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Reason: Although the EEOC does issue mandates to private employers.
Thomas: No, not really. To some extent in the past there has been what I consider a social engineering phase of the agency. But what I believe is that if a person's individual rights or right to be a part of our economic system is violated under statute, we aggressively go after it. But we don't issue mandates to businesses that you've got to do this and you've got to do that.
Reason: Say I'm a private employer and I'm a racist, and no matter how qualified a black candidate is I don't look at him. Isn't it my right to hire whom I choose? Should the state force me to hire somebody?
Thomas: I guess theoretically, you're right. You say, it's my property and I can do as I damn well please. I'm able to choose my wife, I can choose my employees. I can choose where I live, I can choose where I want to locate my business, the whole bit. I think, though, that we've embodied the principle of nondiscrimination because we don't have a homogeneous society. And the problem is that we had state-imposed racism in our society. We had segregation and slavery that was state-protected, state-imposed, state-inflicted. The state can't undo the harm that was done, but I feel very strongly that if there is any role for the state, it is to protect us from others.
Let's look at it from the other side. When you prevent somebody from participating in our free society and the economics of our free society, I have some real problems. That's a right to me.
Reason: Well it's clearly immoral to do that, but should it be illegal?
Thomas: I'm torn. If I were to look at it theoretically, as you say. I would have to say I'd like the state out of my business. Putting it back in the context of reality, I can't say that. I have seen the devastating impact of the denial of economic opportunities to certain groups, including my race. For example, my grandfather--here was a man who worked really hard. He owned his own business 'cause he didn't want to work for anybody, and the state and other individuals ganged up to conspire against him. It sounds really nice and convenient to say that if he were in an equal bargaining position, if he possessed other options, he could have pursued those options. But when a group of whites who are not a part of government conspire to deprive him of that, what does he do?
Reason: You've said that quotas are basically for the black middle class. What do you mean by that?
Thomas: When you look at where the real problems are among minorities in our society, particularly blacks, it's at the bottom. It's the people who are in school systems that don't educate, neighborhoods where there is a lot of crime, drugs, the whole bit. You don't see them being affected by a quota system at IBM or Xerox or the Fortune 500. They're not going to have those jobs. They're not going to be the people who go to Yale or Harvard or Princeton. They don't even come up to the line to be included. To the extent that you should have any kind of efforts, it should be for those individuals who are on the bottom. Help the people who need help most, and don't just feed them this pablum of welfare and leave them in neighborhoods that are riddled uith crime, where nobody would start a business or would go to try to live. Don't shuttle them off into public housing, which in some instances amounts to concentration camps.
Reason:Is that the nub of your criticism of the establishment civil rights movement today--that it's essentially upper-middle-class blacks who've made it, presuming to speak for people on the bottom?
Thomas: I would not characterize it as the nub of my criticism. I think it's really out of touch with reality. I came from the people that they're leading; I didn't come from the leadership ranks, I came from among the people I'm most concerned about. So did Thomas Sowell, so did Jay Parker, so did Walter Williams. We lived in the neighborhoods that they've created myths about. My grandfather--that's the guy that got me out. It wasn't all these people who are claiming all this leadership stuff.
It really bugs me that someone will tell me, after I spent 20 years being educated, how I'm supposed to think. That is offensive to me; it was offensive to me in the second grade, so you know it's offensive to me now, almost 39 years old. And I don't think that government has a role in telling people how to live their lives. Maybe a minister does, maybe your belief in God does, maybe there's another set of moral codes, but I don't think government has a role.
Reason: So would you describe yourself as a libertarian?
Thomas: I don't think I can. I certainly have some very strong libertarian leanings, yes. I tend to really be partial to Ayn Rand, and to The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. But at this point I'm caught in the position where if I were a true libertarian I wouldn't be here in government.
Reason: In the early days the Black Panthers seemed to be very much decentralists, power to the neighborhood, and all that. You were sympathetic to them, weren't you?