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Honest Difference of Opinions

Black Americans are not a monolithic group that speaks with one voice on every political issue. The diversity of opinion is demonstrated clearly in the current debate over the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U. S. Supreme Court.

The National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s most venerable civil rights organization, opposes the nomination of Thomas, a black federal appeals judge. But the Compton branch supports the conservative black jurist.

The NAACP’s executive board voted against Thomas after analyzing his views and his civil rights enforcement record during his tenure as chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Because the NAACP constitution requires branches to adhere to policies set by the national board, the Compton officers were asked to change their position or resign. They refused. A compromise reached Friday acknowledged their right to speak freely as individuals and allowed their position to stand as an indication of the sentiment of the chapter. The rift illustrates the deep division over the nomination.

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A recent Gallup Poll illustrates just how deep. Fifty-seven percent of African-Americans favor the nomination of Thomas; 18% oppose and 32% don’t know.

Black Americans who back Thomas cite numerous reasons. Some admire him for overcoming poverty in the segregated South. Some embrace his philosophy of self-help. Many support him because he is black and perhaps represents the best chance to have a black replace the retiring Thurgood Marshall.

African-Americans who oppose Thomas also cite many reasons. Most mention his controversial EEOC tenure, in which he was considered hostile to the needs of the elderly, women and minorities. Others are disturbed by his opposition to traditional civil rights remedies to battle discrimination, including affirmative action. Some question his lack of long judicial experience.

The debate over the nomination of Thomas is instructive. Although it shouldn’t need to be said, black Americans don’t agree, nor have they ever all agreed, nor should they be expected to agree on a singular path to racial fairness and justice. Just like all other Americans.

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