CLIENT ALERT: Please read this special message.

Letter to the Editor: The 'race card' slur

The Chicago Tribune—Paul Mollica

The Tribune published two columns on the same day about the much-derided "race card" — one from Tribune columnist John Kass, the other from Washington Post syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker.

Anyone committed to truth and history will reject this smear. African-Americans have legitimate grievances that remain unresolved in our nation that must be discussed. 

Let's just consider the past century of American life, leaving aside the background centuries of African-American slavery and peonage. During the Great Depression, African-American unemployment was two to three times that of whites. Blacks in urban areas were segregated residentially into overcrowded neighborhoods, paying exorbitant rents. Many unions shunned black employees.

When the New Deal was enacted, it was written by Southern segregationists to place the funds in state politicians' hands, who in turn made sure that whites benefited at the expense of blacks. Federal labor laws were written to exclude historically black professions such as domestic and agricultural workers.

In the 1940s, African-American men fought World War II in segregated units. When the G.I. Bill benefits were distributed, many blacks were excluded — by law or unspoken practice — from universities and the suburbs, the new engines of prosperity. Job discrimination was open and notorious, in the North and South.

Only in the 1960s were effective national laws passed to ban lenders, realtors, insurers and employers from discriminating against African-Americans. Whites, of course, never had a need of such laws. Discriminatory practices did not end with these laws, naturally, even with constant government and private enforcement efforts.

And when, in the 1970s, there were baby-steps toward corrective racial justice, such as hiring goals in historically-segregated industries, whites howled in outrage and courts ruled such remedies themselves to be "discriminatory." The federal government permanently retreated from such efforts.

African-Americans over the decades have had higher rates of poverty, unemployment and every other category of economic disadvantage versus whites. When the economy was up, that population did not benefit proportionally; when it was down, it was punished more brutally.

So even in modern history — while white American families were mostly on an economic updraft — African-Americans have been prevented systematically from building capital and bequeathing it to families, one generation after another. The passage of laws and slow ebbing of racial hostility did nothing to erase these centuries of African-American distress.

The "race card" slur is just another way of shutting down debate on American racial justice.

Paul W. Mollica, Chicago