March 17, 2006
Dear Governor Granholm:
In your March 9, 2005 Guest Column, "Affirmative action ban would hurt state's future," * you took great liberties in making reference to me and my motives for supporting and promoting the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI). At the end of your piece, you extended an open invitation for readers to write to you. Because I saw no exception that would prohibit me from accepting that invitation, I am doing so accordingly.
At the outset, let me address my status as an "outsider." Governor, I was born in Leesville, Louisiana, a fact which makes me an American citizen by birth. How is it that you, being Canadian by birth, have a greater entitlement to the privileges and benefits of American citizenship than I? Among those benefits and privileges is the right to have opinions and the right to express those opinions about matters - big and small - that affect all Americans. Michigan is not an island in some foreign country. It is one of the American states to which my tax dollars flow and where my passport of "civil rights" is presumed to be valid. If your defense of racial and gender preferences is on such solid ground, why is it necessary to hearken back to the days of Jim Crow segregationists who complained about those "outsiders" who asserted their right to urge our nation to fulfill the promise of equal treatment to all Americans, regardless of race, color, or national ancestry?
What is it about individuals such as you and Congressman John Dingell, who has also taken me to task for exercising my right as an American to express opposition to race preferences in Michigan, that causes you to be so intolerant and insecure about your convictions that you resort to such intellectual isolationism when it comes to an issue such as race? On the one hand, you talk boldly about the "global economy," but then you retreat into your state's rights cocoon when it comes to matters such as civil rights.
You assert that had I been from Michigan, I would know that "diversity is part and parcel in our economic strength." Are you kidding? Or, are you simply attempting to distract the people of your state, for political reasons, by making me a bogey man? California is one of the most "diverse" places on the planet. The California economy is vibrant and booming. And, I hasten to add, California is a state that has outlawed preferential treatment on the basis of race, gender and ethnicity. Michigan, on the other hand, is regarded by many as one of the preference capitals of the nation. How is your economy? How many jobs are you losing day-by-day? To what "economic strength" are you making reference? Are you really expecting your residents to believe that by ending preferential treatment on the basis of race, gender and ethnicity, your state's economy will worsen even more? If so, such an assertion defies logic.
It is amusing that you call the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative "deceptively named." Have you ever read the 1964 Civil Rights Act? Do you consider the principle of equal treatment "without regard to race, color or ethnicity," contained in that Act, to be such a deception that the Congress erred in naming it the "Civil Rights Act?" Has it escaped your attention that the principle contained in MCRI is identical to that contained in the 1964 Civil Rights Act?
Your column, which seems to attempt to summon the better nature of your electorate by appealing to the importance of "diversity," is inconsistent in one major respect. You say that if I knew your people better I would understand that you appreciate the value of "teamwork and unity." You point to the great pride that the people of Michigan can take in their "steady advance of freedom and equality." All of this is true. Why, then, do you presume that these same good people are closet bigots who are just waiting for the opportunity to discriminate against women and "minorities?" Why do you lack confidence in their capacity to treat others the way they wish to be treated - with fairness and dignity?
If you oppose "quotas," as you say you do, how can you support their functional equivalent and the method by which quotas are obtained - "preferential treatment?" Like so many others who express their opposition to "quotas," your opposition rings hollow when you seek to have it both ways: oppose quotas but support preferential treatment of women and others based on skin color and ethnic background.
I was born in the Deep South, at a time when racial discrimination was rampant. I know first-hand the meaning of the term "racial discrimination." I doubt that you can say the same. Your knowledge about discrimination was probably gleaned from history books. In days of my youth, as a brown-skinned man, I rarely heard the term, "diversity." But, I sure as hell heard and experienced "discrimination." And, I can tell you that the pursuit of diversity should never be an excuse for our government to sanction or practice discrimination based on an individual's race, color, gender, ethnicity or national ancestry. That principle should be guaranteed to Jennifer Gratz, a white woman, equally as it is guaranteed to me, a black man. One should not have to be an "outsider from California" to convince you of the importance of the fundamental principle of equal treatment before the law without regard to the color of a person's skin. This principle is deeply etched in the character of most Americans. Had you been born in America, perhaps you would have a better appreciation of this fact.
Finally, let me address two astounding claims that you make about the effects of MCRI. First, you claim that MCRI would "eliminate programs that are encouraging female and minority students to pursue "these (scientists and engineers) critical careers." MCRI would do no such thing. It would prohibit you from giving them "preferential treatment." It certainly would not prohibit you from "encouraging" them to pursue careers in these fields. Also, let me state the obvious: since you are currently able to grant preferential treatment based on gender, why aren't there more women in these fields now? Could there be other factors that have nothing to do with the issue of "affirmative action?"
Have you noticed that at elite institutions of higher education, such as Harvard, UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan and others, where race and gender preferences are taken most seriously, the number of "affirmative action" beneficiaries who graduate with degrees in science and engineering is no greater than at other institutions? It is not rocket science to realize that this phenomenon has nothing to do with the ability to promote "diversity." This argument is a fig leaf for other objectives. If women can be governors and among the highest paid university presidents in the land, without any "preferential treatment," why should we believe they need "affirmative action" to become scientists or engineers?
Second, you acknowledge the need to "eliminate the achievement gap in education in Michigan," but you claim that MCRI "would end programs that help minority students achieve the high standards we are setting in our schools."
Governor, this would be laughable were it not so tragic. It is clear that you have little knowledge about what accounts for this achievement gap. Moreover, if this gap exists in a paradigm that promotes preferential treatment, but is widening instead of closing, pray tell how the elimination of preferences will worsen the situation. Frankly, as a "minority," I consider it demeaning and insulting that you believe "minority" students can only meet high standards by the benefice of preferential treatment. Had you lived through the period of my youth and been subjected to the conditions of racial oppression, as I was, you would know about the strength of spirit of black people and their ability to achieve without preferences, as long as they were not held back by discrimination based on the color of their skin.
If you seriously want to help "minority students" - and I certainly believe you do - then you will lead the way in giving them greater freedom to attend a school of their choice. You will lead the effort to eliminate "legacy" admissions so that all students will have an equal chance, regardless of whether their ancestors attended the university or not. You will make it possible for the daughter of a union worker, whose parents did not attend UM, to have the same chance as the son of a big automaker executive, whose dad had the privilege of graduating from UM and who donates large sums to preserve a preference for his children and grandchildren. You would lend your support to the growing national movement in favor of socioeconomic "affirmative action" instead of race-based "affirmative action." Help those who need it, not those who happened to be born with the right color of the day.
Should you care to further this discussion and to become enlightened about the facts of this controversy instead of relying on the sound-bites of those aligned with you, I am at your service. Certainly, even an "outside activist from California," whose tax dollars end up in the coffers of Michigan, might have something to offer on a subject that seems to be of such interest to you.
Governor Granholm's OpEd is here.