Monthly Archives: September 2007

The Hoya: The Futility of “Colorblindness”, Part 2

A student columnist for The Hoya, a student newspaper of Georgetown University, states emphatically that he believes in colorblindness in a column about the Jena 6.

Anyone who knows me well enough to have had conversations with me about things like this knows that I think that the concept of race is a stupid, dehumanizing method of classifying people into artificial groups for the purpose of discrimination.

Period.

Regardless of the columnist’s personal belief, race has always had an impact in the United States and the world (affecting primarily those who are not White). I will detail various facts which clearly demonstrate this grim reality.

2000 U.S. Census

In the United States, the White race is, by far, the dominant social group.

United States (population: 281,421,906 (2000 Census)

Race Percentage of population Number
White 75.1% 211,460,626
Black 12.3 34,658,190
Native American 0.9 2,475,956
Asian 3.6 10,242,998

It is not surprising, then, to see that all of the societal advantages go to the dominant group.

Justice Harlan’s Dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson

Justice John Marshall Harlan, in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), stated that Whites believed in White supremacy, but the Constitution prohibited the law from enforcing it and, most significantly, from protecting Blacks from the effects of White supremacy doctrines.

The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is, in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time, if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens.

Harlan’s dissent is, at best, racially indifferent to the plight of Blacks, certainly not an opinion to admire in the slightest.

President George W. Bush’s Comments to Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar

The Washington Post, in reporting the discovery of transcripts describing the conversation between President George Bush and Spain’s former Prime Minister Jose Aznar, showed that race was an issue during the buildup toward the war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003.

In the transcript, translated from Spanish by The Washington Post, Bush said that Europeans were insensitive to “the suffering that Saddam Hussein has inflicted on the Iraqis” and added: “Maybe it’s because he’s dark-skinned, far away and Muslim — a lot of Europeans think he’s okay.” But Bush was happy to play the “bad cop,” he said. “The more the Europeans attack me, the stronger I am in the United States.

These few examples make manifest that “colorblindness” is a horrible fantasy.

Note: Click on the affirmative action category in the right column for my previous post, “Colorblindness”: An Impossibility in the United States.

DC: Victor Reinoso Gains Support of DC Council Chairman Vincent Gray; Confirmation Hearing to Be Held Oct. 2

According to the Washington Post, DC Council Chairman Vincent Gray supports the confirmation of Victor Reinoso as Deputy Mayor for Education.

Reinoso’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for October 2, 2007.

10:00 AM, COUNCIL CHAMBER, ROOM 500, ADDITIONAL COMMITTEE MEETING, COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE, Vincent C. Gray, Chairman

MEASURES IN THE COMMITTEE
[...]

4. “Deputy Mayor for Education of the Department of the Education Victor Reinoso Confirmation Resolution of 2007″, PR 17-0319. To confirm the Mayoral appointment of Mr. Victor Reinoso as Deputy Mayor for Education for the Department of Education.

ACRI Ballot Initiative (Oklahoma): Oklahoma Secretary of State Receives Initiative Petition; Group Now Seeking Signers for Its Initiative Petition

The Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative (OKCRI), a branch of the American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI), received a notice from the Oklahoma Secretary of State acknowledging receipt of OKCRI’s initiative petition. OKCRI must now collect 117,101 signatures.

OKCRI’s initiative petition is the same as the initiatives proposed in Colorado and Missouri (see related posts under the affirmative action category in the right column).

Related information: For Oklahoma’s petition process, click here.

DC: Candidates Selected for the Positions of Chief Academic Officer and Special Education “Czar”

According to the Washington Examiner, positions have been offered to two candidates, one within the District of Columbia State Superintendent’s Office, the other within the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

Kimberly Statham, currently the state administrator for the Oakland Unified School District, was hired as the chief academic officer, according to D.C. State Superintendent Deborah Gist. Statham’s salary will be $170,000.

Phyllis Harris, currently the special education coordinator for the Oakland Unified School District, has been offered the job as special education “czar” for Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Should Harris accept the position, her salary would be $200,000.

