August 3, 2009

The inevitable decline of preferential treatment?

By Joshua P. Thompson Senior Attorney

Author: Joshua Thompson

I highly recommend this LA Times opinion piece from Sunday.  The author recounts a sad episode in 1941 when her father, the lone African-American on Harvard's lacrosse team, was prohibited from playing in a match against the Naval Academy.  Harvard sent her father home, and played the game with their white players, so as not to forfeit the game.

The piece reminded me of similar situation confronted by the University of Buffalo football team in 1958.  There, the team finished the season 8-1, was invited to the Tangerine Bowl to face Florida State, but the leaseholders of the stadium refused to allow Buffalo to play unless its two African-American players did not come.  Buffalo responded by not playing in the game, even though it was the school's first-ever bowl game invitation.

To me, the LA Times piece highlighted how far we have come as a society in 60 years, where such despicable acts of discrimination are not even fathomable to a thirty-year old.  But I also enjoyed the piece, because it took the analysis a step further.  The author scolds Harvard and President Obama for their handling of the arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates.  She writes:

"If [Gates] looked around, he would discover that black men and women can and do compete equally at Harvard, and need no special protection, class or distinction. They achieve using intellect, hard work and perseverance. The world Gates inhabits, which prefers victimization and demands special treatment, is as wrong today as Harvard's Jim Crowism was in 1941.

Obama's "teachable moment" could have done the nation a great service by denouncing race-based distinctions of any sort. After all, he wasn't elected because he's black, but because Americans thought he had the wisdom, temperament and ability to serve as president. Yet neither the president nor the professor has seized the moment to take bolder steps in a discourse on race."

Like the author, I too think that preferential treatment by government on account of race is fading, and that equality before the law is inevitable.  When a child born today reaches thirty, I suspect that her thoughts about programs like this, or this, or this, will seem just as despicable and unfathomable as the actions of the Naval Academy in 1941. And groups like the Associated General Contractors, San Diego, Coral Construction, Inc., and American Civil Rights Foundation will be seen as champions of equality like the University of Buffalo is now.

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