Race, Gender Gains Anger Some Males

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson defended affirmative action by arguing that you could not expect people who had been “hobbled” by years of segregation to compete equally. Today, affirmative action is under attack from several fronts. There are cases in Federal courts challenging racial preferences in laying off teachers, awarding contracts and admitting students. The new Republican majority in congress uses affirmative action to beat up on the Democratic Administration. On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidates will surely run against affirmative action. And more states are certain to follow California’s lead; where organizers are trying to put an initiative on next year’s ballot banning state-sanctioned “preferential treatment” based on race or gender.

Last November was the light at the end of the tunnel, however it was not the sun shinning on the land of equal opportunity. Instead, it was a train loaded with resentful white male voters. This class of Americans are angry; angry about a slow-growth economy, corporate downsizing and reduced middle-class incomes. They are mad because they will be the first generation of their group to be economically worse off than their fathers. Their wives must work, while many of their mothers did not. Their fathers bought the family home on a blue collar income; they cannot. Their fathers had jobs with good medical benefits and comfortable retirements; those jobs are disappearing. Yes, these folks are angry and voting.

Thirty years ago when President Johnson’s administration undertook the task of righting the wrongs of years of racial discrimination, the issue was clear. We were two Nations, one black and disadvantaged, the other white and privileged. Then, the issue may have been clear, but solutions were murky and they remain so today. The difference between then and now is that we are closer to becoming one nation, due in large measure to affirmative action. Ironically, it is the success of integration and affirmative action that obscures the real needs of the remaining victims of years of racial segregation.

Today’s African American middle class is virtually unidentifiable from America’s traditional white middle class. They work at the same jobs, live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same schools, vacation at the same resorts, eat at the same restaurants, shop at the same stores and do all the other things that middle class Americans do. The only difference that remains from the old “disadvantaged black America and the privileged white America” is skin color. Skin color, unfortunately, still creates inequities.

Paradoxically, as our society manifests more racial integration, our citizens become more race conscious. Integration in the eyes of many Americans produced black winners and white losers and we are hearing the cries from those who believe they lost. Many white Americans see themselves as disadvantaged in a non-racial meritocracy. These individuals are unprepared and unwilling to forego the advantages of their race. They want the same status in society that they believe their ancestors enjoyed. And they are voting to return to those times.

Neither are all African Americans satisfied with the changes brought on by racial integration and affirmative action. A fellow Montgomerian recently referred to integration as a Trojan Horse. He said that black people welcomed integration as the Trojans welcomed the notorious Grecian gift. That integration, like the infamous large wooden horse, brought forces of destruction to the black community.

Black integration detractors say that banks, shops, and other mainstream commerce have abandoned their communities. Health care providers and city services are poor to nonexistent. Integration “raped” black communities of their economic base by employing the brightest and most talented at jobs outside “their” communities and leaving an unemployable underclass. They point to an unemployment rate among black citizens that is twice that of white citizens. Many feel that the police are at war with young black males, and show statistics to prove it: nearly 50 percent of black males between the ages of 18 and 35 are in jail, on probation, or on parole.

Integration did not help a significant number of poor white males, as well as poor blacks. Many from these groups fall prey to the political charlatans and criminal element that traditionally victimize the underclass. Blacks are told they will never be full partners in America, they are different, and they need their own separate political and economic agenda. As a result, many have given up on integration. To these folks, who metaphorically remain in the rear of the bus, ‘separate but equal’ was the good old days.

At the same time, some politicians lead white males who feel displaced by integration, equal opportunity for women, and affirmative action, to believe that their lives will be better if they turn back the clock. These are the folks riding that train that went through Washington last November dislodging status quo politicians. Unfortunately there is no easy answers for the new Republican majority. Women and minorities …who combined represent a majority of voters… will not stand by while Congress, dominated by white males, erodes their dreams of an equal opportunity America.

Originally Published: 1 March 1995, Montgomery Advertiser

© Copyright – 1992-2004 – Major W. Cox and Montgomery Advertiser.

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