ACRI Ballot Initiative (Colorado): Colorado Supreme Court Affirms Title Board’s Decision

The Colorado Supreme Court, in a 3-3 decision, affirmed the the Colorado Title Board’s ballot title for the American Civil Rights Institute’s (ACRI) initiative. [Note: To see all of the legal briefs submitted for the case (Initiative #31), click here.]

This result is not surprising. As I stated in a previous post,

The next stage is step 8, appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court. The appeals process to the Colorado Supreme Court has a narrow focus. The Colorado Supreme Court “can either affirm the action of the Title Board or reverse it, in which case the [Colorado Supreme] Court must remand the case to the Title Board with instructions, pointing out where the Title Board is in error.”

Should an appeal to the Supreme Court fail or not occur, the next stage would be step 9, where the proponents of the proposed ballot initiative would have to collect 76, 047 signatures of Colorado’s registered electors.

Barring an anomaly, I expect the signature collection campaign to start relatively shortly.

Those opposing the initiative have my utmost respect and appreciation, but their cause was facing an uphill battle from the start. There is some consolation, however, as the court was evenly divided.

The Hoya (Georgetown University student newspaper): The Sad & Critical Failure of a Column on Rev. Patrick Healy, S.J.

The story of Fr. Patrick Healy, S.J. (S.J. is an abbreviation for the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic religious order) (1834-1910), a successful former President of Georgetown University (1873-1882), must include a discussion of race.

A student columnist for The Hoya, a Georgetown University student newspaper, wrote a column (originally titled “Twisting Healy Legacy Disrespectful”) suggesting overall that the only way to respect Fr. Healy’s legacy of helping to make Georgetown into a larger institution of higher learning is to emphasize his Whiteness.

Most of us Hoyas, though, forget about all of those achievements and remember Healy only as the first African-American to become the president of a major American university. We pigeonhole Healy into one aspect of history in which he played no active role, rather than celebrate him for all of his contributions and work.

 

And yes, that’s bad.

 

Healy never saw himself as black, nor did he identify with anything that could be called black culture. In his own time, he identified himself as just another son of a wealthy Irish planter and as a priest.

Moreover, the student columnist continued, the issue of race was and is irrelevant both in the case of Fr. Healy and in the United States (Author’s note: see my previous post on “colorblindness” for my opposing view).

The remarkable part of the Healy story is that race didn’t really matter to him, and it shouldn’t matter to us. He didn’t try to hide his genealogy, nor did he advertise it.

It just wasn’t part of who he was. He left it to others to figure out how to deal with the big “R” word.

[...]

If Healy really was the first black president, almost no one knew it.

 

And yet, in spite of the small role that race played in Healy’s career at Georgetown, a giant myth has developed around that small fact in Healy’s life about which only a few people knew, and about which even fewer at Georgetown seemed to care.

 

Modern fascination with Healy borders on celebrating him as a civil rights leader, which he was not. In fact, we are wrong to call Healy a black president at all.

Fr. Healy’s story and legacy is only complete when his race is discussed openly and clearly. Fr. Healy was biracial (part White (father, Michael (from Ireland)) and part Black (mother, Eliza, who was enslaved in Georgia). Healy’s father bought Healy’s mother and “married” her (at the time, Georgia law did not recognize a mariage between a White person and a Black person). Healy’s parents had 10 children (including Fr. Healy). Each of their children had light skin tone (White in appearance). As Healy’s mother was enslaved in Georgia, all of her children would also be enslaved. As a result, Healy’s father sent Fr. Healy and two of his brothers to the North for education. [For the full story on the Healy's background, see this article by Moises Mendoza, a writer for the The Hoya. See also an article by Professor at Boston College, James O'Toole (author of "Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family" (2002).]

During the lifetime of Fr. Healy and his siblings, the opportunities for those who were visibly Black in appearance were limited. So Fr. Healy and his siblings used their light skin color to pass as White.

[...]Race depended, literally, on blood. What came to be called the “one-drop rule” specified that a single drop of ancestral African blood was sufficient to define a Negro. Blood might be diluted over time, but its essence could not be altered.

 

Under this rule, the children of Michael and Eliza Healy, no matter how fair their skin or European their features, could expect to lead hobbled lives, consigned to the most menial work and subjected to discrimination and violence. But that is not what happened.

