Saturday, June 9, 2007

On Racial Divisions

It is very rare that I support conservative commentators, but here is a decent article about the upcoming SCOTUS decisions on affirmative action.

The AA plans being questioned involve school districts creating optimum racial balances, and sending students, based on nothing but their race, far out of their way in order to achieve this balance. So, if a white student lives a block away from a school that has too many white students already, he can be shipped off to a school well over an hour away, again, based on nothing but his race.

I've tried to understand the "liberal" arguments about how affirmative action is necessary in a practical way; that we have not yet reached racial equality in this country. And I agree with the latter, I think it is foolish to suggest that there is not still a racial divide. However, it is also foolish (and far moreso) to suggest that dividing the races in this sort of way is the cure. As Chief Justice Roberts said (and I don't quote him in a good light very often), "It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race."

Of course, AA supporters will say that this is an attempt to end de facto racial divisions. In other words, even if there is not discrimination by law (de jure), there can still be existing discrimination (e.g. the coincidental - or perhaps intentional, they might say - creation of "black schools" based on high racial densities in a certain area). So, shipping white students into and black students out of these "black schools" can create more of a racial "balance," whatever that means.

Which brings up an important point - what is an ideal racial balance? Is it a reflection of the greater population? Or should black students make up a greater portion of the student body, in an attempt to get rid of any stigma that is associated with being a 10% or so minority?

Personally, I think the ideal racial balance is whatever happens naturally. Some people will probably want to throw rotten eggs at me, because after all, the same question can be raised: what is natural? Slavery wasn't natural; de jure segregation wasn't natural. How can we tell if government is detached enough to ensure that any lingering "segregation" is a more "honest" kind of de facto (after all, de facto is often used to suggest that there is a more sinister, untracable kind of discrimination rather than the far more blatant de jure)? And even if it is "honest," is it acceptable?

I think it has to be acceptable, since the only proposed "cure" does more harm than good. After all, let us imagine a white family being told that it has to send its kids 90 minutes away to go to school to achieve this allusive "ideal racial balance." Are they likely to say "Oh, that's just great!" or are they likely to form new negative feelings about affirmative action and/or minorities that they may not have even had before? I think the better odds are with the latter. Affirmative action pits races against one another in a way that is completely non-conducive to equality and understanding.

And I challenge one of the fundamental underlying assumptions of affirmative action: that diversity is good. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think it is bad, by any means. I have a neutral position toward diversity. Well, actually, I support true diversity, but racial diversity doesn't necessarily achieve that. For instance, in school settings, the Court has reasoned that racial diversity is good, because it can bring together many different viewpoints and foster a greater understanding of different people and different opinions. Fair enough, but that assumes that the different races will always have different viewpoints. But, to think that some of the unbelievably rich, affluent black kids I went to high school with brought some sort of unique "black viewpoint" is absurd. Certainly, one's race will affect one's viewpoints to a certain extent, but one's environment will do that even more. And, what's worse is that is also fosters the terrible notion that black students are there just to give the "black opinion."

I completely support intellectual diversity; it is the only way to receive a good education in my opinion, but assuming that racial diversity will attain that goal is, well, racist. It necessarily assumes that black people and white people have different opinions.

But, ultimately, at least in terms of legalities, it all comes down to the Constitution. I've never been one to read the Constitution too narrowly; I think a broad, "organic" interpretation is proper especially when the document is too vague to make any conclusions, but on racial matters, the Constitution is crystal clear. The 14th amendment demands "equal protection under the laws." Now, some will argue that de facto segregation is not "equal protection," and that we have to go against the 14th amendment in order to properly enforce it. In other words, we have to treat the races unequally in order to get to a point where we can truly and fully treat them equally.

I have problems with that. You can't put constitutional requirements "on hold." The Amendment doesn't say "do this when you're ready;" it says "do it." The Court, for instance, couldn't say "We're going to take away free speech until we figure out what free speech is; we'll get back to you in thirty years or so." Likewise, it can't (or shouldn't) say "Hey white people, hang on for a few decades while we try to figure this equal protection stuff out."

Ultimately, though, we just have to look at the situation, and I think logic sorts things out. Saying "You cannot go to this school because you are white" sounds awfully reminiscent of the "you cannot go to this school because you are black" type of business that was ruled unconstitutional in Brown v. Board. Of course, the intentions of the former are better, but the means to reaching that end are blatantly unconstitutional. Any law that says "you can or cannot do this simply because of your race" seems undeniably constitutional to me. It doesn't matter if the ends "justify" the means. The Alien and Sedition Acts may have been justifiable in that they could protect America, but they blatantly violated the First Amendment's requirement that Congress not restrict free speech. All laws have to conform to the Constitution; if you want to achieve a certain goal, you have to act within the bounds of that document.

Perhaps I should've noted this earlier, but whenever one discusses racial issues, there is always the risk of being branded "racist." So, if you have this inclination, please re-read the post and try to understand that there are no racist feelings behind this. Plus, I'm voting for Barack Obama, so get off my case.

No comments: