Affirmative Action, Again

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by Richard Kahlenberg, “What Sotomayor Gets Wrong About Affirmative Action.” Rather than add to the debate it rehearses again the tired assertion that the focus should be on class and not race. This, not surprisingly, evacuates race from the discussion and leaves in place the belief that affirmative action was only a benefit—if not a give-away—to Blacks and, more recently, Latinos.

First, the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action up to Bakke (1978) were white women. And prior to Bakke, “affirmative action” ensured that higher education remained white and male; a fact not lost to Sotomayor in her striking Schuttee dissent.

Second, as for the elephant in the room, the country does not need white racism to control the new Latino majority or Blacks as much as it needs white racism to control poor and uneducated whites who understand their disenfranchisement to be lock-step with perceived Black and Latino educational and economic gains.

Finally, the article misreads the Georgetown study and that’s a pity but understandable given its purpose.

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Affirmative Action, Again

President Obama Executive Order Caps Student Loan Debt at 10%

 

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While an improvement over current student loan borrowing guidelines, President Obama’s executive order today does not go far enough to protect students; especially first generation college students from legacy poverty. Student loan interest is calculated on student loan debt principal which extends the payment and the interest on payments. You may pay less initially but are in debt longer. Any way you slice it, neoliberal austerity bites you in either large chunks or piranha slices until you don’t feel anything at all but your relation to new forms of servitude. We must do better.

Aside

The Age of Commencement Protests: Haverford Edition

This has taken many turns. Some students and faculty members at Haverford College protested that the proposed commencement speaker invitation extended to Robert Joseph Birgeneau should be recinded due to his position while Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. Protesters were taking aim at Birgeneau due to his position as Chancellor during the 2011 Occupy Cal incidents. The Haverford students won.

During those 2011 student protests in question, police used force to break through a line of students who were holding hands. The university had stated earlier that the students could protest, but not set up encampments. Police in riot gear pulled students’ hair and jabbed them with batons in order to remove protesters using tents. In a statement by UC Berkeley Public Affairs, the university stated that holding hands to block passage is not non-violent. Still, the abuse by police was unprecedented and unnecessary.

Back to Birgeneau. First, only states can deny the right to free speech, so at least that issue regarding Birgeneau should be put to rest (i.e., HC students were not denying anyone’s free speech as it falls outside their power). Second, it seems Birgeneau didn’t have much of a choice to “withdraw” after Haverford College “protests.” Finally, limiting the protest to Birgeneau’s leadership, or lack thereof, to the regrettable Occupy Cal incidents and subsequent police abuse of protestors is as legitimate as it is shortsighted if read in context.

No other Cal leader has done more for the as yet nonexistent rights of undocumented students than BirgeneauBirgeneau‘s leadership is not limited to one single position while Chancellor of Cal, despite admonitions to the contrary. Protests often reflect principled advocacy positions. Often, principled positions lack the capital for advocacy.