 

The nine Healy children who survived infancy displayed a range of complexions—some “looked” black, some white, others in between. But they all managed to subvert the line between the races.

[...]

What made the Healys’ achievements possible? They didn’t storm the color line head on. And they didn’t succeed entirely on their own. Instead, they allied themselves with institutions that operated uniquely inside and outside American society, permitting them an indirect transit across the race divide. The Healy siblings became white—and they did so at a time when barriers against African-Americans rose ever higher and were patrolled with increasing vigilance and violence.

Despite attempting to pass as White, Fr. Healy still faced racial discrimination.

Patrick Healy [...] was to all appearances a white man, but his family history was not so easily shaken off.

[...]

On his return to the United States in 1866, Patrick was posted at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., a school with a largely southern student body that would scarcely have welcomed Healy if his “irregularities” had surfaced. But the Jesuits, knowing of Patrick’s background, took the precaution of assigning him to teach within the university’s separate division for the training of Jesuits. Once he had passed the test of acceptance, he was made dean, a position that exposed him to students at large. Stories occasionally circulated that Fr. Healy had some “Spanish blood,” but that was the extent of speculation about his ethnicity. Patrick advanced swiftly. At the age of 39, he assumed the presidency of what was then the largest Catholic college in the United States. He would go on to oversee a rebuilding of the campus and significant curriculum reforms.

 

 

True, he occasionally encountered difficulties within the order; an old Jesuit once said that some of the order’s houses declined to receive Patrick Healy as he traveled the country for the university, because no one would ever again sleep in the bed he had used. But the typical reaction to Patrick was more like that of an unknowing student at Georgetown, the son of a former Confederate leader, who described him as “a finished scholar, a remarkable linguist, and the clearest thinker and expounder of his thoughts that I ever met.”

Given the above, it is clear that race was a salient issue during Fr. Healy’s lifetime. Fr. Healy became President of Georgetown University, during a period where the progress of Reconstruction was being cut back by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The first case, United States v. Reese, stemmed from the 1873 election in Kentucky, when riots and lynchings swept the state to discourage black voting. Using a variety of methods, from residency requirements to literacy tests to poll taxes, whites took two-thirds of black voters off the rolls. A federal grand jury indicted scores of officials for their refusal to accept the poll tax from black voters. The Court declared that the “Fifteenth Amendment does not confer the right of suf-frage upon any one.” The Enforcement Acts had made it a crime for officials to “wrongfully refuse” ballots, a rule which the Court said Congress had no power to enact under the 15th Amendment. Again, the technical holding was less important than the practical effect. Reese theoretically left Congress free to fix the defective statutory language, but by leaving black voters without protection in 1876, the Court ensured that no Congress willing to do so would be elected for more than 90 years.

If Reese gave public officials the green light to disfranchise blacks, Cruikshank gave private individuals a similar carte blanche to augment official discrimination with private violence. More than one hundred people were slaughtered in Colfax defending their right to vote, yet the Supreme Court declared in Cruikshank that their murderers were beyond the reach of federal law. The Klan and similar groups were now free to overthrow Reconstruction governments with impunity. Since the 14th Amendment “adds nothing to the rights of one citizen as against another,” there could never be a federal civil rights violation when private individuals conspired to deny civil rights.

Ultimately, despite a successful Presidency and building Georgetown University’s signature building, Healy Hall, race hatred ultimately forced him to leave the Presidency of Georgetown University.

Yet during the construction of the new building, rumors began to swirl about Healy’s racial heritage. Amid bitter accusations that he was of African descent, his health began to fail. While visiting alumni in California in 1881, he fell ill and was forced to resign his position as Georgetown’s president. He remained frail and, although Healy continued his deep spiritual commitment to the Jesuit order, he never entirely recovered. Healy died in 1910 and was interred in Georgetown’s Jesuit cemetery.

Thus, race is a relevant subject in Fr. Healy’s legacy. It is a way to understand his decision to pass as White (although in his case he ultimately was not successful, yet he did inform his Jesuit superiors of his Black heritage (and thus did not disavow his mother)). Despite the stresses, he was able to start Georgetown University on a path of expansion and growth.

