The Common Good

What Rand Paul and I Have in Common

I'm not a college student anymore, but Dr. Rand Paul just gave me some homework.

You see, I'm taking a class right now at the Servant Leadership School called Racial Reconciliation: From Theory to Practice. Every Tuesday, our group of a dozen or so folks from diverse backgrounds -- including different races, ages, genders, socio-economic statuses, you name it -- get together to dialogue about why race matters matter. We often start with a bit of history, which provides context for our discussions, and then we each engage in how racial dynamics play out in our lives today.

Rand Paul, who won the Republican Senatorial primary in Kentucky last week, gave us a newsworthy example of how racism is still alive today. Paul was recently asked about the 1964 Civil Rights Act via three media outlets -- The Courier-Journal, NPR, and The Rachel Maddow Show. Let's just say the interviews didn't go as planned, as Paul recently admitted that his painstakingly long tussle on Maddow's show "was a poor political decision." Well, it was only a poor political decision because of how he handled it. Here's what happened.

Paul said "I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws." He also said he's "not in favor of any discrimination of any form."

But wait. Paul then wouldn't answer Maddow as she repeatedly asked him whether he supported using federal law to enforce non-discrimination in privately owned businesses. Paul responded, "Had I been around" in 1964, "I would have tried to modify that."

And this is where being a libertarian gets in the way. I know that deep down, Paul wants systematic racial discrimination to be illegal. But what I'm not sure about is whether Paul understands that there are still people who deal with racial discrimination today -- even though it was outlawed when he was two years old.

Had Dr. Paul not been two years old, he said he would have marched alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But King understood what it meant to be discriminated against, just like so many of my friends. I think particularly of my racial reconciliation classmates.

Dr. Paul, a libertarian, advocates for the maximization of individual liberty. He doesn't understand what it means to be discriminated against, and neither do I. And Paul also doesn't seem to understand that sometimes we must call on our government to enact laws that further our individual liberties -- because of the systems and structures in this world.

From one white male to another: Dr. Paul, stop furthering racial discrimination. It is our responsibility as people with inherited power and privilege to open up dialogue around points of difference. And Dr. Paul, you're not helping the cause.

Sheldon C. Good is the media assistant for Sojourners.

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