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.
“You cannot work a man who must have beef and bread, and would prefer beer, alongside of a man who can live on rice,” Blaine proclaimed. In a letter to the New York Tribune, Blaine said, “If as a nation we have the right to exclude the criminal classes from coming to us, we surely have the right to exclude that immigration which reeks with impurity and which cannot come to us without plenteously sowing the seeds of moral and physical disease, destitution, and death.”
Yet when Stuart Taylor and Richard Sander researched affirmative action, they concluded it had become “a force for economic inequality” that reduced opportunity for academically well-prepared working class and poor Asian students, among others. Ward Connerly, who has led the charge against affirmative action policies nationally, notes the percentage of Asian college students at the University of California increased from 22 percent to 42 percent after racial preferences were ended.
So a modern policy to make amends for past discrimination is in fact discriminating against modern students whose ancestors were the target of past discrimination. Some might see that as self-defeating.
We all bleed red. Efforts to pretend otherwise, past and present, keep leading people through the looking glass into an upside-down world of racial polarization with increasingly bizarre outcomes.