The story of Fr. Healy is a fascinating one.

However, the student’s column for The Hoya, as it stands, is not a proper vehicle for exploring this topic. The student failed to perform necessary research. As a result, he produced a column that is needlessly inflammatory and argumentative.

Healy the Jesuit did not become Healy the Great Black Jesuit until long after his death.

Disappointing, I know.

The legacy of Fr. Patrick Healy, S.J., should be celebrated, but we should not be so quick to attach to his story any notion of breaking down barriers of race or any other artificial division that we place between people.

The columnist’s careless aspersions against Black people further degrades whatever worth the column had.

The failure of this column is particularly distressing because the student has the magnificent resources of Georgetown University (Lauinger and Riggs libraries, Georgetown University’s faculty, students and the Alumni Association) to provide research information on Fr. Healy literally within walking distance or by on-campus telephone or email.

A column on a former President of Georgetown University, of Fr. Healy’s stature, requires top-level effort. The student’s column does not begin to meet this test.

A Post Script: By citing Professor O’Toole’s article, I am not implying agreement with his thesis that people should not regard the Healy siblings (for my purposes, Fr. Healy) as Black.

A century and more later, the Healys’ choice of whiteness over blackness may strike some as unfortunate or even wrong. “Passing” remains a controversial word and a suspect idea, though for different reasons now than in their day. Then, it meant breaking society’s rules. Today, it suggests a lack of pride in one’s heritage. And should we even claim blackness for the Healys, when they did not? Should we praise them as the first black bishop, or university president, or captain, or religious superior, when they wanted no such honor?

This argument is similar to The Hoya’s student columnist. The mother’s Black heritage cannot and should not be ignored. There is no doubt that the Healy siblings were indeed part Black. Despite attempting to pass as White, Fr. Healy still faced hatred because people suspected his Black heritage.

Although it is not in the scope of this post to discuss the issue of passing as White fully, I find the practice of passing distasteful. I ambivalently accept Fr. Healy’s decision. I do not necessarily agree with the racial stances of the other Healys (see the O’Toole article for a description of the other Healys).

For more information, perform a search on the term “passing White” in an Internet search engine. Also, there is a movie (a little over-dramatic, but the point of passing as White is explored) titled, “Imitation of Life.Continue reading

DCPS Chancellor: Rhee Seeks Authority to Layoff Central Office Staff

According to the Washington Post, DC Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Michelle Rhee is drafting legislation to restructure the DCPS central office for the DC Council.

Specifically, Rhee would like to have the authority to fire central office staff without having to reassign them to other jobs.

As the initial piece of her strategy, Rhee has begun drafting legislation that would ask the D.C. Council to suspend personnel laws so that the chancellor would have the authority to terminate employees without having to reassign them to other jobs. Rhee also has been meeting with council members to lay the groundwork for their political support, members said.

This is a risky area, hopefully Rhee will succeed. In another Washington Post article, “Worn Down by Waves of Change,” Arlene Ackerman, first Chief Academic Officer under then-Superintendent Julius Becton, who later became DCPS Superintendent was warned about false support.

Shortly after Arlene Ackerman arrived in the District as Becton’s chief academic officer, a stranger — a man standing in the receiving line at a reception in her honor — squeezed her hand so hard she thought he would break her fingers.

“They say they want you to fix it, but they really don’t,” she recalled the man telling her. “When you get to the point where you are really fixing things, you will know. You will know because you will get all kinds of unbelievable push back.

Rhee’s predecessors also faced the problem of controlling the central office of DCPS, according to the Post.

Even Washington Post columnist Colbert King wrote about the difficulty of controlling the central office of DCPS.

But the central office’s chief enemy, for whom its most hostile behavior is reserved, is the reform-minded superintendent. In the battle against change, the central office, which consists of an unknowable number of human parts, remains undefeated.

Mr. King offers caution, sounding similar to the warning Ackerman received.

But a warning, chancellor: Gird yourself for unbelievable blowback. The central office fancies itself not to be messed with.

I hope Rhee is successful in creating a functioning DCPS system which serves the students effectively. Given DCPS’s large student population, it is in interest of everyone that lives in the DC metropolitan area that DCPS has a properly functioning school system.