felons as part of their reintegration into society, but it should not be done automatically and mechanically on the day someone walks out of prison — and certainly not, as the vetoed Maryland law would have done, when people have not even finished serving their probation and parole!  Rather, it should be done when the person has fully served his sentence and shown he has really turned over a new leaf.  Then a ceremony before a judge and restoring full civil-rights would have meaning and would create an incentive for true reintegration.

Some Serious Laughter

There is, again, an amusing disconnect on the Left between diagnosis and prescription for what ails American race relations. Last year, the outrage prompted by supposedly entrenched racism and the asserted brutality of our police led to a passionate demand for … fewer traffic tickets and less vigorous enforcement of our drug laws. Now, the murderous racism that allegedly permeates all White Amerikkka must be remedied by … fewer Confederate flags.

What’s going on here, of course, is that the amount of racism that remains in America is being exaggerated by the Left in order to advance its political agenda. Let no tragedy go to waste.

The trouble is, though, that the Left can’t ask for an end to slavery or Jim Crow or for laws that make racial discrimination in any public transaction illegal, because that’s all been done. It can’t even ask for the popular culture to be changed to vilify racists or for racism to become socially unacceptable, because that’s all been done, too. It can’t ask for an African American president, or Attorney General, or mayor of Baltimore either. There are still and will always be racists (of all colors), but the amount of actual racism that can be addressed by any serious government program is small — and that’s actually a good thing.

There is a long game here, though. If the public and, especially, our politicians are sufficiently intimidated, then it helps the Left to push, and even to expand, its agenda so long as a race card can be stapled to it. Limiting early voting or requiring voter ID is said to be racist, opposing racial preferences is racist, punishing unruly students is racist, discriminating against felons in hiring or enfranchising is racist, and — someday, in the Left’s dreams — opposing reparations and making anything (except racism and smoking) illegal will be attacked as racist, too.

Conservatives can’t actually believe that free markets, intact families, following the law, and high moral, social, and educational standards are the best ways to pursue happiness and prosperity for all, can they?  Well, we do — but the Left will never admit it.

But there I go again, lacking the charity that the Charleston congregation has inspiringly shown us when it forgave the deranged killer.   Fewer traffic tickets and Confederate flags are probably a good idea, after all. And the shrill accusations on the Left are perhaps best answered by measured if amused reassurance from the Right, congratulating us all on the beloved community that America is becoming.

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Some Congressional Democrats have introduced a bill amending the Voting Rights Act, and the new bill is even more extreme than an earlier bill that has failed to gain any traction in either house. The new bill would, for example, not exempt voter ID, and it would cover more jurisdictions than the earlier bill — indeed, more jurisdictions than the original Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. So we are to believe that there are now more racist jurisdictions in 2015 than there were in 1965 — comprising half the country’s population. Even The Nation (see first link above) seems to be astonished. 

It’s hard to believe that the bill’s sponsors expect the bill to be taken seriously. More likely it is a bone being tossed to the more extreme parts of their base, who thought the earlier bill — though bad in the extreme — was not bad enough.

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We at the Center for Equal Opportunity hope you and yours had a Glorious Fourth of July Weekend!

What Is Race, Anyway?

Rachel Dolezal may be the single worst person imaginable to provoke a serious discussion on race in America -- but provoke it she does. The woman has told so many lies, it's easy to lose sight of the important question her story raises:  What is race, anyway?

Dolezal was born to fair-skinned parents whose ancestors came from Europe: Germany and what was then Czechoslovakia. We call such people white or Caucasian, though they are neither white in a literal sense or from the Caucasus. We define the racial group that includes the Dolezals so broadly today that it includes people as diverse as Danes and Arabs.

But the definition of a white race itself has transmogrified over time and place. In the early 20th century, amateur anthropologist and attorney Madison Grant wrote a book called "The Passing of the Great Race" that influenced the immigration debate of the time. In it, Grant argued for the superiority of what he dubbed the Nordic race, which included most Northern Europeans, against what he considered the corrupting influence of the Mediterranean and Alpine "races" that encompassed those from Southern and Eastern Europe. And indeed the immigration laws passed in the early 20th century were aimed at excluding more Italians, Poles, Russian Jews and others that lawmakers at the time considered racially inferior.

The 1930 Census included Mexican as a race. Protests from the Mexican government and Americans of Mexican descent in the U.S. led to removal of the racial classification afterward, but today we ask all who complete the Census to identify whether or not they are Hispanic, which the government carefully clarifies are persons who may be of any race. On the other hand, Mexican-American activists in the 1960s adopted "La Raza," the race, as their identity, and many still use the term today, including the National Council of La Raza, a leading Hispanic civil rights group.

Our most troubling racial classification has always been around the category of those whose heritage is African. That Africans were brought here in chains will always be our Original Sin, one that even a Civil War has never seemed fully to expiate. Years of discrimination on the basis of skin color followed passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which abolished slavery and granted citizenship and the right to vote to former slaves and their progeny. For decades, the "one drop rule" meant anyone who had even one great-grandparent who was black could be excluded from schools, denied a job or prevented from marrying whom he or she chose in many parts of this country.

But African-Americans are not the only group who have faced discrimination on the basis of race or color. Our immigration laws excluded Chinese in 1882 and later other Asian immigrants, and foreign-born Asians could not become naturalized U.S. citizens until 1952. Like African-Americans, Asians could not marry whom they chose. Seven states prohibited Asians, dubbed Mongolian in many statutes, from marrying whites in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Racial classifications have always served the purpose to divide and discriminate, so why do we insist on continuing to use them? I, for one, refuse to check the boxes on forms asking my race. But government today is the leading driver in asking people to identify their race on everything from college to loan applications. When I refuse to check the box required, the loan officer does it for me, because the government insists: "If you do not furnish ethnicity, race or sex, under federal regulations, this lender is required to note the information on the basis of visual observation and surname if you have made this application in person."

The real problem, it seems to me, isn't that Rachel Dolezal called herself black. It's that all of us are forced to choose a racial identity in the first place.