Convergence of racial history with modern reality yields plenty of irony

Published: October 3, 2013
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THE world is filled with irony, but the convergence of racial history and modern reality is yielding a bumper crop.

In Jacksonville, Fla., Nathan B. Forrest High School is named for a plantation owner and slave trader who may have ordered the killing of black prisoners after a Confederate victory. Ku Klux Klan members elected Forrest as honorary Grand Wizard in 1867.

Today, most students at the school are black. Thus, every black student getting a diploma from Forrest High is effectively giving the one-finger salute to everything Forrest once represented. Some might see this as poetic justice.

The custody dispute over Baby Veronica in Oklahoma involves similar incongruity. Because the child is 1.2 percent Cherokee, a South Carolina court ordered her taken away from her adoptive parents and given to her biological father. This was before the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the decision. The Cherokee Nation has intervened on the father's behalf even as it simultaneously fights a separate court battle with descendants of slaves once owned by Cherokees. At question is whether an 1866 treaty gave these freedmen the right to tribal citizenship.

Legitimate sovereignty issues are involved, but the two cases also leave the Cherokees effectively arguing for the American Indian tribal rights of a girl who would otherwise be described as Hispanic, while arguing against the tribal rights of people otherwise described as black.

Affirmative action policies, particularly racial quotas, are often justified as corrective measures for past racial discrimination. So consider this: In 1882, the federal Chinese Exclusion Act suspended Chinese immigration for 10 years and made Chinese immigrants already living in the U.S. ineligible for naturalization. The “temporary” law remained in place for decades; the immigration ban was later extended to all Asians.

In 1882, Chinese immigrants represented an estimated 0.002 percent of the U.S. population, yet were blamed for driving down wages and harming the economy. U.S. Sen. James Blaine, who later became a Republican presidential nominee (and the namesake of a county in Oklahoma), supported immigration restrictions in 1879 in clearly racist terms.

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