It was in the 2006 case of League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry that Chief Justice John Roberts gave us an appropriate thought to contemplate on this Inauguration Day. “It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race,” he wrote.
The Chief Justice was writing about race-based redrawing of legislative districts. His words, though, are instructive for a much broader societal context. Now that we are inaugurating an African-American to the highest office in the land, can we finally stop analyzing just about everything through the prism of race? Please?
Once the United States has a black president, why does it matter if we swear in the first black attorney general, or if the Republican National Committee elects its first black chairman, or if Yale hires its first black head football coach?
If we are truly a “post-racial” society, let us celebrate today’s milestone abundantly, and then retire, forever and forever more, the phrase “the first black anything.” Far better to move on the second and third and 30th without obsessing about it.
The happy truth is that, while racism remains an ugly reality in too many places and too many hearts – even one place or heart would be too many – those places and hearts are now a distinct and rapidly shrinking minority in these United States.
Barack Obama earned a larger percentage of the white vote than did Al Gore or John Kerry. Obama’s campaign certainly changed some attitudes along the way, but in far more instances it merely reflected, or gave evidence of, attitudes that already had changed.
Few in the self-regarding elite intelligentsia spent much time emitting hosannas over Condoleezza Rice’s status as the first black woman as secretary of state in 2005. Her ascension was seen as par for the course.
And most analysts read the survey data to indicate that a clear majority of Americans would have been delighted to elect a black man, Colin Powell, as president a full dozen years ago.
The elites, though, still sneer that at least the South remains almost irredeemably racist. But that assumption is tommyrot, and calumny.
Yes, as recently as 1991, former KKK leader David Duke was in a statistical dead heat in the polls for governor in Louisiana just three weeks before the general election, while columnists who opposed him were subjected to anonymous phone calls warning about dreadful things that would happen to “[N-word] lovers.”
But Duke ended up being wiped out in that election, with less than 39 percent of the vote – and just 16 years later, the state elected as governor the dark-skinned Bobby Jindal, whose parents immigrated from India.
About 125 miles from Jindal’s former congressional district sits Mobile, Alabama, where Confederates continued to fight a pitched battle even after Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
In the fall of 2005, Mobile, with still a nearly 60-percent white majority, elected black Democrat Sam Jones as mayor in a 16-point landslide over white Republican John Peavy. And this year Jones probably will face no serious opposition for a second term.
In almost every way that matters, the American people have moved beyond race. It is the elites who remain hung up on the subject. And the elites will do Obama a disservice if they hold him to standards other than those to which they held George W. Bush or Bill Clinton – or if they treat opposition to any of Obama’s plans as if it is race-based rather than based on the ordinary mix of philosophy and politics.
More broadly, in the realms of both politics and the law, it is long past time for race to be discounted as a separate category subject to unique distinctions. In redistricting, school policies, and contracting, the law ought to be as colorblind as we hope our society is.
If colleges replace race with low income as a minor “plus factor” in admissions, for instance, they might achieve the same results without catalyzing any of the racially tinged bitterness that real racists exploit for their own evil ends.
It is indeed a sordid business to divvy us up by race. On this Inauguration Day, it will be an edifying and soul-enriching business to look beyond race, once and for all.
Quin Hillyer is associate editorial page editor for The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.