Sunday, October 09, 2005

Racism not so easy to call when it's yours

In the second such incident in a couple of weeks, we have a white person wanting membership in a group that's been designated a "no-whites" zone.

::::::::Tennessee Rep. Stacy Campfield may seem an unlikely candidate for his state's black caucus . But the white Republican said he wants to join the group to serve a segment of his constituency better.

But Campfield's membership to the caucus was rejected and the state representative says it's because of the color of his skin.

"Only blacks can become full members — full and equal members," Campfield said. "I think that's the definition of racism."

I think it is, too, Mr. Campfield. It's easy enough to locate the definition, in case someone has a question about it:

::::::::[n] discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race::::::::

The story quotes Stefanie Lindquist, a law and polysci professor at Vanderbilt, as saying that this situation pits the Constitution against itself. She's speaking of the 1st Amendment against the 14th: that of the freedom of association against the equal protection causes. Due respect to Professor Lindquist, but I think it's not as contentious as she describes. The 1st Amendment's associations clause, in my very-non-lawyerly opinion, does not apply here because we're talking about a group of elected officials who have formed a caucus within the confines of an elected legislative body. They are given access to the legislative activity not enjoyed by any other group not similarly formed. In short, they've got a lot more capability to affect legislation than the NAACP, for example, and the black caucus holds its meetings and avails itself of the amenities offered at taxpayer expense. The Boy Scouts are a private organization and have every right to be as exclusive in their membership as they choose to be, primarily because they don't take taxpayer funds in the normal course of operation.

Here's another example, a little closer to home for the people having a problem admitting a white man to this organization. There is no question in any of their minds as to the correctness or legality of the stance of a landowner in rejecting a rental application on the basis of race. A white man who owns an apartment who refuses to rent that apartment to a black man is in deep legal trouble.

Why? Isn't he permitted, under the freedom of association clause of the 1st Amendment, to associate or not associate with whomever he chooses? If he chooses to associate only with white people and, therefore, will only rent to them, isn't this the same attitude being given to Representative Campfield? I can assure you that no one from the black caucus would be wondering which Amendment held the dominant position with respect to our hypothetical landlord, the 1st or the 14th. And, I'd like to point out, the landlord is a private citizen deciding the disposition of his private property. It would seem, to me, that the landlord has a much better case to be exclusive in his private dealings regarding his private property than the black caucus has in its situation.

Racism is racism and it doesn't matter who's doing it and what color the target is. If the black caucus wants to be taken seriously as regards their very real concerns about racism when applied to their constituents, they need to be equally concerned about the racism in their own midst.