Class Conflicts Within Black America


Washington -- Some observers have said that President Bush chose to nominate Clarence Thomas to a seat on the Supreme Court because he knew that black America would become divided, making confirmation easy.

Those divisions have popped up in the confirmation hearings in sometimes ugly, virulent ways, revealing jealousies and class conflicts within black America that transcend the fate of Mr. Bush's black nominee.

We have seen Alphonso Jackson, the director of the Dallas Housing Authority, demean the black members of Congress and other critics of Mr. Thomas as sellouts who are "on corporate boards, fly around in Lear jets and eat at the Jockey Club," a prestigious restaurant here.

We have seen Robert Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprises, argue against "race-based remedies" for discrimination, saying that affirmative action should be based only on "need."

We have heard self-glorifying testimony from blacks claiming that the mere existence of affirmative action for others permitted whites to gloss over these blacks' extraordinary qualifications and accuse them of getting jobs through "unfair preferences."

We got a babble of black confusion, even schizophrenia, over what affirmative action is, and of what government, private business, colleges, the courts ought to do or not do to make equal opportunities available to all Americans.

At least two senators tried to point out to Mr. Woodson that affirmative action is meant to redress egregious past racial discriminations, and to lift corporate and governmental behavior above the racism that is still entrenched in this society. Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., pointed out that if affirmative action ceased to redress generations of racial discrimination and was based only on "need," poor whites would wind up with almost all the benefits.

Messrs. Woodson and Jackson were so steeped in the rhetoric of black class conflict that neither would even pretend to understand that when affirmative action gives non-poor, educated blacks positions in the circles of power, then, and then only, do the black masses have any chance of rising. No bigoted sergeant is going to defy Colin Powell. No black director of a corporate board who is a woman or man of integrity fails to influence the whole range of that firm's activities.

Still, Mr. Jackson manifested the pitiable, contradictory state of thinking in frustrated black America; the corrosive jealousies, the lack of black solidarity in terms of goals and methods, when he contradicted himself again and again. He attacked black "liberals" for using white racism as an excuse for their second-class citizenship, then tried to restore his claim to genuine black manhood by talking about the lingering curse of racism in America.

Mr. Jackson set out terrible figures -- inaccurate -- about the drop in the number of blacks in college as if to suggest that black civil-rights leaders and others opposing the confirmation of Judge Thomas were responsible. He seems never to have figured out that the educational policies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, the benefactors of his pal Mr. Thomas, were the ones who had circumscribed the futures of millions of black children by wiping out scholarships and other educational assistance.

Messrs. Woodson and Jackson talked in terms close to hatred of successful blacks, saying "they got everything -- the little people got nothing." It was as though they thought black "liberals," or newly affluent blacks were responsible for the fact that black unemployment is now 12.3 per cent, as against 6.1 per cent for whites, and that black joblessness has been at least double that for whites for all time.

Blacks blinded by their support of Judge Thomas couldn't accept the reality that affirmative actions across the whole spectrum of American life will be necessary to improve those figures.

George Bush, or whoever convinced him to make this cynical -- the black Baptists say "diabolical" -- appointment of Mr. Thomas must have snickered madly as Messrs. Woodson and Jackson illustrated so pathetically that black people, too, can be manipulated by appeals to jealousy and class hatreds.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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