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"Needed: An Educational "Bible","

by Marcus Raskin November/December 1997 issue of Poverty & Race

The most the Advisory Board can do is make its document into an educational "bible" which would be used in schools, churches, unions, colleges and universities. It should be taken as the authoritative statement about race with a subtext about class in America. The document should include a number of sections with interweaving themes.

· The Board must interpret and reinterpret foundational documents as the basis for its analysis and recommendations. These are not aspirational documents but have immediate and real effect. By this, I mean the 13th-15th Amendments to the Constitution. It must show how these are to be interpreted in light of present day realities. The Board must also show how the system of criminal justice which the nation and states have formulated over the last decade continues a form of slavery and destruction of the black male population.

The Declaration of Independence should also become a fundamental referencing document, as should Lincoln's definition of the purpose of government. Franklin D. Roosevelt's Bill of Economic Rights can also be referenced as the means of showing the importance of economic and so-cial justice. What I am suggesting is that the nation as a whole needs a rights and equality canon which sets the frame of reference for future consideration of particular policies.

· Historical view of the struggles for racial justice. Here again there must be discussion of slavery and the slave mentality of whites, which included the stealing of land from African American farmers. This section should also include the passage of anti-vagrancy and -loitering laws as a means of contracting out prison labor and reintroducing slavery-like conditions to build factories.

There should be discussion of the role of the federal government in more recent times in bringing about change of conditions, its failures and successes, emphasizing that positive changes would not have occurred without specific federal intervention, including that of the federal courts. For example, fair employment practices during the wartime New Deal, desegregating the military and defense contracts. Mention should also be made of the struggles necessary to get rid of the poll tax, advocacy of anti-lynching laws and grandfathering of white voters.

·There should be a discussion of the legal onslaught on affirmative ac-tion and the present not so subtle back-lash in the courts. Note unfair prison sentencing, as evidenced by cocaine/crack cocaine length of prison terms. There should be discussion of Plessy v. Ferguson and Justice Harlan's famous dissent, highlighting how the test of color-blind is predicated on white domination. The color-blind story should be hit head-on, including a discussion of what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant when he used the phrase.

·The question of the use of false standards and modes of certification and admission to keep African Americans on the margins of mainstream America should also be considered. It is important to remember that in a democratic and free society which puts emphasis on the future we must be prepared to bet on the capacities and talents of people that do not necessarily show up on past or even present performance, especially on tests which emphasize non-cooperative activities, knowledge and learning processes.

·The multicultural society should not be seen as an excuse to refrain from undertaking those specific activities and programs within the civil society and governments which are necessary to improve conditions of African-Americans. This means analyzing directly Rep. Conyers' bill, which is predicated on apology and reparations. Presently, government programs that may have been intended to aid African-Americans often end up aiding other "minorities," including white women. In other words, the present system pits minorities against one another for jobs, education and enterprise grants. This situation could turn out to be disastrous.

·This section would deal with why African Americans are not doing better in a period of prosperity. A historical and sociological discussion of fair shares with respect to who built this nation and how they should be compensated for their role should be undertaken. Often it is those who receive the least pay who keep the society going. And often those are jobs held by minorities.

·There should be a section on repairing the national community, which means discussion of why reparations, why an apology and what the American Constitution must mean for the 21st century. This section could talk about advances made toward the Promised Land. There are promises to keep, if not a promised land. There is a long way to go, especially when we look at incarceration and arrest rates for African-Americans. These rates are uncomfortably close to an attenuated system of slavery, especially when linked to government programs which ostensibly are to help the person but end up being social control mechanisms.

Marcus Raskin is Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and on the Public Policy Department Faculty at George Washington University.

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