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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Racial distinction no way to promote equality

    Stan Molevercolumnist
    Stan Molever
    columnist

    When it comes to acknowledging the evils of our historical ties to slavery, the debate over apologies, reparations and minority quotas is being fueled by a new report from Brown University and the parliamentary notes of Tony Blair.

    Last month, Brown University released a report, initiated in 2003, that documented the historic ties between the college and slavery in this country.

    The report claims, among other things, that the construction of the university was due in large part to the labor of black slaves in 18th century Rhode Island and that the school should not only construct a memorial to those who suffered the indignity of slavery and create educational programs to open up dialogue about the institution’s shameful history, but also promote the recruitment of more minority students.

    Following the findings of the Brown report, other New England schools with histories dating back to colonial times have followed suit in investigating their old ties with slavery, including Harvard and Yale.

    And American Ivy League schools aren’t the only ones doing some soul-searching. This weekend, government notes surfaced from a meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the head of the House of Lords, revealing that Blair will publicly express regret for his country’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, a statement that will stop short of a full apology.

    The revelation is being met with controversy

    The arguments that states and private groups owe something to the descendants of victims get hairy when they demand more from the accused then ceremonial apologies and memorials.

    in England as many in the black community are calling for a full-fledged apology as the country approaches the 200-year anniversary of the prohibition on slave trading – an apology British officials apparently fear might engender claims for reparations among the descendants of slaves.

    The recent developments here in the U.S. and in Britain beg interesting questions about the extent of nations’ and private groups’ responsibilities for their roles in past injustices, from the less than reputable to the downright despicable.

    Some, as in the case of black cultural leader Kofi Mawuli Klu, who has lobbied the Queen of England to make a full apology for the Empire’s role in transporting nearly 300,000 slaves per year during the height of the trans-Atlantic slave route, believe that only a full apology can redress the evils done by hundreds of years of institutionalized bigotry.

    Some demand even more ceremonial gestures along the lines of France’s national “”Slave Day”” in order to truly pay tribute to those denigrated by the state.

    And some, taking the lead from the Brown report, are calling for new quotas or targets in higher learning institutions to give a leg up to those marginalized in our nation’s past.

    No doubt, many nations have contributed to profound injustices in their histories. And, honestly, formal apologies by countries built on slavery don’t seem to create that much of a powder keg.

    But the arguments that nations and private groups owe something to the descendants of victims get hairy when they demand more from the accused then ceremonial apologies and memorials. While attempts by universities to recruit more minority students have traditionally been treated with less hostility than full-out claims for reparations, such attempts are still fraught with difficulty.

    After all, the concept of targeting academic recruits based on the color of skin suffers from the same logical inconsistency as other affirmative action programs. To right a wrong by trying to assist minority students in accessing higher education is terrific. But doing so in a way that is advantageous to those who have one skin color instead of another “”rights”” a historic wrong using the same logic employed in perpetuating the wrong.

    To target blacks because they’re black is wrong – whether it is to fire someone or hire someone – because it makes people’s color more important than who they are and what they offer.

    And it is not naive to think this way. It does not ignore hundreds of years of systemic oppression. It recognizes the reality of the struggles blacks face, but it recognizes that a wrong cannot be “”righted”” with another wrong. It is consistent with color blindness. It is consistent with the commitment to end racism.

    Arguments for reparations are rarely taken seriously. But the promotion of programs that counter the evils of slavery by perpetuating another, albeit much less virulent, wrong are inconsistent with the struggles of those who seek to establish themselves as more than a color.

    The answer to the question of what states and universities owe to those they have systemically oppressed for hundreds of years is not simple, and there absolutely must be a dialogue in this nation and in this region and in this school that strives to solve it. But the dialogue must look to the positive steps that can be taken to acknowledge the past evils perpetuated by those in power, instead of looking to counter them with more injustice.

    World leaders should not balk at the opportunity to admit to the historical wickedness that their countries have participated in. But on a local level, leaders from all communities must learn from those histories that great evil has too often accompanied all forms of racial distinction, and that even distinction aimed at mitigating bigotry will ultimately be unsuccessful at promoting true equality.

    Stan Molever is a philosophy senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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