The Past and Future of Racial Politics

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Washington. -- It seemed like old times. The new chairman of the NAACP, Myrlie Evers-Williams, was spouting the same old cliches that stereotype blacks as hopeless, hapless victims of white racism who cannot make it without affirmative action and other quotas designed exclusively for them.

She vowed to be "very vocal on issues that deal with welfare reform" -- meaning don't cut the dole. And also with issues dealing "with the real attitudes and attempts to roll back many of the gains that we have made over the years . . . particularly affirmative action" -- meaning the continued hiring of people based not on the content of their character and ability, but on the color of their skin.

These are echoes of a soon-to-be-buried philosophy. Politicians, including some Democrats, realize that while the Voting Rights Act, open-housing laws and school desegregation produced equal opportunity, affirmative action produces unequal opportunity, dependency and increased tension between races. Politicians are getting this message: It's no longer political suicide to stand against affirmative action and to campaign for color-blindness.

Even Charles Evers, brother of Ms. Evers-Williams' late husband Medgar Evers, is a Republican.

It was from the lips of the president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, that some profound truth recently came. Addressing the second session of the Democratic Parliament in Cape Town on February 17, Mr. Mandela sent a message to people who thought his election meant government was open for handouts. He said, "The government has extremely limited resources to address the many and urgent needs of our people. We are very keen that this real situation should be communicated to the people as a whole. All of us, especially the leadership of political organizations and civil society, must rid ourselves of the wrong notion that the government has a big bag full of money. The government does not have such riches."

The president wasn't through. While he spoke favorably of affirmative action for those who had suffered the sting of apartheid, he said only those who exhibited "collective responsibility and accountability" would benefit. Then, in a statement that would get him branded a right-wing reactionary in this country, Mr. Mandela added: "It is important that we rid ourselves of the culture of entitlement which leads to the expectation that the government must promptly deliver whatever it is that we demand, and results in some people refusing to meet their obligations."

The past is the NAACP and its total allegiance to the Democratic Party, which has dispensed welfare checks and affirmative action in exchange for the organization delivering a huge bloc of black votes to the party.

And the future is hard-working Republican blacks such as Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, Rep. Gary Franks of Connecticut and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Growing numbers like them have made it without the "assistance" of the NAACP and quotas. By their lives and words, this new generation of blacks is saying that nothing takes the place of persistence.

The desperation of those who are about to lose power was expressed recently by Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, who equated opposition to affirmative action to Hitler's policy of exterminating Jews. (He did subsequently apologize for this remark.)

Perhaps Mr. Rangel, the NAACP and similar organizations dislike anyone who declares independence from government because it means people will no longer be dependent on them. Some civil-rights "professionals" may have to find productive work -- an unwelcome prospect for people who have earned big bucks by playing a lifelong and divisive game of racial politics.

Nelson Mandela has it right. He should return to America and give that parliamentary speech to Congress and the American people.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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