- Historic Sites
The End Of Racism?
February/March 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 1
The second and far more important issue is this. In a debate that erupted in the early part of the century between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois, and which laid the foundation for the subsequent course of civil rights in this country, Du Bois argued that blacks faced one major problem, white racism. Washington argued that blacks faced two major problems, white racism, on the one hand, and black cultural or civilizational deficiency, on the other. Washington agreed with Du Bois that this was not the result of genetic deficiencies or natural flaws but rather the consequence of a history of oppression. Nevertheless, Washington said this cultural deficiency existed, and it strengthened white racism because it gave white racism an empirical foundation. Therefore, Washington argued, it was just as important, within the circumscribed world of segregation, to improve black cultural standards, so that blacks could compete effectively with whites, as it was to repeal the Jim Crow laws—perhaps even more important. This agenda has essentially been neglected for more than a generation.
If you had been in the Congress when the 1964 Civil Rights Act came up, would you have voted for it or against it?
I would have voted for it and then regretted it twenty years later. I wouldn’t have regretted voting for it; I would have regretted some of the negative consequences of what I had voted for.
Wouldn’t you instead have taken the position that Southerners in Congress like Sam Ervin did, and said, “I could vote for this if they would get rid of the public accommodations title and the enforcement title. But since those are in there, I’m going to vote against it.” It seems to me that that’s the position you’re outlining now. What you’re talking about was exactly what the whole debate was about over the bill.
Well, let me put it this way. I am in favor of the government’s being strictly race-blind but of the private sector’s being free to discriminate, both in favor of blacks and against blacks.
If Harvard Law School wants to impose a racial double standard in admissions, should it be legally barred from so doing, or should it be allowed to as a private institution?
Harvard Law School, as a private institution, should be allowed to have not only racial goals and timetables but quotas if it wants to. I’m in favor of the private sector’s being able to discriminate for or against blacks, with virtually no restrictions on that. In the South the problem was that private discrimination was supported by the state structure. I would have supported strong-arm measures in the fifties and sixties to kick in a closed door, to bash an unjust system. Having said that, I would recognize that that sort of tactic was exceptional, was a strong-arm tactic, was a bully tactic, and was a tactic inconsistent with a free society, so that I would not want to normalize it. I think this is where most Americans are. They feel that emergency measures were necessary. They were taken. It’s a generation later, and we need to do things differently now.
If the chairman of General Motors said, “I’m going to practice what Dinesh D’Souza calls rational discrimination and not hire any more black people at General Motors ever again,” should that be legal or illegal?
Legal. But it wouldn’t happen, because the chairman of General Motors wouldn’t be the chairman of General Motors very long if he did that. I would venture to say that there would be a nationwide boycott of General Motors products and an outrage the likes of which we’ve never seen if any such decision was made. Second, as I show in the book, even if this could be done covertly, in a society where only some people discriminate the cost of discrimination falls on the discriminator. Imagine what would happen to a baseball team if it refused to hire blacks.
What about Honda? You point out in your book that it chose to locate in an area that has very few black people in it. Honda’s not paying much of a price.
That’s right. What Honda is doing is trying to get around affirmative action. Honda is trying to get around a rule that says that if you have a plant in Washington, D.C., you have to make sure that roughly 80 percent of your employees are black. Honda is exemplifying the way in which antidiscrimination laws have perverse side effects. If the government didn’t have such a rule, there probably would be more blacks working for Honda.
Let’s change the subject slightly. Where are we now in America in race relations? What’s the situation today?
It’s a moment of tremendous confusion, uncertainty, gloom, and crisis.
Let me interrupt you quickly. It seems to me you’re on both sides of this particular issue in the book. Mostly you say what you just said, that things are very bad. And then sometimes you say what you said a minute ago in the interview, that things are much better now.