Friday, May 8, 2015

Affirmative Action vs. Conservative Principles

Affirmative Action and Ending Raced-Based College Admissions

What was the "Conservative Principle" that was the basis for former Governor Jeb Bush to end race-based college admissions in Florida’s colleges and universities? This is the question I had after reading Robert Samuels’, Washington Post article, “After Bush order, Florida universities cope with shrinking black enrollment.”

As the article states, Governor Bush’s executive order (similar, in part, to California’s Proposition 209 and Washington’s Initiative 200) would 1) uphold conservative principles; 2) end race-based admissions; and 3) help minorities as a result. Let’s review these three:

1: The Conservative Principle Concerning Affirmative Action
It’s been noted that most Conservatives oppose Affirmative Action policies. They believe giving special treatment to members of a certain group (race, sex, ethnic, etc.) is not needed in regards to education, employment, contracting, and other areas.

2: Ending race-based college/university admissions; or a plethora of reasons not to
Race is, and has always been, an integral part of our being. “The fabric of our lives” as the saying goes. A fabric interwoven into the red, white and blue that majestically flies over the landscape of this land; from the Atlantic, to the Great Lakes, to the Gulf of Mexico, to the Pacific and beyond. To reject and deny its existence denies the suffering, struggles and battles that so many have endured (and continue to endure), like:

Dred Scott’s fight to become a free man in Scott v. Sandford; a case where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that because Scott was of African descent, people of African descent (whether free or slaves) could not be, nor were intended to be, citizens under the U.S. Constitution and held no legal rights—a ruling later discarded by the thirteenth amendment (abolition of slavery) and fourteenth amendment (birthright citizenship for all).

W.E.B Dubois (a founding member of the NAACP) and Booker T.Washington (founder of the Tuskegee Institute) championing for full civil rights when Southerners would only guarantee “basic” educational and economic opportunities (and protesting discrimination within the same “basic” educational and economic opportunities the Southerners guaranteed); as well as protesting, and championing the end to, lynchings and the Jim Crow Laws of the South.

Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and  Carol Denise McNair of the Birmingham Church Bombing; Emmett Till and George Stinney, two of many children who died for senseless reasons; and the thousands of others who lost their lives simply based on the color of their skin.

The thousands of men, women and children (Virginia Durr, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Hosea Williams, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, Malcolm X and a host of others too lengthy to name for this article) who contributed to the Civil Rights era of the 1950’s and 60’s to end discrimination and racial segregation; all of which lead to the Civil Rights act, Voting Rights Act, Fair Housing Bill and other cures to the disparities faced by blacks.

Understanding where African Americans have come from, the struggles and tumultuous journeys to get to where we are today, and how much further is needed to go is pivotal for any “true leader” involved in public policy making. Additionally, understanding the Conservative Principle, and its impact, is equally important. And, yes, I would concur with Conservative thinkers that everyone should stand on their own merits when it comes to education, employment, contracting and the like; but that’s only if the playing fields are level. But as a senior, business executive reminded me, “The playing fields are never level [especially for women and racial minorities].” Can one truly think that 50 years of progressive movement, since the 1960’s Civil Rights Act, can erase 200-plus years of denied freedoms and unfair treatment? Until one walks in another man’s (or woman’s) shoes, I can totally understand the Conservative’s basis of not being able to comprehend or understand the brevity of such an argument—if one chooses to try to understand it in the first place.

Conservative Leaders (well, all leaders for this matter) should embrace the Stockdale Paradox: Confronting the brutal facts about the current reality of one’s environment. Had Governor Bush confronted the brutal facts about the current reality of his environment—the existence of racism, sexism, bias-based injustices, and the disparities within the educational system —he may have had a different outlook (or vision) concerning his decision to end race-based college admissions by executive order; but I applaud his optimism.

3: The end of race-based admissions would help minorities
As with California’s Proposition 209 and Washington’s Initiative 200, both of which saw URM (underrepresented minorities) enrollment plummet at their flagship universities, Florida is now (as the article suggests) dealing with the same impact at its flagship universities—declining black enrollment. Now in a conundrum, the universities are trying to figure out how to increase URM enrollments; but how do you do this when you continue to guarantee spots to the top 20 percent of high school graduates from a warped and biased educational system? How does this “pool of graduates” help your cause, better yet, Florida minorities; especially when the state has such a poor minority graduation record? Mr. Samuel’s article (and data) appears to indicate that it has done exactly the opposite; negating and dismissing the state’s brutal fact about its current reality as noted in the Tampa Bay 2011 article, “Florida ranks at bottom for graduation rate of black men”.  

Perhaps the executive order would have been better served by not restricting opportunities for those where the playing fields are not level, but by establishing ways to improve and retain Florida’s graduation rates where the playing fields could be level.

The basis of the Conservative Principle and the relevancy of Affirmative Action today, have fueled many a great debates. However, one must be cognizant of the fact that Affirmative Action policies and practices were put in place for a reason; a reason accepted by individuals who understood the brutal facts about their environment.

Author, R.L. Byrd

Part of the Project H.U.S.H initiative. To find out more, visit HUSH

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