Archive for August, 2007

Reversal of Fortune

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

We have a huge problem of inequality between black and white in this nation, an inequality that began to be addressed in 1954 with a case involving who was to be educated in our public schools and how that education was to take place.

But after June 28, you have to wonder how such civil rights pioneers as Ed and Elizabeth Campbell, Thurgood Marshall and Evelyn Reid Syphax would have reacted that day to the stark reversal of a 53 year old proclamation, which had defined much of their work in Arlington.

Because on June 28 the words of Earl Warren’s 1954 Supreme Court desegregation decision — “We conclude, unanimously, that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place” — were twisted into John Roberts’ 2007 testament: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

With those words the Roberts Court found that desegregation — the law of the land since the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision — can be wrong because some methods to achieve racial balance ‘discriminate’ against white youngsters.

The Chief Justice’s proclamation sounds so much broader than discrimination in schools: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

White folks, like me, are discriminated against in today’s society?

If that’s so, then why did the deed to my first house in Arlington have a “property may not be sold to a non-Caucasian” statement printed in it (crossed off, our real estate agent noted)? Why did an Arlington neighbor ‘apologize’ for renting her home to a black woman, “because I have no choice under the law”? Why, when we were trying to sell our Florida home to get back to Arlington, did a Tallahassee real estate agent surreptitiously call my wife, and say, “I know I’m not supposed to ask this, but are there any black people in your neighborhood?”

Such occurrences make clear who the victims of discrimination are.

To claim the majority race in this country is discriminated against when a community is pursuing the end of discrimination in schools is preposterous.

Why did the Campbells and Mrs. Syphax work so hard to end segregation of the races in our Arlington County schools? Because it was a first step on the long and yet unfulfilled goal of equality for all in every aspect of life.

In the face of unwritten codes we know still exist, the primary way to work toward a fair and balanced society is to maintain the letter and spirit of Earl Warren’s Court, and ensure equality in our schools. How will every one of our nation’s kids ever see they have a chance at success in life, unless we give them those opportunities in school?

Discrimination, Mr. Roberts, goes on around you every single day, though you may not notice it in the expensive neighborhoods you and your colleagues surely populate. How is it that dark faces clean your toilets, sweep your floors, pick up your garbage; while white faces abound in the appointments of your nominator?

Were you and your fellow appointee, Samuel Alito, forced to live in substandard housing when you were growing up? Were you shunned in schoolyard games, in college fraternities and among the upper echelons of your law schools?

I suspect not.

So, who is it exactly who’s discriminating against white folks? Take your time… I’m sure you can think of one.

But in the meantime stop this senseless proclamation that ensuring a racially balanced school system somehow discriminates against white children; thereby inferring that any attempt to seek racial balance discriminates against the white majority.

If that majority suffers from discrimination, then why did the National Urban League’s State of Black America 2007find, “African American men are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white males and make only 75 percent as much a year. They’re nearly seven times more likely to be incarcerated, and their average jail sentences are 10 months longer than those of white men. In addition, young black males between the ages of 15 and 34 years are nine times more likely to die of homicide than their white counterparts and nearly seven times as likely to suffer from AIDS.”

In the face of these stark statistics our Supreme Court majority has the gall to suggest that it’s white people who are bearing the burden of discrimination.

Yes, we are the land of the free, the home of the brave, and also a prominent state of racial inequality. The job starts in schools, where many leaders are striving mightily to keep their systems in balance; to assure equality for each child.

The Court has set back our course toward equality. Stop discrimination against those who are being discriminated against, Justice Roberts; you have a moral and constitutional obligation. Fulfill it.

Nick Penning ( is an Arlington freelance writer. His column, Penning Thoughts, appears in alternating editions of The Arlington Connection.