The Rand Paul controversy over the civil rights act of 1964: Does it really matter?


The primary elections this past Tuesday evidenced an anti-incumbent mood among the electorate and the tea party backed libertarian Rand Paul prevailed in the republican primary for the senate seat from Kentucky.   The ink was barely dry on the results before democratic operatives began questioning Paul’s stance on the Civil Rights bill of 1964.  Basically, Paul says he agrees with the fact that discrimination in government related accommodations and related functions needed to be outlawed, but he would have drawn the line there and not extended it to private businesses who may discriminate.  He sees that as government overreach.  So, in Paul’s view government non discrimination mandates on private businesses is intrusive and people should be allowed to do business with whomever they choose or would not choose.  So things like private lunch counters and housing would not have been forcibly desegregated.  As expected, this has resulted in a firestorm engulfing Paul.

Of course, Paul was only two years old at the time this legislation was passed, so he wasn’t in position to influence it then and can’t repeal it now, so what we’re really talking about is something hypothetical or what he would have supported had he been around when the legislation was crafted. 

Since we’re talking about hypothetical situations, it might be useful to speculate what the position of black people might have been had things like private lunch counters had not been desegregated.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not prepared to spend one red cent someplace where I feel I’m not wanted.  So no, I’m not about to force myself and my money upon someone who doesn’t want my business.

Hypothetically, if lunch counters, buses and etc. were segregated today, more African-Americans would be in those businesses providing the service while the racist entrepreneur would be at a competitive disadvantage.   There were economic empires that black folks built as a result segregation and I’ve written about a few of those businesses here on this blog.  The vestiges of the days of segregation remain with us in the form of the many black funeral homes, barber shops and etc. that we see today.  In a way, segregation created an competitive advantage of sorts when it came to serving the African-American consumer.  Given the choice between being insulted “going round the back” at a restaurant versus being treated with respect, most people opted for the latter and patronized black businesses.  Often there was no other choice.

It’s been my experience that trade is the single greatest weapon against racism as once it becomes uneconomic, people quickly change their stripes. 

Let’s talk about my own hypothetical.  Had I been involved in leading the civil rights struggles, I would have pushed for equal protection under the law and certainly for the vote.  The government failed to protect African-Americans from the various outrages that were visited upon us in the form of lynching and various other abuses.  These threats against the person of African-Americans were a form of terrorism often enacted against us due to government sponsored action and that stranglehold needed to stop. However, I would have been on a permanent boycott of any racist business and would have encouraged the continued economic development of our own alternatives to provide the necessary services to ourselves.  Had this economic development path been pursued parallel with the civil rights struggles, I’d venture to guess that the situation within our communities would be far different today. 

As it was, we effectively paid for our civil rights via blood, sweat, tears—-and money for as soon as civil rights opened up access,  the nascent development of black business and economic development ceased.   It’s almost as if civil rights became an economic boom for those who were our former oppressors.  Our self development was supplanted by government programs hence making many of us wards of the state. 

I’m convinced that nearly every issue that concerns black people in the US has an economic component that is positioned against us via very subtle sleight of hand sorts of moves.  That began with slavery (not so subtle) and continues to this very day with the prison industrial complex and the “business of discrimination” (subtle).  Nearly, every movement and every problem that involves us also involves someone getting paid.  We’re focused on justice alone, when there needs to be an equal focus on economics and how to avoid being “positioned” for someone else’s economic benefit. 

This positioning is very subtle and relies on diversions on issues and our continuing to believe that redress lies in the hands of someone else when it actually lies with us.   I don’t think this can be emphasized enough, for  as long as we believe someone else has the power to grant or deny redress, then we cede control over our own situation automatically.  If we believe redress is in our hands, then we start from the position that we have the power over our destiny.  That simple change in thinking shifts the focus of initiatives totally and the path towards addressing problems shifts inward but even while doing so impacts everything “outward”.  We have to go for power and the path for that is within. This is the litmus test for any issue and if the issue or the leader is not leading in that direction,  we need to leave it alone   The best justice is obtained from compelling economic and political power. 

What was that Rand Paul said that has everyone is up in arms?  I almost forgot about him. At bottom, what he said is inconsequential.  You see, I have more power over me than he does.

3 Responses to “The Rand Paul controversy over the civil rights act of 1964: Does it really matter?”
  1. You make so many statements here (that I like, by the way), that I don’t think I have sufficient time to respond as fully as I’d like to each. But I’ll try.

    Let me take up Rand, first. I don’t automatically dismiss him: He’s running for the Senate, and will be in a position to cast votes on legislation that might possibly impact my life, and that of fellow blacks. For that reason alone, his political philosophy matters–although, like you’ve suggested, obstacles, whether Rand erects them or others for the purpose of holding us back, shouldn’t be seen as impenetrable barriers, but as bumps in the road to our eventual goals.

