MAXWELL:  The Bush brothers may be far from perfect, but they’re not racists

3/19/2000 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper

 

In a March 8 speech she delivered at a federal Department of Education seminar promoting diversity, Jane Elliot, a former third-grade teacher from Iowa, described Govs. George W. and Jeb Bush as racists. W. is the governor of Texas, and younger brother Jeb is the chief executive of Florida. Their dad, of course, is former President Bush.

Besides calling the Bush Boys racists, Elliot advised her audience, all on the government payroll, not to vote for any Republican political candidates. Wouldn’t you know that the Bushes are GOP stalwarts.

Now, before we outright denounce Elliot, we should remember that she has some respectable bona fides on matters of race.

She created, for example, the controversial diversity program that separates students based on eye color. I have seen the famous video of the program in which Elliot alternately gives preferential treatment to blue-eyed and brown-eyed students.

The results are chilling. Each time I walk away from the images, I worry about humankind’s willingness to commit acts of horror based solely on something as God-given, as natural and as simple as pigment.

But to describe the Bushes as racists is, I think, unfair. I do not know if W. has thoughtfully contemplated any subject enough to be considered extreme in his view, or, in this case, racist. Indeed, I know he spoke at bigoted Bob Jones University and wavered on the South Carolina Confederate flag issue, but I am smart enough to know that these were purely political moves to stabilize his campaign for the White House.

As for Jeb, well, he also caused a lot of his own problems with race by being flippant when he ran a losing campaign against the late Gov. Lawton Chiles a few years ago. Then, when asked what he would do to improve the plight of black Floridians if elected, Jeb said, “Probably nothing.” He was trying to be a wiseacre for fellow Republicans.

Many blacks apparently forgave Jeb and voted for him in the last gubernatorial election. But he dashed that support when _ by executive order _ he ended affirmative action as we know it in the Sunshine State. Jeb calls his program to end affirmative action One Florida. Essentially, it does away with giving leg-ups to blacks in state contracting and college admissions.

Despite his “probably nothing” comment, I do not believe that Jeb is a racist today. He may have been one a few years ago, before he ran into that irremovable object called reality, before he met Greater Miami Urban League President T. Willard Fair. I know for a fact that Fair, along with other African-Americans, influenced Jeb in positive ways. They established Florida’s first charter school in Miami’s predominantly black Liberty City community.

On more than one occasion, I have seen Jeb interact with black parents and children at the school, and I am convinced that the man has learned to care. Yes, Jeb is arrogant, impatient and has many of the other traits that come with being privileged.

But racist? I do not think so.

A black man, California businessman Ward Connerly, forced the governor to implement One Florida, a plan that protects parts of college admissions. As he had done in California and the state of Washington, Connerly entered Florida and began collecting signatures on petitions to place an anti-affirmative-action measure on the state ballot. The measure passed in California and Washington. Florida’s Supreme Court has yet to rule on the initiative.

Because Connerly’s proposal is draconian and divisive, Jeb never wanted the Californian in the state. He still does not want him here. The unfortunate irony is that before Connerly chose Florida as his next plaything, the state did not have an affirmative-action problem.

No one talked about it. During the past five gubernatorial elections, affirmative action never surfaced as an issue.

Why?

Blacks are not overruning our professional schools. We are not crowding out white building contractors. We are not taking the jobs of white firefighters and police officers. We are not muscling out qualified white teachers. Florida’s affirmative-action problem is a figment of the imagination.

When Connerly came knocking, Jeb tried to head off trouble by introducing One Florida. Frankly, I would not want to be in his shoes, even though the majority of white voters _ nearly all of them outsiders who brought their dislike of blacks down from the North and Midwest _ support the executive order.

Although Jeb has lost the core black vote forever, and W. continues to run farther to the right, I do not believe the brothers hate us. Are they political animals? You bet. But not racists.

Elliot and those who agree with her may owe the Bush Boys an apology on this one.