Clinton's Silenced Dialogue on Race

By Miller, Abraham H. | The World and I, June 1998 | Go to article overview

Clinton's Silenced Dialogue on Race


Miller, Abraham H., The World and I


President Clinton's effort to create a national dialogue on race has degenerated first into a monologue and then into a sideshow. In the process, the president has shown that he is too much a politician to ever become a statesman, and he has reminded us that race is too important an issue to be left to politicians. As we should have learned from the tragedy of another era, it is also to important an issue to stand beyond the bounds of discussion.

As the newest revival of the play The Diary of Ann Frank recalls, by contrast, previous versions that airbrushed Ann's Jewishness, the historic context of Nazi Germany, and even the reason that Ann was hiding in an attic, so too the recent version evokes the prescient commentary on anti-Semitism by Hannah Arendt, one of the great political philosophers of this period. The "glamour" of the so-called Jewish question for the Nazis and their ability to exploit it, Arendt observed, ensued from the mistaken policy of the mainstream political parties in Weimar Germany to ignore it. In so doing, the "Jewish question" took on an element of mystery that lent itself to fatuous explanations and insane conspiracy theories.

Without the least intending it, President Clinton has begun to put us on a similar course. Prior to the December 3, 1997, meeting in Akron, Ohio, his major efforts at a dialogue on race amounted to appearances before the ideologically homogeneous civil rights establishment. This was followed by a White House-convened panel led by the distinguished African-American historian John Hope Franklin. Excluded from this "dialogue" was anyone who did not adhere to the civil fights establishment's orthodoxy on the otherwise controversial subject of affirmative action. Franklin's formidable strengths as a historian obviously did not include the Weimar period.

For the civil rights establishment--which has gone from justifying affirmative action on the bases of minority concerns and victimization to the much-vaunted value of "diversity" as an end in and of itself--it appears that ideological diversity is valued about as much as recruiting a political conservative would be to most liberal arts faculties. If' the events leading up to Akron did not sufficiently underscore this point, any remaining doubts were erased two days later as the Clinton initiative moved to Dallas.

With U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, the administration's highest-ranking African American, as moderator, thirty-five community leaders gathered at Dallas' African American Life and Culture Museum for a discussion of race relations in America. The invitation list was composed and screened by Dallas Municipal Judge Vonceil Hill. All those invited were African Americans. Hill unabashedly described the group--void of Asian, Hispanic, or white Americans--as a "cross section" of people and thus gave Orwellian "newspeak" enriched meaning.

The Clinton initiative has now encountered "diversity" as it is actually practiced, and in so doing, it has inadvertently exposed what "diversity" really is: a palatable euphemism for the old "black power" of the 1960s. Even before the administration's initiative, diversity was being exposed as a self-portrait of public hypocrisy, better locked away in some attic than exposed to the glare of public ridicule.

Take Lake County, Indiana, just south of Chicago. In 1995, the county's legal counsel, in an effort to comply with the minority hiring practices of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, began documenting county hiring practices. In a county that is 25 percent African Americans, 34 percent of the public payroll was composed of this single ethnic group. John Dull, the county attorney, began applying the diversity mandate by recommending that Hispanics and Asians be hired to replace departing black employees. In response, local civil rights leaders expressed their anger and threatened to have the Department of Justice investigate the county for civil rights violations. …

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