The Supreme Court Confronts the New Racists
by Hilaire de Sauveterre (Dec. 2006)
Our place of birth exercises a peculiar influence on us. Native sons are formed by the land and society into which they are born; immigrant children must always be haunted by the sense of a home not known and a life not lead. Even Philip Larkin, who loathed his quotidian
I am no different. Though raised and educated in several countries, my first and thus purest memories are of a small frontier city in the
The New Man of the West no longer depended on himself and his neighbors for his livelihood, but more often than not on subsidies flowing from a distant,
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So it was with a familiar dismay that I learned of the Seattle Public School Board’s latest public relations debacle. Until recently, the Seattle Public Schools website featured a page entitled “Race and Equity,” which instructed readers on the many definitions of racism. To what end, I cannot say, but the definitions were sufficiently controversial to draw opprobrium even in a politically correct Lotus Land. One singled out by a critical opinion piece in the Seattle Post Intelligencer explained that “Cultural Racism” involves:
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.
And, of course, racism is a one way street – white to non-white. Racism being helpfully defined by the School Board as “[t]he systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the
To put the Seattle School District’s definition of Cultural Racism in plain terms: if you think skin-colored stockings are beige; if you like to plan ahead or consider the future effects of your actions today; if you eschew collectivist ideologies in favor of individual rights; or if you believe that students should be taught a standard English grammar, vocabulary, you are ipso facto racist. Congratulations, your hood is in the mail.
Such arch-silliness always tempts me to cheek. I am tempted to ask whether the opposite of “having a future time orientation” is “dwelling in the pot-smoke fug of the 1960s” or “nursing century-old grievances”? Or whether Marxism is an acceptable “collective ideology” for the
Apparently I am not the only person bemused by the
In response to the numerous concerns voiced regarding definitions posted on the Equity & Race website, we have decided to revise our website in a way that will hopefully provide more context to readers around the work that Seattle Public Schools is doing to address institutional racism. The intended purpose of our work in the area of race and social justice is to bring communities together through open dialogue and honest reflection around what is meant by racism and the impact is has on our society and more specifically, our students. Our intention is not to put up additional barriers or develop an “us against them” mindset, nor is it to continue to hold onto unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality. It is our hope that we can explore the work of leading scholars in the areas of race and social justice issues to help us understand the dynamics and realities of how racism permeate throughout our society and use their knowledge to help us create meaningful change. This difficult work is vital to the success of our students and families. Thank you for sharing your concerns.
Caprice D. Hollins, Psy.D.
Director of Equity & Race Relations
Seattle Public Schools
Apart from the disturbing thought that the author of such ghastly prose (“provide more context to readers around the work that Seattle Public Schools is doing”) is responsible for the education of impressionable children, the new message is at least as bad as the old definitions. Are we comfortable with the fact that the
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Normally none of this parochial absurdity would matter to anyone beyond the bounds of the
This December 4, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two companion cases challenging the allocation of students to public schools according to race. Parents Involved in Community Schools v.
Back in 2003, the Supreme Court decided two cases involving the use of race in university admissions. In Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court struck down a
Now the Court must decide whether two public school programs that also allocate student places by race are more like the permissible Grutter admissions program or the verboten Gratz program. The first program comes to the Court courtesy of our friends at the Seattle Public School Board. Under
The challenged program in Meredith differs slightly. First, the program operates from kindergarten to the twelfth grade. Second, the “managed choice” plan operated by the Jefferson County School District is designed to ensure that no school in the district has a racial composition that is less than 15, or more than 50, percent black (overall, approximately 33 percent of the school district is black). Finally, in curious contrast to the
Both programs were upheld by their respective Circuit Courts of Appeal, though Parents Involved followed a tortuous path through the Ninth Circuit involving multiple reversals before an en banc panel of the court finally bestowed its imprimatur.
The petitioners in each case are parents of students denied their first choice of schools on account of their race. They argue that the programs violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection” under the laws for all citizens regardless of race. As the Supreme Court has interpreted the Equal Protection Clause, any distinction drawn by the government on the basis of race must further a compelling government interest and must do so through the narrowest possible use of race that can achieve that interest. In legal shorthand, in order to prevail in the Supreme Court, the
These benefits are broadly the same as those championed by the University of Michigan Law School – and accepted by the Supreme Court as a compelling state interest – in Grutter. The
These benefits, however, are far from compelling. The evidence that students perform better in racially integrated schools is, at best, underwhelming. Thomas Sowell is fond of pointing out that in 1899 a segregated black school in
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Ironically – and I use that word carefully – the heirs to yesterday’s segregationists are those who, like the
While there are exceptional non-white writers, artists, and musicians in the Western tradition, the simple truth is that there are overwhelmingly more who are white. That fact should not have any bearing on the high-school curriculum, nor should it influence the tale the good teacher tells his students. Any curriculum that strays from the best in our Western tradition is incomplete, and a teacher who suggests – either overtly or through his selection of texts – that members of any race cannot share fully in that tradition perpetrates a grievous fraud on his students.
