Governor Bush's "One Florida" initiative would allow employers to once again discriminate as they please.
The only trouble with Governor Jeb Bush's "One Florida" initiative is that it won't work. It not only won't work, but it would have the opposite effect, dividing us along racial and gender lines, and reversing the very appreciable gains we have made toward unity and fair play. The issue is one which vitally affects all Floridians, but Afro-Floridians in particular are to be commended for letting it be known that they have no intention whatever of allowing themselves to be sold back down the river into the Dark Ages of wage slavery when they were the "last hired and first fired."
That kind of prejudicial treatment was basic to the human equation in this country for many a century. In countless jobs and professions, in public and private sectors alike, the quota system was 100 percent white and 0 percent black. Protest lore, eloquent as always, put it this way: "A Negro has just two chances - slim, and none at all." And women, regardless of race, were in much the same boat.
No nation can get over such a raw deal overnight. Like that black woman said to the white judge who admonished her that her people could not expect equal justice all in a minute: "God knows it's been a long minute!"
Nor is the minute over yet...
It was under the duress of fighting World War II for the Four Freedoms (of speech and religion, from want and fear) that America embarked upon the path of fair play in employment as the only possible means of making this truly a land of equal opportunity.
More than any other one person, Jacksonville's A. Philip Randolph deserves the lion's share of credit for prodding America into taking this road to righteousness. For it was he who, while the war was still raging, threatened to lead a march on Washington to demand that all federal contracts include a non-discrimination clause.
Some said it would be unpatriotic and disruptive of the war effort for blacks to march on Washington while the fighting was still going on. But Randolph, writing on his march letterhead (I still have a copy, addressed to me here in Jacksonville), proclaimed "Winning Democracy for the Negro in America Helps Win Democracy in the World."
To avoid the embarrassment of a march, President Roosevelt summoned Randolph to the White House, and out of their meeting came an Executive Order creating a Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC).
While the Grand Dragons of the KKK and other race racketeers roared that the FEPC would herald "the end of all we hold dear" (meaning a perpetual pool of cheap black labor, which helped depress all wages nationwide), the newborn babe marched on, and a quarter-century later, under the banner of Martin Luther King, was enshrined in the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s.
This redeeming legislation rightly recognized that fair employment could only be achieved through affirmative action requiring both public and private employers and registrars to discontinue their traditional discriminatory practices. Historically, whenever any hereditarily privileged class has been made to stop riding on the backs of others, it has sent up a howl. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that some Good Ol' Boys, disgruntled by the loss of their monopoly over the job market, are charging that affirmative action represents "reverse discrimination" against them and "preferential treatment" for women and minorities.
Seeking to capitalize upon this sentiment comes now Gov. Bush with his so-called "One Florida" initiative, following in the footsteps of a (perhaps unwitting) black white-supremacist from California, Ward Connerly. Connerly is circulating a petition to put a constitutional amendment on the Florida ballot which, if adopted, would make affirmative action a crime rather than the law.
The big difference in these two proposals is that, what the referendum would do by constitutional amendment, the initiative would do by gubernatorial dictum backed by rubber-stamp legislative sanction. Either way, the dismal end result would be much the same: a stratified state with women and minorities down below and guess-who on top?
If Imperial Wizard David Duke, or Gov. Jeb Bush for that matter, really believe that women and minorities are getting preferential treatment, they should get themselves a sex change, paint themselves black and check it out.
Gov. Bush speaks for One Florida, all right, but it is not the one to which we-the-people belong. Big business knows there is big money in race and gender discrimination, and that is why it is backing both the initiative and the referendum. Any time anybody is denied a fair shake in the workplace, somebody stands to make megabucks in excess profit.
America went very far out of her way to discriminate, and that is why we must go far out of our way to put a stop to it. And we are by no means there yet. The playing field is still slanted; the dice still loaded.
There are some very hopeful signs - as at the Tampa, Miami and Tallahassee public hearings (Jax wasn't offered a mike), and the scheduled March 7 protest march on the state capita--that Floridians of both races and genders reject both the initiative and the referendum, knowing full well that true unity can only be achieved on a basis of fairness.
Propositions like the initiative and referendum are pap, designed to lead us not into the Promised Land of liberty and justice for all, but to one in which only the affluent will be able to send their kids to college, and the rest of us will flap flapjacks.
Adoption of either one would enable every employer and registrar, public and private, to give free rein to their prejudices and discriminate as they please. America has "been there, done that," so we don't need to remind ourselves that if we let employers go back to "letting their conscience be their guide," prejudice will rule the roost and discrimination will be the order of the day.
If we let that happen, all the hoopla about a great new century and millennium will be a mockery, and we will get what is coming to us--namely, grits without gravy.
Stetson Kennedy is an author and civil rights activist who lives in Jacksonville. He infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940's and exposed them in his book The Klan Unmasked. He has also written of the history of white supremacy in After Appomattox: How the South Won the War and Jim Crow Guide: The Way it Was.
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