"You Can Forget About Civil Rights"
You know the damage one ignorant Negro can do? We were in France in the first war; we'd won decorations. But the white boys had told all them French gals that we had tails. Then they found this ignorant colored soldier, paid him to tie a tail to his ass and run around half-naked, making monkey sounds. Put him on the big round table in the Cafe Napoleon, put a reed in his hand, crown on his head, blanket on his shoulders, and made him eat *bananas* in front of all them Frenchies. Oh, how the white boys danced that night... passed out leaflets with that boy's picture on it. Called him Moonshine, King of the Monkeys.
And when we slit his throat, you know that fool asked us what he had done wrong? - Master Sergeant Vernon Waters, A Soldier's Story
This scene comes from one of the saddest movies I've ever watched. It wasn't the topic of racial stereotypes, for that has been covered in other equally excellent movies like To Kill A Mockingbird without engendering the sadness I felt watching A Soldier's Story. What made it sad was that one misguided soul thought he could improve himself in the eyes of his oppressors by commiting an evil act of which he thought they would approve.
This was the movie I thought about immediately when I read about this man and his undefensible attitudes:
If there's another terror attack on American soil, you can forget about civil rights. That's according to Peter Kirsanow, who will testify to Samuel Alito's civil rights credentials before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.
Kirsanow is a conservative African-American member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and recent backdoor Bush appointee to the National Labor Relations Board. He is a former member of the African-American conservative front group, Project 21, which is run out of the offices of the National Center for Public Policy Research. Jack Abramoff, who was a NCPPR board member, funnelled over $1 million in Indian casino money through the organization, some of which paid for international junkets for Tom Delay.
His mere presence today as a pro-Alito witness raises serious questions about the nominee's willingness to protect established legal precedent on civil rights.
Kirsanow's 'Good' credentials are displayed by the company he keeps:
As a lawyer, Kirsanow established his reputation by successfully defending big business against unionization drives and lawsuits from exploited workers, including one who died from a workplace injury (for more on Kirsanow's legal history, read Bill Berkowitz's excellent profile).
Fancying himself a self-made man, Kirsanow preaches the Randian gospel of personal responsibility. In a speech before the Heritage Foundation in 2002, he declared that that affirmative action had "metastasized into a racial spoils system consisting of preferences, quotas and set-asides."
Corporal Ellis: I've been driving this jeep for six months, sir. Only turned over twice. Captain Davenport: Twice? Corporal Ellis: Yes sir. Captain Davenport: Good.
On July 19, 2002, during a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights meeting with Arab-American groups in Detroit, Kirsanow warned that if there's another terrorist attack in America "and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights."
Private Wilkie: Is it true, sir, that when they found him, his stripes and insignia were still on the uniform? Captain Davenport: Yes. Private Wilkie: Something's wrong, ain't it, sir? I mean, those Klan boys, they can't stand to see us in these uniforms. They usually take the stripes and stuff off before they lynch us.
Kirsanow continued by urging his audience to drop their opposition to the Patriot Act. After all, he said, if Arabs attack the U.S. again, "not too many people will be crying in their beer if there are more detentions, more stops, more profiling."
The worst thing you can do, in this part of the country, is pay too much attention to the death of a negro under mysterious circumstances. - Colonel Nivens
Compare Kirsanow's language to to that of a 1983 essay, "In Defense of Elitism," published by Prospect, the journal of the Concerned Alumni for Princeton, to which Alito belonged:
"People nowadays just don't seem to know their place. Everywhere one turns blacks and hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and hispanic, the physically handicapped are trying to gain equal representation in professional sports, and homosexuals are demanding that government vouchsafe them the right to bear children."
Remember, you're the first colored officer most of these men ever seen. The Army expects you to set an example for the colored troops... and be a credit to your race. - Colonel Nivens
Quotes from A Soldier's Story
At the end of the movie, the perpetrator attempts to explain and justify himself. As he does so, all the years of being subjected to the sort of humiliation - related by the character I quoted at the start of this post - triggers a mental breakdown as he begins to realize what he did for acceptance.
One has to wonder if such a motivation applies to Kirsanow. I only hope that he never has to endure that which he helped to inflict on others just to be 'one of the guys'.
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