BLACK ISSUES BOOK REVIEW: U.S. Constitution's `Original Intent' on Race Relations Scrutinized

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BLACK ISSUES BOOK REVIEW: U.S. Constitution's `Original Intent' On Race. Relations Scrutinized

RACE. The very mention of the word sends various segments of American society scrambling for various areas of retreat or confrontation. There are those who wish the subject would simply go out of style or die. Others see the topic as a perennial subject that is as endemic to America as the U.S. Constitution. Consequently, even the wish for the reality of race to go away is a testament to the fact of its prevalence in American society. Race, we must conclude, is inextricably bound up in America. It is an essential thread in this country's demographic quilt. This reality is forever documented by the "three-fifths clause" in Article I, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution.

"Separate and Unequal: Black Americans and the U.S. Federal Government" takes an unflinching look at a seldom-addressed aspect of the reality of race in America. It has to do with the treatment of Black Americans within the federal government and the government's role in accommodating African-American oppression. Most studies tend to address this relationship in the context of Black Americans petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. "Separate and Unequal" takes us on a long and winding journey behind the scenes of the system -- to see how Black Americans were treated as they petitioned for help.

James Madison wrote in Federalist #51, "But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?" In essence, King's book answers Madison with an overwhelming "yes" -- particularly in the area of race relations. In extending the metaphorical idea of government as reflection, King has presented a very complicated thesis that paradoxically presents the best arguments both for and against affirmative action; for and against welfare; and also for both integration and nationalist separation.

Suspect System?

Desmond King, who is Official Fellow and Tutor in Politics at St. John's College, Oxford, presents his thesis in two essential arguments. Moreover, his thesis also manifests itself in a third idea. Two points are overtly stated. The third is derived from a logical, if not metaphorical, conclusion. First, King states, "segregation was in origin Southern." Second, Southern Democrats formed a dominant component of politics and the political coalition upon which the system of discrimination and segregation was based. Consequently, Washington politicians were reluctant to upset the balance. Third, the federal government served as a major conduit for the national and international dissemination of white Southern racial values.

How does King's book serve as a tool that can be used as an argument for and against integration, welfare and affirmative action? Between 1896 and 1954, the federal government served as a major enforcer of the "separate but equal" racial dispensation. King presents an irrefutable argument that this was evident in federal employment, the military and housing. Consequently, if the government was a major architect of discrimination, how can it be trusted to truly act in the interest of African Americans in the demolition of discriminatory practices? Thus, Blacks should practice a more nationalistic political agenda less reliant on a suspect system. …