Aside from being in the title of the eveningThe State
of Racethe word was on everyones mind last Wednesday
night in Glenn Auditorium, but the two men they were there to hear
disagreed on whether race even exists.
Alan Keyes called it one of the greatest lies in history, while
Julian Bond called it the single greatest factor in the lives of
all (nonwhite) Americans. The two men came to Emory Feb. 27 and
shared the insight and experience that has made them two of the
most prominent African American men in the country.
This is not a debate, said Michael Owens, visiting
assistant professor of political science. So if you came to
see fireworks, sorry, were not going to provide you with that.
Perhaps not, but the evening did provide a feast for thought from
two outstanding orators. Taking the podium first was two-time Republican
presidential candidate Keyes, whose voice rose and fell as dramatically
as his gestures, displaying the style that convinced many observers
that he was the winner of a series of Republican debates held during
the presidential campaign of 2000.
I am not going to submit to the lie of race, said Keyes,
an ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council
in the Reagan administration. Keyes now hosts a nationally syndicated
radio program, The Alan Keyes Show: Americas Wake-Up
Keyes said the lie of race and skin color has been perpetuated
throughout history by people wishing to divide and conquer populations
they wish to subjugate, a tool to shackle the minds of people
in America, all sorts of people. He related a story about
fellow senator Phil Gramm, who once stoked a crowd of voters by
telling them they were pulling the wagon of America
while some of their fellow citizens were getting a free ride.
The real question is: Whos driving the wagon?
Keyes said. While were arguing over whos pulling
and whos riding in the wagon, somebody up there is cracking
the whip over all our heads.
Keyes said the way to improve race relations in America
is to return to the fundamental principles that made America great.
Indeed, he even suggested that some of the very programs designed
to lift African Americans have instead eroded their moral and spiritual
I dont know which is worse, living in a family where
Dad doesnt have a job, or living in a family where there is
no Dad, Keyes said. I dont know which is more
destructive, but I think its the latter. Dad can always get
In contrast to the often fiery Keyes was the subdued yet captivating
Bond, whom the former honored for being one of the first to stand
against the wind of racism in the 1960s. A Morehouse College
graduate, Bond was twice elected to the Georgia House of Representatives
before that body finally allowed him to take his seat in 1966. Bond
is now chairman of the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People and teaches at American University and the University
Alan Keyes is right, Bond said. Race is merely
a sociopolitical construct, not reality, but it is more than just
a pigment of our imagination.
Bond said racism is a more elusive target today than
it was during the civil rights era, but there is still much work
to be done. And the one thing America should not do, he said, is
undo some of the institutionsaffirmative action, for examplethat
have helped the country make such progress in race relations.
Were such a young nation, so recently removed from
slavery, that only one generation stands between Julian Bond and
human bondage, he said. Its only been 37 short
years since all black Americans have been permitted to exercise
their full rights as citizens; now some are telling us those 37
years are enough? To believe that is to believe self-delusion over
Affirmative action is under attacknot because it failed,
but because it succeeded, Bond continued. Asking whether blacks
should be ashamed of gains made through affirmative action, he said,
Would you rather be thought unqualified and have a good job,
or be thought unqualified and be unemployed?