Regrettably, not even appeals to the common weal can stay the neo-segregationists at the
That the same minority students who are coddled by this solipsistic pedagogy will one day graduate into a world that does value common standards and objective achievement does not daunt the new racists. To the contrary, it offers an even greater challenge: the extirpation of the world of objective standards and knowledge beyond the classroom through the indoctrination of all students in the dogma of cultural relativism. By teaching that racial expression (circularly defined as any expression by members of favored races) is more important than intellectual distinction, they are training their students to inhabit a post-Western society.
This is the real impetus behind the drive to integrate students of different races. By exposing students to a diversity of viewpoints and teaching that none is more or less valuable than any other, they are consciously undermining the dominant Western culture. The upshot of this treasonous agenda is that the Seattle and Jefferson County School Boards must demand physical integration in the service of intellectual segregation. An American education: you can’t beat it!
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What will the Supreme Court have to say about all this? Probably not much. Its decisions will likely focus on two much narrower questions: (1) Are the admissions programs engaged in impermissible racial balancing; and (2) Could similar results have been achieved without relying on racial classifications?
On the first point, the Court will again confront the legacy of University of California Regents v. Bakke, the 1978 case in which Justice Lewis Powell’s influential opinion declared that racial quotas were per se violations of the Equal Protection Clause. In a pertinent passage, Justice Powell wrote that:
[i]f [the University’s] purpose is to assure within its student body some specified percentage of a particular group merely because of its race or ethnic origin, such a preferential purpose must be rejected not as insubstantial but as facially invalid. Preferring members of any one group for no reason other than race or ethnic origin is discrimination for its own sake. This the Constitution forbids.
Although Grutter approved the use of race as a consideration in admissions by the University of Michigan Law School, it did so with a nod to Justice Powell’s Bakke opinion. The Grutter majority explained that, while race can be considered as one of a multitude of “pluses” in the ranking of applicants in a competitive admissions process, it cannot be a determinative factor or operate as a “quota” because “racial balancing” is “patently unconstitutional.”
Grutter showed that even the Court’s defenders of official racial classification – Justices Stevens, Breyer, Ginsberg, and Souter – are circumspect in their approval. Unlike the Seattle School Board, they are not prepared to repudiate Justice Powell’s admonition that:
[t]he diversity that furthers a compelling state interest encompasses a far broader array of qualifications and characteristics of which racial or ethnic origin is but a single though important element. Petitioner's special admissions program, focused solely on ethnic diversity, would hinder rather than further attainment of genuine diversity.
The question is whether the Grutter majority will stand by its definition of “quota” as “a fixed number or percentage which must be attained, or which cannot be exceeded” in the face of plans that prescribe a strict mandatory deviation of no greater than 15% (Seattle) or 18% (Jefferson County) from the racial composition of respective school districts. By the Grutter majority’s own definition, the
What you should not expect is much discussion of what the Constitution says about the State’s ability to classify persons by race. This is because no permissible quota or degree of acceptable racial preference can be adduced from the Equal Protection Clause. The Constitution speaks of the equal treatment of all persons; it does not engage in the parsing of statistical deviations from racial norms in a community. As Judge Bea, dissenting from the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Parents Involved, reminded the majority, “[t]here is no de minimis exception to the Equal Protection Clause.” Under this view, the melting pot is not merely a social good but, where the State is concerned, a constitutional imperative. This view, however, is unlikely to command a majority on the current Court.
If a majority of the Court is loath to touch the tar baby of quotas and racial balancing, it may still reject the
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Ultimately, the Supreme Court’s decisions will not determine the future of racial discrimination in America. Indeed, the most depressing aspect of these cases is unrelated to their outcomes: whatever the Court says about the two programs under review, the administrators who implemented them will remain in charge. If their avowedly racist weltanschauung is affirmed, they will be emboldened to expand it to school sports teams (don’t laugh: it happened in
Even if the programs are struck down, nothing will change. The Supreme Court’s invalidation of the
The hard truth is that the Supreme Court is impotent to enforce its decisions. Whatever its rulings in Parents Involved or Meredith, nothing will change until the voters of Seattle and Jefferson County assert their political will and throw the current School Board members out. Sadly, it will probably take another decade of failing schools and diminishing American productivity to spark the necessary overhaul of the American school system. The political will simply does not exist at this time to break the unions currently blocking the private provision of public education, merit pay, and increased school hours; to jettison the current free-to-be-you-and-me consciousness raising agenda in favor of a focus on the fundamentals of reading, writing, mathematics, history, geography, sciences, art, music, and sport; to increase streaming and setting according to ability; to reintroduce discipline; and to replace a one-size-fits-all secondary education with one that channels students into academic or vocational streams according to proficiency and preference.
It is a daunting challenge, but the alternative is cultural sclerosis. The Supreme Court is likely to reject the un-American vision of the Seattle and Jefferson County School Boards, but all the laws and judgments in the world will not avail if we do not demand change ourselves.
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