RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., April 29, 2014 – BREAKING NEWS: Racism still exists in America. So do ignorance and intolerance. Since there is little chance of eliminating ignorance and intolerance, what can be done to reduce their impact on issues of race?
In a 6-2 decision (a veritable landslide in today’s world), the Supreme Court upheld the right of Michigan voters to amend their State’s Constitution in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. However, since the case involved the elimination of affirmative action within the context of public contracts, public employment and public education, it attracted significant national attention.
In that regard, Chris Wallace conducted an extremely interesting interview on Fox News Sunday on April 27th with Jennifer Gratz and Shanta Driver. In a rare application of the network’s motto, he actually kept the discussion “fair and balanced.”
Ms. Gratz is the individual who successfully challenged the University of Michigan’s particular application of affirmative action to its undergraduate program in a 6-3 landmark decision in Gratz v. Bollinger, et al., 539 U.S. 244 (2003). Conversely, Ms. Driver is the civil rights attorney who unsuccessfully argued against Michigan’s ballot-enacted prohibition of considering race in college admissions in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.
In Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court ruled that the University’s application of “points” was not a sufficiently narrow exercise of affirmative action to be upheld. As Ms. Gratz stated on Fox News Sunday, the University granted 20 points in its admission process (out of 100) based solely upon racial status while granting only 12 points for a perfect ACT/SAT score, 1-2 points for an outstanding admissions essay, etc.
Mr. Wallace did an excellent job of questioning both of his guests and allowing them to challenge each other’s position and respond to such challenges. For the most part, the two women argued their respective interpretations of the facts until Ms. Driver decided to cast decorum aside and condemn the High Court’s action as a “racist decision.”
Ms. Gratz countered by saying, “I think that it is unbelievable that someone would sit here today and say that prohibiting racial discrimination is a ‘racist decision.’”
Ms. Driver finished the segment by saying, “The old Jim Crow is the new Jim Crow, and it has a name.”
However, do not dismiss Ms. Driver’s argument for her inability to provide “a civil assessment” of the issue. She did in fact make the most compelling statement of the well-managed debate when she stated the following:
“Look at K through 12 education and you look at the experiences of Black and Latino high school students in the State of Michigan. You compare any Detroit school to any major suburban White school in the State; the difference is night and day.
“And what those points (a reference to the point system that was rejected by the Supreme Court in Gratz v. Bollinger) represented was a recognition of the inequalities in this society that still structure opportunities. It wasn’t a gift to those students. It was a recognition that those students that work the hardest, that did the best coming out of those inferior schools deserve the same chance as their White counterparts that have so much privilege to go there.”
So, let’s examine why this was the most important statement of the entire exchange.
As is endemic within our society, we tend to misdefine our problems, misidentify their root cause, select from among only those alternatives that conform to our precognitive beliefs, and allow cognitive dissonance to protect us in the wake of our decisions. Ms. Driver’s comment underlines this phenomenon.
Let’s assume that Ms. Driver’s initial premise is correct: If we were to “look at K through 12 education and… look at the experiences of Black and Latino high school students in the State of Michigan… (and) compare any Detroit school to any major suburban White school in the State,” we would find “the difference” to be “night and day.”
Isn’t the problem, properly defined, one of addressing the educational disparity that may exist between the two school systems to which she alludes? Then, shouldn’t we explore: How do the systems differ; what resources would be required to create parity; and what steps can be taken to eliminate the gap in order to provide an equal opportunity to all students?
Correspondingly, at the collegiate level, what is the root cause of the inequality among high schools applicants? Is it the color of their skin, or is it a failed “K through 12” system that doesn’t even comply with the “separate but equal” mandate of the maligned Plessey v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), that Ms. Driver mentioned during one of her answers.
Why isn’t there a coalition that’s focused upon challenging why we continue to permit disproportionate differences in the quality of our public education rather than just a coalition that’s focused on masking the failure with “affirmative action”?
Ms. Driver argues that “…what those points represented was a recognition of the inequalities in this society that still structure opportunities.” Then, why not truly “recognize” the “inequalities” and eliminate them rather than continuing to allow them to exist? How does the former approach solve the problem?
The only thing for certain is that, while awarding points “in recognition” may assuage the sense of social justice of those who bemoan the inequality, it does almost nothing to assist those who have suffered from the lack of opportunity, and it completely fails those who will be resigned to face a similar fate in the future.
Ms. Driver asserts, “It (the points) wasn’t a gift to those students. It was a recognition that those students that work the hardest, that did the best coming out of those inferior schools deserve the same chance as their White counterparts that have so much privilege to go there.” This is the intellectual equivalent of treating cancer with a Band-Aid.
She is absolutely right when she says, “It (isn’t) a gift to those students.” A gift would represent something of value. A gift would be having provided those students with equal educational opportunities leading up to college rather than diminishing their ability to compete.
Let’s assume affirmative action (in the form of granting some kind of race preference) helps those who have been denied an equal education to experience college life. If a true educational gap exists, how will it be closed after the applicant’s acceptance? Will 20 points be awarded to the student on every test? After all, aren’t we trying to erase 13 years of having betrayed these individuals and denied them equal rights when it comes to their education? Where is the outrage in that regard?
Ms. Driver offers no solution for eliminating the “inferior schools” of which she speaks. She seems more comfortable in camouflaging the problem, which will only allow it to continue.
Of course, some students will rise to the occasion, capitalize on the opportunity of attending college, and substantively improve their lives. However, others will be damaged by their lack of preparation and will fail; perhaps cementing unfair stereotypes for yet another generation.
Among those minorities who would have succeeded without assistance, we risk diminishing their accomplishments by subtly assigning a doubt as to whether their achievements were singularly attributable to their own efforts. This societal undercurrent is patently unfair.
Interestingly enough, affirmative action was never meant to create racial preferences. The term originated in March of 1961 when President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, which required government contractors to “consider and recommend additional affirmative steps which should be taken by executive departments and agencies to realize more fully the national policy of nondiscrimination…. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”
Notice that the operative phrase is “treated… without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Too often, we have found it more convenient to craft programs that specifically treat people with regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin, and you can add gender and sexual orientation to that list as well.
As I have often said, “The phrase ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal’ doesn’t have an asterisk.” If we could only grasp that concept and focus on providing equal opportunities to all rather than fashioning special exceptions that only reinforce a discriminatory environment, maybe we could take a large step toward forming “a more perfect Union.”
A Civil Assessment has been designed to serve as an Op-Ed forum for you. You are invited to offer your opinion and to discuss your position in the Comment Section. Please be sure that your “assessments” remain “civil” so that they may earn the respect of others.
TJ O’Hara provides nonpartisan political commentary every other Tuesday on The Daily Ledger, one of One America News Network’s featured shows (check local cable listings for the channel in your area or watch online at 8:00 and 11:00 PM Eastern / 5:00 and 8:00 PM Pacific.