The Age of Commencement Protests: Haverford Edition

Sonia Sotomayor’s "Race Matters" or How to Write Against Oblivion

“Yet to know the history of our Nation is to understand its long and lamentable record of stymieing the right of racial minorities to participate in the political process… In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable…” –Justice Sotomayor
Sotomayor’s dissent on Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision “Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action” was simply stunning. The majority 6-2 decision upheld Michigan’s Proposal 2, the ironically named “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative” (MCRI), which since 2006 has outlawed the use of all race considerations in college admissions via a state voter referendum passed with the support of 58 percent of Michigan’s voters. In her dissent, Sotomayor plaintively stated the obvious, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of racial discrimination.” In the 58 page dissent she noted:
Yet to know the history of our Nation is to understand its long and lamentable record of stymieing the right of racial minorities to participate in the political process. […] And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, ‘No, where are you really from?’, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’”
Perhaps even more stunning than Sotomayor’s candid and necessary assessment of race relations was the fact that it came over 35 years too late after the Supreme Court’s Bakke decision in 1978 which outlawed racial and gender quotas and delimited “race” to the managerial interests of academic institutions and employers. With the arrival of the neoliberal university after Bakke, and the legal exaltation of managerial interests above the populations universities ostensibly serve, we saw the emergence of the triumph of performative enfranchisement — perhaps most especially on university brochures and webpages — over legal enfranchisement proper and equality of access.
Chief Justice Roberts responded directly to Sotomayor’s dissent, “People can disagree in good faith on this issue… but it similarly does more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.” Somehow, his seemingly magnanimous self defense fell flat for his ahistorical whitewashing as much for what his avuncular tone conveyed in the face of Sotomayor’s belated but necessary take on race relations in the country. The question, posed another way, is not about affirmative action as it was understood after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and up until the Bakke case, but rather how to remember the legacies of affirmative action and its potential historical afterlives. In this sense, Sotomayor’s dissent constitutes a writ against oblivion. But why is this important?
Historical accounts of the policies associated with affirmative action often consider President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925 of 1961 as its starting point. Kennedy’s executive order mandated the elimination of “racial discrimination in employment [because it injured] both its victims and the national economy.” Quite simply, Kennedy’s order required government contractors to “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.” It was a simple proposition with vast social implications. After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, President Lyndon Johnson extended these mandates through the Civil Rights Act and with his own his own Executive Order 11246 which mandated that colleges and universities extend to higher education — especially, but certainly not exclusively, state funded colleges and universities — what had been the legal standard in employment practices as overseen by the United States’ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
In academia, for example, the policies associated with affirmative action had doubled the number of Blacks attending colleges and universities, and tripled the number of women on campuses throughout the country up to the Bakke case. Despite the limited success of affirmative action for Blacks and some Latinos, it must be noted that white women were the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action as their progress simply outpaced all minority men and women in every sector. That it was white women who had benefited more from affirmative action than Blacks or Latinos is, of course, part of the whitewashing that creates easy Black and Latino scapegoats; a fact conveniently lost to enfranchised Michigan voters and the SCOTUS majority alike.
Justice Kennedy, along Justice Breyer, offered an expansive paean to the idea that Michigan voters are the rightful heirs of democratic action and capable of determining their right to assert “state’s rights”:
“It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds… Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people.”
Ironically, the record demonstrates that Kennedy is more than willing to second-guess democratic process if it is expedient to do so (“Citizens United,” anyone?).
And here is where Sotomayor shines in her dissent. Though over 35 years too late, the need to write against oblivion and, in opposition to SCOTUS’ wishful whitewashing, the national archive of meaning is inflected with the will toward better democratic practice. It was the first time in her five years on the Supreme Court that she read her dissent from the bench and it signaled the depth of her conviction. Her colleagues were not her intended audience, they had already made up their minds when the case was heard last year, her audience was the democratic commons.
Sonia Sotomayor’s "Race Matters" or How to Write Against Oblivion

The Economist Gets Affirmative Action Wrong (Again)

A recent piece in The Economist suggest that we should scrap “affirmative action.” Now, I’m all for reasoned argument but that requires facts. And the Economist’s piece, “Time to Scrap Affirmative Action” gets the basic facts wrong.

It assumes that 1) “innate” ability is key instead of equality of access to a quality education. In other words, it would seem the writer comes dangerously close to contending that all “people of color” are just, well, innately intellectually incapable. Really? 2) It is also factually wrong. After University of California vs. Bakke case (1978), SOCTUS held that quotas could not be allowed in admissions. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, as quotas within a qualified pools always exempt hereditary privilege (legacy admissions, etc.) or class exceptionalism in order to produce real and capable diversity. Finally, 3) it assumes an ecumenical standard where none exists. You can not compare “affirmative action” in U.S. as having any bearing or relationship to how it is understood in, say, Brazil.

The Economist’s readers deserve more than the current racism at play in times of “austerity” where easy scapegoats abound and reasoned argument is scarce.

The Economist Gets Affirmative Action Wrong (Again)