By Mumia Abu Jamal
"Yes--I believe in affirmative action."
"You--you believe in affirmative action?"
"Yes, I do."
--Sen. Trent Lott, speaking on BET cable network
With the recent remarks of U.S. President George Bush, announcing his personal (and political) opposition to affirmative action in American higher education, the question of the future of college-rank education takes center stage in the ever-troubling psychological pools of America and race.
The rapid dethronement of Sen. Lott from the prestigious post of Senate Majority Leader seems to suggest that the GOP has had a rethinking of its historical position on race.
It appears, from press reports at least, that the problem arose from Lott's injudicious praise of "the good ole" days of segregation [and] led to his demotion from the leadership post.
In fact, it appears that his later comments on BET cable network (agreeing to affirmative action! to the utter disbelief of his interviewer and much of Afro-America) was the final straw for those who led the party, and wished to have nothing to do with such remarks. To long for the "good ole days" of Dixie was one thing, they reasoned: to say, publicly, that he supported affirmative action, and would support it in the future!? Well--that was another.
And now, if there was any real question about where the Party's interests really lay, President Bush's broadside about "opposing quotas," a racist buzz word sure to inflame and activate his real constituency (predominantly white males) makes the point that, while Lott may be gone from the highest levels of Senate, the ideas that nurtured him, sustained him, and carried his career (i.e., white supremacy, above all costs) are alive and well in the Grand Old Party.
Speaking with a script, and taking no questions from the press on this hot-button, contentious issue, the president spoke briefly and strolled out, seemingly oblivious to the cacophony his remarks unleashed:
"Our Constitution makes it clear that people of all races must be treated equally under the law. Yet we know that our society has not fully achieved that ideal. ... As we work to address the wrong of racial prejudice, we must not use another means to create another wrong."
Bush claimed the University of Michigan admissions policies, which take race into account among other factors when considering admissions, were "fundamentally flawed."
With those brief words, Bush sent a sotto voce message to millions of conservatives: "The 'Lott Mess' is over. We are back in the saddle. We're your home. Don't believe that 'bushwah' about us want ing to court Blacks."
The communication couldn't be clearer. It demonstrated, on the national stage, in the glare of the klieg lights, that while Mr. Lott may no longer call the shots in the Senate, Lottism, or the exclusionist, white supremacist, race-baiting politics a la Thurmond and Helms (but slightly better dressed) still run the show.
Bush ran for president on a stealth campaign of symbols and imagery, and a smirk of a smile, under the banner of a former U.S. president, and loaded to the gills with money from his corporate homies. It didn't hurt that he practiced the take-no-prisoners politics of death (as in a vigorous application of the death penalty to all without the shadow of the electric chair). With words like "compassionate conservative" and "affirmative access," Bush winked and smirked his way in (or to the Supreme Court, at least, which did the trick anyway).
Almost everything he said or promised during his campaign has been jettisoned in his feverish hunger for power, and the ability to further enrich his class.
Now, with affirmative action on the altar of judicial sacrifice, he has rushed into the breach to butter up the servings, to ensure it will not last for many days more.
It is beyond ironic that at the same time Bush Administration officials rush to scuttle the remnants of affirmative action, the Grand Old Party enters a congressional year when none of its representatives on the floor of the House is African-American, and their only one (outgoing House member J.C. Watts of Oklahoma) is gone.
Is this the face that they really want to project, and see reflected in higher academia in America? In their looking glass, the faces that stare back are pink ones, it seems.
While the Democrats will undoubtedly try to play this issue to their advantage, the Achilles heel for both parties is the shameful state of American education, especially in its inner cities.
Both parties are longing for their heydays of the distant past, while the multicultured and polychromed world around them moves to another beat. The politics of yesteryear will not play these days.
Using new code language to mean essentially the same thing will not suffice.
Lottism without Lott is the same old poison.
You can write to Mumia directly at:
Mumia Abu-Jamal AM 8335
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370
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Mumia Abu-Jamal is the author of three books:
'Live from Death Row',
'Death Blossoms', and