Point of View Columns

With a Child’s Heart

And now Rand Paul is the darling of the right wing of the right wing. And it will take more than a spoonful of sugar to help this paleolibertarian medicine go down the throat of the Republican Party. He is on record as questioning the legitimacy and the propriety of the Civil Right Bill, including that part of the bill that outlawed racial discrimination in “public accommodations “, including movie theaters, hotels, motels and bus stations. I wish I could tell him my story. It is a story that could be retold with a millions of versions.

          I was born in Harlem. It was during the first year of the second half of the twentieth century. There was racism in New York City, in all of its soul searing, gut-wrenching permutations, some of it pornographically overt. But I was a small child and knew nothing of such things.

          I went to Japan when I was four years old. The reason was not a complicated one. It was where my father could get a job. During the next three years I learned to speak fluent Japanese and went to a Japanese kindergarten. I also attended an international school where I met and studied with children from all over the world. I also went to an American school. I did learn that there was such a thing as racial distinctions, I learned from my parents in response to my identity inquiry that I was an American Negro and in reading copies of Ebony and Jet shipped in from the United States I learned a little about the growing civil rights struggle in the nation of my birth.

          I then lived in Puerto Rico for a couple of years, still going to American schools. Still learning bits and pieces about this thing called “civil rights”. I read in my social studies classes and in encyclopedias that there had been a thing called slavery in the United States and something called “Jim Crow”.

But when I finally moved back to the United States at t he age of nine, nothing prepared me for my first visit to the South when, riding with my parents along a highway, I saw the sides of the roads littered with garbage, neon garbage. It was garbage that glowed and winked and blinked against the darkened sky in front of the many motels that were along the highway. There was garbage that read “No Coloreds” and “For Whites Only”. It was then that I knew the pain of something called racism. In that blinking neon light I saw my father insulted, I saw my mother degraded and I felt a pain that I had never known. And my nine year old reaction was that I felt that a dagger was going through my child’s heart. It hurt that much.

          In the ensuing five years the civil rights struggle gained momentum and the blood and sacrifice and misery of so many years brought forth the glorious March on Washington which I had the privilege of attending. That was a glorious moment, but I never could forget that dagger through my heart. Perhaps because earlier in that summer of 1963 I spent the summer in Charlotte, North Carolina and sat too many times in the colored movie balcony and swam too many times in the colored swimming pool. And then, after Selma and Birmingham and Philadelphia (Mississippi) and so many other battle stations, and then the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was passed.

          That bill did a lot of things to correct what was wrong about America. But outlawing racial discrimination in public accommodations meant that no other nine year old would have to feel that particular dagger going through their heart again. And now, along comes Rand Paul.

          Carrying the ranting banner of paleolibertarianism high, the now-Republican nominee for United States Senator from Kentucky fulminates against the injustices brought about by “big government”. Would this be the “big government” that runs Medicare? That would be the same Medicare from which he has received payments as a medical doctor? Would it be the “big government” that originated the G.I. Bill so that my father and the fathers of so many of the Baby Boom generation could go to college and create what we now call the middle class? Or would it be the “big government” inspecting and the food that we eat and the drugs that we give to our children and the “big government” that controls the skies in which millions of us fly every year? I sincerely await Rand Paul’s clarification.

          But he is crystal clear about his belief that “big government” shouldn’t interfere with the right of a private business owner of a public accommodation to deny access on the basis of race. He gives a pro forma condemnation of racism but that is like saying he is against cancer but is in favor of smoking.

The reality is that without “big government” overt bigotry would certainly continue to be an unfortunate and very real part of this country’s landscape, just like that winking, blinking neon garbage that I saw as a child. Without the imposition of some basic principles of fairness and equality (found in the Constitution that Rand Paul is fond of quoting when it is convenient) there would be millions of nine year olds and adults who would have to feel the pain of exclusion and denial in their country of birth.

          Paleolibertarianism might make for an interesting theory for discussion over that second bottle of wine. But theories that give rise to daggers to the heart of a child have a place only in the world of the hypothetical. It is not the place of Rand Paul or anyone else to visit that kind of pain on the people of this United States ever again.

Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.