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'Rational discrimination' is an unacceptable notion

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I thought the question was simple enough, but apparently it was the only stupid one asked during a debate between Congressman Benjamin Cardin and his 3rd District opponent, Pat McDonough, on WCBM Wednesday.

After asking Cardin why the disaster predicted by liberals when welfare reform took effect Oct. 1 hadn't occurred, I thought I'd be fair and ask McDonough to handle a hot one.

"The phrase 'rational discrimination' has been coined by the right side of the political spectrum," I began. "Basically, it says whites are perfectly justified in fearing young black men because they're the ones who commit the most robberies. Doesn't that run counter to the concept of colorblindness Republicans preach? And why should black people support abolishing affirmative action when phrases like 'rational discrimination' are being tossed about?"

Neither candidate fully understood the question, they said. Cardin said he supports President Clinton's views on affirmative action, i.e., no quotas and no reverse discrimination, while McDonough said it was a fact that the majority of robberies are committed by young black men but, when it comes to the job market, employers will be fair and hire the most qualified candidate.

So let me see if I get this straight. There is White Person A, an employer or supervisor, driving to work when he or she sees a young black male at a bus stop. White Person A notices he or she has inadvertently left the passenger side door unlocked. Eyeing the young black male fearfully, White Person A quickly reaches over and pushes down the latch. (That's not a theoretical scenario. It happened to me dozens of times before I started driving, and when I wasn't very young, either.)

White Person A then gets to the office to prepare for a series of job interviews. In walks the young black male White Person A had just assumed was a common thug for a job interview. In McDonough's view -- and in the view of all Americans opposed to affirmative action who consider themselves fair but believe "rational discrimination" has some validity -- White Person A suddenly becomes colorblind and proceeds to interview the young black male and judge him on his merits.

What's wrong with this picture? Life doesn't work that way, that's what's wrong. Folks can't turn bigotry on and off like water from a faucet. And I'll be brutally frank: That's all "rational discrimination" is. Warmed over, refried down-home bigotry.

You remember when you were in school and you had that exercise in racial and ethnic tolerance called Brotherhood Week. How was a bigot defined, class? Basically, it was anyone who judged an entire group by the actions of a few members of the group. In other words, a classic description of "rational (x discrimination."

Quiet as it's kept, not all black men are thugs and muggers. The hoodlums represent a tiny minority, but, using "rational discrimination," all young black males are presumed guilty until proved innocent. The countless young black men who are robbery victims matter not to the rational discriminators.

"Rational discrimination" was advocated most stridently in a book -- cynically titled "The End of Racism" -- by conservative author Dinesh D'Souza. What rational discriminators fail to realize is that the folks who justified slavery, segregation and Jim Crow all thought their acts were rational. In fact, much of D'Souza's book is dedicated to the proposition that the gaggle of racists extant in the country in the 19th and early 20th centuries felt they were quite justified and rational in their bigoted views of blacks.

Republicans and conservatives need to distance themselves from the nonsensical notion that we can have a colorblind society that practices "rational discrimination." There is a segment of black people -- those who run their own businesses, who believe in economic growth, oppose abortion and are tough on crime -- that would vote Republican if given a good reason.

Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole says he and running-mate Jack Kemp are actively seeking black votes. Uh huh. He'd better explain why Republicans wooed and courted that bigoted, "hang 'em high" wing of the Democratic Party called the Dixiecrats in the late '60s and early '70s. He'd better state where he stands on this notion of "rational discrimination" and why the term was coined by those on his side of the political spectrum, although I'm sure many Democrats are closet "rational discriminators" themselves.

"Rational discrimination" is an odious notion whose time should never have come. Let's fling it onto the dung heap of ideas where it rightfully belongs.

Pub Date: 10/26/96

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