Morris County, N.J., Daily Record
Published: July 16, 1997
Racism lives today,
and so does the need
for affirmative action
BY DAVE LAWRENCE
I enjoyed reading Michael Patrick Carroll's inspired rebuttal of a letter supporting affirmative action ("Carroll: Harvard student's defense of affirmative action falls flat," July 9). With intellectuals like Carroll infesting the Assembly, it is no wonder that New Jersey residents pay the highest auto insurance rates in the nation.
The point of Carroll's argument is "One cannot atone for past injustices by perpetrating new ones." On the surface, the statement has a nice sound, especially, for fans of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke's "equal rights for white people" philosophy. The reality, though, is that these "past" injustices are alive and well in the present and are likely to remain without the pressure of affirmative action to counterbalance them.
Carroll first tries to argue away the need for affirmative action by saying that history is "replete with examples of repression." He follows that whites have mostly oppressed fellow whites. Carroll's argument is historically accurate as long as one ignores Africa, Asia, North and South America, Australia and the Pacific Islands. But that seems to me like a bit much to ignore.
Carroll tries to avoid talking of conditions in the South, saying that neither he nor the Harvard student were from Alabama. Neither was I, but my home state, Louisiana, did secede from the Union in January 1861 to join the Confederate States of America. I grew up in the 1960s, witnessed the battles over desegregation and, wow, have even been denied jobs due to affirmative action.
I have a dirty little secret. I look like your average nearsighted white guy with a ponytail. The truth is, though, I'm not white enough for the Aryan crowd, having definitely enough Chinese and probably enough Mexican to check those other boxes on the census forms. When my mother joined the Air Force in 1959, she was listed as being of the Chinese race. She married my father in 1960, and they moved back to his home in Louisiana in 1962.
My father was of good white redneck stock, with several ancestors who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Part of the South's Jim Crow legacy were the miscegenation laws, in which people of different races were forbidden to marry. I don't know whether Chinese were covered in these laws -- when they were written probably no one in Louisiana knew that Asians existed -- but some people in the early 1960s felt that White-Chinese marriages were verboten and did not hesitate to call our home and suggest that my dad leave his home state and take us with him.
Most of my friends were unaware of my Asian heritage. That led to many uncomfortable moments during the Vietnam era when they would attempt to denigrate the "enemy" by referring to the Vietnamese with racial labels that applied to my ancestors and many other Asians as well. I would burn with anger when I heard the C-word or the G-word epithets thrown around, or when I heard the terms "slant-eyes" or "yellow-belly." But I didn't say or do anything -- usually -- because I didn't see anything good coming out of my rash actions.
One word I heard a lot was the N-word. The hatred and distrust of people of African descent was pervasive throughout the white society where I grew up. It still is. Of course, if I ask someone if they are prejudiced, they will answer "No." If that's the answer I want, I will go my merry way. But if I look and listen honestly, and act like a "normal" white person, my fellow whites reveal their true selves.
Even in the 1990s I have heard people say that the Martin Luther King holiday should be held on the day he was shot, rather than on the day he was born.
So racism is still prevalent, except for maybe in Michael Patrick Carroll's New Jersey.
The purpose of affirmative action was to force recalcitrant racists to hire minorities. Affirmative action was needed in the 1960s. It was still needed in the 1970s and 1980s, when I was denied jobs because I was not of an appropriate racial/ethnic background. It is still needed now, as many of the people who did do the hiring back in the old days are still alive and doing the hiring. If not them, then it is the sons (and occasionally the daughters) whose minds were poisoned by the fears and ignorance of previous generations.
I admit, I was disappointed when I was denied jobs because of affirmative action. But even then, I could admit something else. I had plenty of opportunities. The minority who was hired might have had only one.
DAVE LAWRENCE is a Daily Record copy editor.