Privilege Displaces Equality was published in CHRONICLES, October 2009
None of us growing up in Atlanta in the 1940s were under the delusion that we were equal. We were aware of a myriad of differences that had nothing to do with race or gender. Some were better football players. Others were better baseball players. Some could run faster. Others were more witty, or better fighters, or more attractive, or smarter, or more fun to be with.
Yet, none of us had any illusions that special talent or physical attributes bestowed special rights. Neither the best quarterback, the best pitcher, the clean-up hitter, the best fighter, nor the prettiest girl got to go to the head of the line.
The only person with special privileges was teacher’s pet. And teacher’s pet paid in spades for the privileges with the taunt: “teacher’s pet, teacher’s pet.” Only a few prissy girls regarded the designation as a privilege. Most would break out in tears and rejoin the group by committing some act of insubordination.
Many of our teachers understood the trauma of being teacher’s pet and were careful not to show any favoritism. However, I had a third grade teacher who had a relative in the class whom she was determined to advance. The little girl was so ruthlessly taunted that she refused to come to school. My mother, who was active in the PTA, a powerful group at that time, came to the rescue of the little girl. My mother called a meeting of the PTA and got a policy adopted that teacher’s pets were inconsistent with the US Constitution’s requirement of equality before the law, arguing that in the classroom the teacher was the law (yes, I know, hard to believe these days). In the aftermath of WW II and saving the world from fascism, the Constitution was still a revered document, and my mother succeeded in abolishing teacher’s pets at S. M. Inman Elementary School (K-7).
Today, taunting the teacher’s pet would be a hate crime. But in the 1940s we did not yet live in an Orwellian world.
Privilege, based on race, gender, and handicapped status, was introduced into American society after I was an adult. I graduated from Georgia Tech three years before the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed. At Tech the black students were from abroad. I was a member of the international club or committee, I forget what it was called, that raised money to bring foreign students to Tech, some of whom were dark-skinned.
In those days no privilege came with dark skin. Or with gender. We had no women at Tech. It was an engineering and science school for white boys and foreign students.
The women were at girls schools, like Agnes Scot. The blacks were at Morehouse and Spelman and the colleges that made up Atlanta University. There were no mixed dorms at Tech, and smuggling in a girlfriend was a high risk venture.
The foreign students were as smart as my classmates but more aware of events in the world. I became friends with many. We had trouble getting the dark skinned ones into the movie theaters. However, they were saved by the segregation of the day. A Tech ID proved that they were not black.
All of this changed when the EEOC bureaucrat Alfred Blumrosen got hold of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and stood it on its head. The Civil Rights Act defined discrimination as an intentional action. But Blumrosen, banking on the inclination of the federal judiciary to defer to agency interpretation, succeeded in redefining discrimination to be “disparate impact.” Thus, discrimination became the absence of proportional representation of “favored minorities.”
That was the end of equality under the law. Bureaucrats took an act of Congress, which intended to create a statute in support of the 14th Amendment, and created privilege based on skin color. Blacks went to the head of the line.
Feminists made sure that females soon joined the ranks of the legally privileged as did advocates for the handicapped. Today homosexuals are pushing to join the privileged.
I have been in many airport parking lots where there are scores of unused spaces reserved for the handicapped. I have missed flights from having to resort to satellite parking in order that handicapped privileges may sit there unused. Many a time all of us have arrived at shopping centers in the rain to find that all close-in parking is reserved for the handicapped. Whoever allots these spaces vastly over-estimates the percentage of handicapped that frequent airports and shopping centers.
What the signs–$500 dollar fine–tells us is that we are second class citizens. Because we are not handicapped, we cannot park in available space, which has to be reserved in the event that hoards of handicapped motorists arrive.
Young people learn the same lesson when they apply to graduate schools and for jobs. Preferences trump abilities.
Not content with destroying equality under the law, privilege is now destroying the First Amendment. The ADL succeeded in attaching the Hate Crimes Act to the military appropriation bill, which has passed the House. The purpose is to prevent any criticism of Israel. The syllogism is as follows: Criticism of Israel is anti-semitic. Anti-semitism is a hate crime. Thus, criticism of Israel is a hate crime.
We have reached the point where Israel, a country that commits war crimes according to the documented Goldstone Report, is immune from criticism. Indeed, under the hate crime law the revered Jewish jurist, Goldstone, is open to being arrested as a hate crime offender.
The US Constitution has fallen. It is, as President George W. Bush contemptuously declared, “a mere scrap of paper.”
Makes me wonder how long before the best fighter stands at the head of the line.