Apartheid Made In USA
On May 22, I testified before Congress against the classification
of Americans by race or ethnicity. For an immigrant who grew up
first under National Socialism, then under Communism, the ability
to tell government what you think is thrilling. But in the capital
of the free world one should not have to argue that racial classification
is wrong. This city, after all, houses a Holocaust Museum "to
educate the living" about racial classification.
A subcommittee of the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight
is currently examining whether the existing classifications - Black,
American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian & Pacific Islander, and
White in the racial, Hispanic in the ethnic column - should be expanded.
Daniel K. Akaka, U.S. Senator from Hawaii clearly thinks so. He
opened the bid lobbying for "indigenous" status in favor
of 20% of his state's population.
Throughout the long afternoon, I was waiting for someone to make
reference to the Constitution or an act of Congress that would establish
some legal basis for granting privileged status to certain groups,
owing to their ancestry. If memory serves me right, all everyone
talked about were "guidelines in Directive No.15" of the
Office of Management and Budget - hardly an entity with legislative
When it was my turn, I recalled that the very concept of classifying
people based on origin was an invention of the National Socialists
in Germany, practiced extensively by the Bolsheviks of Russia. By
contrast, America's Founders set this nation on a course which combined
the highest ideals with the consistency of the law. The first "self-evident
truth" stated by the Declaration of Independence was that "all
men are created equal." The first purpose stated in the Preamble
to the U.S. Constitution was to "form a more perfect union."
The Bill of Rights established that all rights are vested either
in persons as individuals or in "the people" as a whole.
The existence of groups was not contemplated.
Since people are unequal in every other respect, I continued, equal
standing before the law is the only form of equality that is possible
in the real world. It has been the noblest aspiration of mankind,
and is the most precious asset of the United States of America.
Ours was the first nation committed to it in the hour of its birth.
The history of America is the noble effort to make this noblest
of aspirations a reality. In contrast, the concept of classifying
people by ancestry is indefensible whether from the legal, the moral,
or the practical point of view.
I am not sure anyone heard me. The other 12 witnesses, and the
members of the Subcommittee seemed to be in a world of their own.
No one was in any doubt that privileges were appropriate one way
or another. The differences of opinion concerned only the manner
of distribution. There was the "me too" side, insisting
on additional classifications, especially for multi-racial persons.
The "over my dead body" side, already enjoying special
privileges, was close to panic lest their privileges may have to
be shared, perchance diluted.
Mrs. Susan Graham and her son, Ryan, testified in favor of expanded
classifications. Mrs. Graham is white, Ryan's father is black. What
is Ryan? If he is designated "black," it disregards his
mother's genes. To accommodate Ryan, Mrs. Graham argued, a bi-racial
category was needed. "My son cannot answer the first question
on a test," she reported, "since the first question of
every test concerns the student's race." Among the intolerable
conditions caused by the absence of a bi-racial classification,
Mrs. Graham noted that no medical data were available about the
special health risks multi-racial children face. Looking at Ryan,
a tall, bright, healthy-looking twelve-year-old, it was difficult
to comprehend her indignation.
Question time. Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) of the Committee spoke at
some length about oppression and racism, and expressed the view
that Ryan was now "a role model for millions." He then
asked Ryan to speak about his plight. "Tell us," Mr. Davis
said, "have you suffered greatly from all the discrimination
that has come your way?"
With all eyes upon him, Ryan took his time. Then came the words:
"No - not really. We all get along just fine - really it's
a nice bunch of kids..." Mr. Davis covered his disappointment
as best he could.
Having arrived here in 1959, I know there was a long way to go
for Mr. Davis's generation. But the scene in Rayburn 2154 demonstrated
why we can't make progress. Ryan and, presumably, many others of
his generation are being programmed to feel disadvantaged and separate.
The contrast between his prepared statement - obviously written
by someone else - and his unrehearsed response provides a ray of
But here's the puzzle. Privilege, whether for individuals or groups,
is incompatible with the Constitution. Why is Congress seeking to
expand rather than to terminate racial classifications and group
What makes the defunct practices of Nazi Germany and Apartheid
South Africa more appealing in Washington than the U.S. Constitution?