Amid L.A. Clippers scandal, does discrimination still burn in the U.S.?
Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot.
BOB: Much has been said about the racist comments of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. But the bigger question remains: Is racism alive in America today? We've come a long way from the days of Jim Crow and, yes, we elected a black president, but racism lives.
CAL: Racism, like the poor, will always be with us. But millions of African Americans have joined the middle class because they didn't let what President Obama called the "ignorance" of people like Sterling hold them back. Attitude, more than racism, keeps too many African Americans from achieving their potential.
BOB: Racism is more subtle than Sterling. It takes many forms. We have all seen or read stories, for example, of department store employees following African Americans around as if they are all potential shoplifters.
CAL: I agree that is hurtful to the vast majority of honest African Americans. But if you're a sales clerk in Chicago and you have seen and possibly been the victim of those flash mobs that descend on stores and loot vast amounts of clothes, I understand how even African-American clerks might be cautious.
BOB: The problem goes beyond individuals, Cal. New York City had a stop-and-frisk law, allowing police officers to stop and search anyone they suspect might be breaking the law. There have been 5 million stops since the law took effect, and the overwhelming number of them were minorities.
CAL: That's because a disproportionate number of minorities commit crimes, usually against other minorities. Under former mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani, more aggressive policing reduced crime in New York City, benefiting law-abiding minority communities that suffer the most at the hands of criminals.
BOB: I will grant you that a large percentage of crime is perpetrated by minorities. One of the reasons for this is the lack of jobs available in minority communities.
CAL: The black unemployment rate in April was above 11%. Most of that is related to poor education and the refusal of politicians to allow school choice so minority kids can escape failing schools. Standing in the schoolhouse door to keep kids in bad schools may not be racism, but it is immoral.
BOB: I agree. Politicos talk a big game about bringing jobs to devastated cities like Detroit, but rarely succeed. At least Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ken., visited Detroit with some ideas to attract jobs. Few Republicans since former congressman Jack Kemp have dared do the same.
CAL: You're right. Too many white Republicans write off minority votes, which they could win if they showed up between elections and mobilized churches and businesses to help kids get a good education in a school of their parents' choice.
BOB: Republicans need to stop complaining about blacks voting over 90% for Democrats. If they're not willing to compete in those neighborhoods, they will keep losing those voters.
CAL: Another point about racism. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. produced a series of PBS programs on African Americans. In one, he traced the DNA of some prominent black people, including himself. Gates was surprised to learn he has a significant amount of Irish heritage. We are all "mongrels." There are no purebred people.
BOB: We may be mongrels, but the perception of race has real results. The media role in highlighting racial incidents only serves to exacerbate tension. We rarely write about racial harmony.
CAL: The media are attracted to anything that smacks of racism. In football, "piling on" can get you penalized. In the Sterling case, a private conversation was leaked and the media piled on. There are few of us who'd be comfortable having our worst private conversations broadcast to the world.
BOB: But Sterling owns a basketball team that is predominantly black. He has a special responsibility to tone down racial acrimony.
CAL: There is always a double standard when it comes to race issues; civil rights organizations will look the other way for their own, but forgiveness is in short supply for people making stupid racial remarks. Take the recently resigned head of the NAACP's Los Angeles chapter, Leon Jenkins. The New York Timesreported that Jenkins, a former Michigan judge, was found by the Michigan Supreme Court to have "systematically and routinely sold his office and his public trust." The NAACP had no problem with him being a local chairman.
BOB: But, as you point out, Jenkins resigned from his position with the NAACP.
CAL: There's a lot more to this Sterling story. Sterling's alleged mistress, who is partly black, went on TV with Barbara Walters to "explain" herself, though she added little to the story. Democrats love these cases because it helps them claim Republicans hate blacks. It works politically, which is why the GOP needs a smart, sincere strategy if it wants to attract more black voters.
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