    Rand sees racial discrimination (or any discrimination) by privately-held businesses in the public square as a First Amendment right, a freedom of speech, or expression, issue, which has nothing to do with right of access.

    Although he would take non-governmental steps to bring the proprietor into compliance with social norms, he wouldn’t use legislation to force compliance. This for me is a distinction without a difference–compliance is compliance, whether the people use legislation, or public pillory. I understand the legal subtleties, but his argument fails when other considerations are brought to bear, which I won’t discuss now.

    I’ll sum it up this way: Rand advocates the use of private standards in the operation of public enterprises (businesses in the public square).

    I think the thrust of the Rand Paul questioning is to get a fix on how he might vote on future legislation if elected to the senate.

    “It’s almost as if civil rights became an economic boom for those who were our former oppressors.”

    Good point! It was that and more. One black sociologist of that time, E. Franklin Frazier in his landmark book, Black Bourgeoisie, posited that that would happen, but few listened, and there are reasons they didn’t.

    Ours was a great longing. We did not see ourselves as real Americans unless we had access to what whites had access to.

    Knowing this, whites used separation as a weapon.

    Segregation was used to affirm our inferiority–that is, our supposed natural state. Whites used it to reinforce their supremacy, and our inferior status. For blacks, that couldn’t stand. Either we (blacks and whites) stood as equals, or we didn’t stand at all.

    Rather than see separation as a weakness, we should have seen it as a strength, and encouraged it. Blacks were the only ones who wanted desegregation. Whites never wanted it. We wanted it because we wanted to be seen as Americans, not just black Americans. Another reason blacks wanted it: our public facilities (Colored Only) as well as public schools, colleges and Universities, were below par, or weren’t as prestigious, or as well-funded, as those whites had access to.

    Equal access would mean equal opportunities.

    Whites called for “separate but equal,” which, in practice, was separate but not equal. Separate but equal should have been our rallying cry, our battle cry, as well–that is, blacks remain separate, but build an equality that not only equaled, but surpassed expectations.

    As you pointed out, that would have been the quickest and surest route to social justice–when we no longer needed them, or didn’t need them as much–where we created economic interdependence and alliances that couldn’t be broken lest we all fail.

    “We’re focused on justice alone, when there needs to be an equal focus on economics and how to avoid being “positioned” for someone else’s economic benefit.”

    Black leadership failed to draw the nexus between the two–social and economic justice–that they’re essentially the same. If you have one, you have the other, and that they’re united in critical, and often misunderstood ways. Martin Luther King had he lived might have connected the two, and pushed for both.

    I remember a booklet circulated about that time titled, “Who Needs The White Man.” It called for economic cooperation among blacks leading to economic autonomy. Real autonomy in this society wouldn’t have been possible since blacks owned little of the resources that would have made that possible. But, as a goal, it would have been practical and beneficial, especially if we could have made Africa our trading partner.

    The Nation of Islam might have been that force, but its emphasis on religion, reluctance to share power, and volatile rhetoric, discouraged the kind of unity necessary for the creation of a viable black economy, one dedicated to the economic development of the black community, and the creation of wealth for the individual and the collective.

    • Greg L says:

      Ours was a great longing. We did not see ourselves as real Americans unless we had access to what whites had access to. Knowing this, whites used separation as a weapon.

      In one articulate statement, you sum up the problem in a nutshell BD. We are guilty of the greatest sin; the failure to love ourselves and to take confidence in our own abilities. To be sure, slavery and segregation were dehumanizing institutions and to some extent we see similar impacts on people from the effects of colonialism as well. Each of these systems relies on a sort of psychological warfare to shape the behavior of those who are oppressed and I believe that this shaping of behavior continues today although in a more subtle way. At bottom, the purpose is to support an economic system for some that is wholly reliant on us remaining in certain conditions.

      Although the years have seen attempts over the years to define ourselves via knowledge of our history, Afrocentrism and etc., we’ve yet to break the pyschological chains to hold us and those chains allow folks to continue to get paid off of our misery. I might also hasten to add that those getting paid include a few of us as well.

      We have to break these chains and the key is a new model of achievement. A group of us have to come together and visibly address a vexing problem while demonstrating for all to see organization execution independent of any outside influence and funding. This can be done a variety of ways whether it’s social activism or other means. I believe any good busness person is out of necessity an expert problem solver and that skill is one that needs to be brought to the fore in our communities.

      I must apologize BD as I don’t have ample time to address every point you’ve raised here. I’m a bit short on time right now, but I’ll ciricle back to comment further.

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