“One America" -- To What Ends?

The report is 121 pages. I've delved into it. I could immerse myself in it and write a dissertation, but who would read it? For a short piece, it's enough to just look at the cover -- and consider how this administration uses this issue as cover.

"One America in the 21st Century" is the title. Not "Finally Overcoming Racism." Not "Towards an America of Equality." "One America" -- is that really the point? Should that be the goal of this race initiative?

National cohesion is the driving concern here. How can we make these differing ethnicities get along well enough to ensure that this stays one nation is a question elites must ask themselves. We are called to "overcome the burden of race." In some respects, the people -- their very genetic makeup and heritage -- is implicitly viewed as a threat to the great goal: "One America." Is that more important than reaffirming our humanity with regards to ethnicity? Indeed, humanity is viewed at best as a mere lever, a tactic for national unity, just as racial diversity is viewed as a means to economic success.

There is some truth in the notion that governments should not legislate morality. So the issue foremost on this administration's mind should be: "Are we doing anything that is fostering racism? Are we carrying out the laws that are on the books properly? Or are we applying punishments, such as the death penalty, in a manner that is prejudicial? Are police harassing African Americans on the highways? Are security personnel stopping Arab Americans more than others at airports?” Bill Clinton can ask himself: “Did I do virtually nothing to stop the disaster in Rwanda because their skin was darker than mine?” and “Am I keeping the sanctions in place in Iraq because the greatest victim -- 4,500 Iraqi children dying every month -- belong to a group that has been cast as ‘the other’ – the great non-American  ethnicity?” 

Can we really talk about "The President's Initiative on Race" with some seriousness? Clinton lied to -- and about -- Lani Guinier; he signed the crime and the welfare bills. Clinton -- when he had a Democratic majority -- did not invoke "one person one vote" to rally support for DC statehood. The president did, however, run down to DC from Martha's Vineyard when he ordered the launching of missiles, in total violation of international law at a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, apparently to distract from his sex scandals. Few recall that this same man, when the Gennifer Flowers story was breaking, pulled his first "wag the dog" stage on the national by running down to Arkansas to oversee the frying of a retarded black man.

Of course, "One America in the 21st Century: Forging a New Future" could be used as a title for things other than “The President's Initiative on Race." Say, on economics. What would that title mean in that context? Perhaps on healthcare, where this administration portrayed itself as challenging the health insurance companies while it was actually in cahoots with the insurance giants as they clashed with the smaller players. The Clinton administration doesn't seem interested in forging "One America" economically, where we "overcome the burden of economics." "One America" was not of a great deal of concern to the 14 billionaires who gave up their US citizenship to avoid paying taxes a few years back.

Bill Clinton's presumed hero, John F. Kennedy, said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. " And here, we are asked to address the "burden of race" -- for the good of the country.

We have accepted Divine Right of Nations. Walter Mondale said that "America is forever." Wouldn't true religious people view that as idolatry? Nations are made to serve humans. It is people who are born with inalienable rights. It is governments that must not trample on those rights. Patriotism has become an less expression of love for those around you, or a devotion to timeless principles, than blind allegiance.

Sam Husseini is former media director for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. [Originally published in the Jan/Feb 1999 issue of Poverty & Race.]