Thurgood Marshall Was Right
by Edward Blum
December 2001/January 2002
“Classifications and distinctions based on race or color have no moral or legal validity in our society. They are contrary to our constitution and laws…” – Thurgood Marshall on behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 1954.
“To ignore race and gender is both racist and sexist.” – Jesse Jackson on behalf of the Rainbow Coalition, 1999.
No two statements could better reveal the unfortunate evolution of racial policy in America during the last 50 years. It is no wonder our society is exasperated about race – we can’t remember the racial do’s and don’ts, when’s and when-nots, and how’s and how-nots of what used to be pretty straight-forward.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Sadly, the moral cohesion most Americans shared over racial policy began to fray when the civil rights movement abandoned the ideal of a “color-blind” nation in favor of one in which “benign” governmental racial classifications led to “remedial” racial preferences.
From the beginning, these racial classifications were repugnant to our earliest civil rights advocates. From abolitionists William Lloyd Harrison and Susan B. Anthony to integrationist Martin Luther King, all believed our Constitution was “color-blind” and that government had no business classifying people by their skin color. To them, this commitment to color-blind principles was sacrosanct regardless of any additional guarantee of equality within the Constitution.
Perhaps nothing better enshrines the notion tha our Constitution is color-blind than the words of Justice John Marshall Harlan’s landmark dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, the case in which the doctrine of “separate but equal” was reaffirmed:
“In respect of civil rights, common to all citizens, the Constitution of the United States does not, I think, permit any public authority to know the race of those entitled to be protected in the enjoyment of such rights…There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”
One cannot miss Justice Harlan’s insistence that government should not be allowed to know one’s race.
Regaining the framework of a color-blind nation will not be an easy task. For decades,our educational elite has instructed Americans that one’s race or ethnicity is life’s defining element. The quest for “diversity” in our schools and workplaces furthers the perceptions of our “differentness,” while at the same time belittles our national culture and commonality.
Perhaps most illustrative of the abandonment of a color-blind society is the new 100-plus possible racial and ethnic categories the last U.S. census contained – the great irony of which was despite checking a multi-racial bloodline, the government still counted yuou as an underrepresented racial minority. To hell with the fact you may be only one-quarter black – according to the Census Bureau, you were all-black. This policy is hauntingly similar to the Nuremberg Laws.
The American Civil Rights Coalition, with the help of dozens of Californians, has decided to recapture the timeless, color-blind ideals of the civil rights movement and work toward the passage of the Racial Privacy Initiative. Just as Prop. 209 ended state-sanctioned racial preferences in 1996, the Racial Privacy Initiative in 2002 will end the seed of racial classifications that inevitably grows into these preferences. As sure as night follows day, as long as the government continues to make distinctions among us on the basis of our skin color, the government will grant or withhold preferences to us based upon skin color. And the only way to completely end preferences is to end classifications. As Marshall argued, we may all look different from one another, but government should not be in the business of sorting, separating and tracking us by these skin-deep distinctions.
Edward Blum is Director of Legal Affairs for the American Civil Rights Institute.
Also by Edward Blum
Copyright © 2001 ACRI and The Multiracial Activist. All rights reserved.