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March 4, 2002

Bond, Keyes analyze 'race' in today's America

By Michael Terrazas


Aside from being in the title of the evening—“The State of Race”—the word was on everyone’s 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, we’re 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: America’s Wake-Up Call.”

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: Who’s driving the wagon?” Keyes said. “While we’re arguing over who’s pulling and who’s 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 base.

“I don’t know which is worse, living in a family where Dad doesn’t have a job, or living in a family where there is no Dad,” Keyes said. “I don’t know which is more destructive, but I think it’s the latter. Dad can always get another job.”

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 of Virginia.

“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 institutions—affirmative action, for example—that have helped the country make such progress in race relations.

“We’re such a young nation, so recently removed from slavery, that only one generation stands between Julian Bond and human bondage,” he said. “It’s 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 common sense.

“Affirmative action is under attack—not 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?”