“It’s an unwritten rule (that whites can’t join the Congressional Black Caucus). It’s understood. It’s clear.”
– Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. (D-Mo.)
The quest for equal rights in America has been fought on many fronts, but the war is far from over. In the 1860s, we battled for the eradication of slavery. A century later, the Civil Rights Movement waged war against the forces of intolerance and racism so that the promises made a century before would be kept for centuries to come.
But today I see an America that is so politically correct that it has lost its nerve and can no longer stand up against racial injustices: We have complacently acquiesced to a racial double standard. I am referring to black racism toward white Americans.
I’m sure that my mentioning this problem has already caused a few of you to break out your keyboard in preparation for a nasty letter to the editor, but I ask you to refrain until you read the following example.
If you agree with the principle that no one should be denied membership in a group on account of race, then you have to be outraged at the circumstances surrounding Rep. Stephen Cohen’s (D-Tenn.) bid to join the Congressional Black Caucus. Cohen represents a congressional district, formerly held by Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), that is nearly 60 percent black. Last election season, Cohen promised his constituents that if elected he would apply for membership into the CBC. Like a good representative, Cohen kept his promise. The only barrier to Cohen’s fulfilling his duty to his constituents is race – he is white.
Knowing Cohen’s intentions in advance, senior members of the CBC, including its retired founder Rep. William Lacy Clay Sr., informed the freshman congressman that he need not apply. Despite the fact that the CBC does not have a bylaw forbidding white members, that Cohen has hired a majority black staff and that he represents a larger number of blacks than some current CBC members, Cohen’s skin color disqualifies him from membership. Last time I checked, this is the textbook definition of racism.
Cohen is not the only white congressman who has applied for membership in the CBC. The last to try was Rep. Peter Stark (D-Calif.) in 1975. Like Cohen, Stark had a large black constituency, was a liberal and had a strong commitment to ending poverty in America. However, while the CBC was generous enough to hold a vote on Stark’s potential membership, he lost out because of his race. Rep. Cohen wasn’t even afforded a vote. Apparently the CBC’s sense of fairness has digressed over the years.
In both situations, CBC leadership stressed the importance of the caucus remaining all black, yet its rhetoric does not match its stated purpose. According to the CBC website, the group’s goal is “to promote the public welfare through legislation designed to meet the needs of millions of neglected citizens.” My question to the CBC is this – do you have to be black to help achieve such a goal? Are white members of Congress incapable of promoting the public welfare through legislation?
We know from history that racism will continue as long as those who promote it avoid public scrutiny. Speaking of public scrutiny, where is the mainstream media’s sense of social justice? Not even Fox News would touch this controversy with a 10-foot pole. The American media’s dedication to fairness took a convenient vacation to avoid the two children of political correctness – fear and guilt – but that is a subject for another column.
What I am most disturbed by is the members of the black community who don’t recognize the blatant hypocrisy of their leaders. Whatever happened to Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a society that judges people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin? Does that only apply when whites judge blacks?
How can we expect American society to abide by the tenants of racial equality, social justice and full integration if we refuse to knockdown the walls built by black leadership? Why not encourage black leaders to accept Cohen and other members of Congress representing majority-minority districts?
After all, if diversity is good for America, why not in this case?
John Stiglich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.