Charles Rehn - Democrat for President 2004

A Conversation With America
Questions That Must Be Answered
Web Edition (c) 2002, 2003 Charles Rehn All Rights Reserved




Affirmative Action & Reparations


In my opinion, the roots of the issue of reparations are the same as the issue of affirmative action. Understand, that this is a simplistic answer, but I'll explain why I say that.  And then, I'll suggest that you consider the same issues in a new context.

In short, the idea is that blacks would sue businesses and institutions for economic damages due to the effects of slavery and loss of property, rights and life, and the multi-generational cultural rippling effects that a given injustice has caused. Damages would be sought in order to generate funds that would restore parity and opportunity to the damaged parties.

To place the issue in a legitimate context, you need to remove an issue that has become clouded by rhetoric and stereotypical labels. For the sake of objectivity, you have to set aside the idea that reparations has any association with racism and institutional slavery.

When you do that, it becomes a much more simple case of civil litigation with merit. But it's not as simple as a car where one driver is at fault and another driver has been injured, and a simple payment of relatively small amounts of money are at stake in order to make up for the losses and pain and suffering.

If you were to ask me if I agree with the concept of reparations, my real answer would be that I wish they were not necessary.

However, in a free market economy with less and less regulation and increasing governmental reluctance to provide leadership in mainstreaming and generating equal opportunities and rights or social programs of any nature, civil litigation becomes the only recourse.

Unfortunately, financial damages do little to address the social issues that require alteration.  They can not change so long as politicians pander to and incite the hatred of others in order to win elections.

For example, I can't help but consider that the Civil War ended some 140 years ago, and this country is still arguing over the same issues that generated it (an observation that makes me ever more skeptical about our activities in Iraq).

Last week (5/3/2003) a high school in Georgia announced  its Junior Prom. Well, actually, there aree two. One for white high school juniors, one for black high school juniors. This, of course, in a state where there is an ongoing debate over the use of the Confederate Battle Emblem as a symbol on their state flag.

It's a pretty clear example of how war may, indeed, suppress hostility, but it does not resolve the underlying issues.

They include the issues of states rights, human rights and the right of communities, or states, to make their own laws and policies that would not be subject to federal interpretation, or superseded by federal law or judgement.

What leaders and participants in the movement and civil cases regarding reparations are saying, in essence, is that if the government will not provide the leadership as well as promote and enforce constitutional protections, and acknowledge that work still needs to be done in the areas of civil rights, then the only option left is to seek damages so that they may do the work themselves.

Of course, that would presume that the government has a responsibility to assist citizens so that their local economic conditions and ethnicity do not place them at an unfair disadvantage when seeking higher education and careers. 

In my mind, that would mean recognizing that society is best served when every citizen is empowered. It's like the saying a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Studies have shown that Headstart, education in general, and remedial programs for literacy reduce requirements of government by causing healthier people in less need of health care, lower teen pregnancy rates, less abortion, less crime and violence - particularly by juveniles, lower drug use and in the longer range, reduces poverty overall.

Even better, it breaks the cycle of poverty, and assists in breaking down social, class and racial barriers in more natural, sustainable ways than forced integration or adversarial civil litigation.

Affirmative Action Then & Now

When George Bush announced his decision to instruct the Justice Department to pursue actions in regard to the affirmative action program at the University of Michigan on Martin Luther King's birthday, I was not the only person who took offense at the timing. It was perfect timing - if you wanted to demoralize and suppress a community of people, and frustrate millions of people who have worked for many years on these issues. I find it difficult to believe that it was by accident.

But there are some useful observations to make about the point.

I was impressed by reports of black students who were angry that they were put in the position of being viewed as someone who needed help and special consideration in order to be considered qualified or worthy -  as if they inherently "weren't good enough".

For many of us who remember the beginnings of the civil rights movement, and the conditions and injustices that were being opposed back then, it's incredibly moving to have living, breathing proof that the efforts have actually worked at some level. They worked so well for some that younger beneficiaries of those efforts are less aware of the struggle, and certainly less exposed to those kinds of conditions today.

That's good and bad because it's easy to slip into bad habits. It's easy to see that things are better and stop paying attention, and assume that someone is sticking with and completing the job.

Trent Lott and Ton Delay have both said, on multiple occasions, that black people in America are treated better than anywhere else in the world, and that blacks should be satisfied. Somehow, that doesn't sound like representatives of a nation believing in equality and equal opportunity.

When the job began, it was fairly easy and accurate to assume that black citizens were worthy of blanket consideration because their history of oppression caused incredible poverty and illiteracy.

But even Martin Luther King knew that the core issue to address in order to facilitate equality was poverty, not race. In a capitalist society, money provides access to many opportunities, particularly higher education, and higher education leads to more money and power.

I can easily accept the idea that it may be time to realign our criteria and goals in affirmative action, but I do not under any circumstances believe that affirmative action for people who are disadvantaged, especially by unjust circumstances not of their own making, should be left to endure the burden of inequality.

Affirmative action is not a giveaway program for the poor or for blacks or for any other minority - it is an investment in the future of our nation, and a commitment to the empowerment and the equality of people, in all walks of life.

If all things were equal, failure or success of individuals can accurately be attributed to the fruits of labor and accepted as a just outcome. But things are not equal, and the outcomes are not just.

We must never end our commitment and efforts to seek ways to seek and deliver justice and equality.  We must always be looking to find ways to do better and more,   not out of contrition, but out of the generosity, compassion and integrity of true Democracy.


Civil Rights, the Sequel By Bob Herbert  The New York Times Those who are looking to government to lead this effort are deluded. George Bush and Clarence Thomas will not be riding to our rescue.  What's required is nothing less than round two of the civil rights movement, the goal being to create a safe and constructive and nurturing environment in which all black Americans can thrive.

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(C) 2002,2003-2009 Charles Rehn Jr IV  All rights reserved