Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bakke, University of Michigan, Tim Wise

            The 14th Amendment has done more for individual American citizens than disenfranchised minority groups, and it is unfortunate because it was in the interests of displaced Africans by which granted them citizenship. The essence of the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is so comprehensive that it has universalized basic rights while ameliorating the horrific American pastime of slavery.

The University of California Davis Medical school in the Bakke Case demonstrated how, in efforts to rectify past racial discrimination, no one wants to take responsibility. Justice Matthew O. Tobriner states: “ The Fourteenth Amendment that served as the basis for the requirement that elementary and secondary schools be ‘compelled’ to integrate should now be turned around to forbid graduate schools from voluntary seeking that very objective.” (Ball p. 61) Tobriner seems to be harping on the efforts of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to integrate schools. Interestingly enough many of the cases preceding Brown v. Board of Education (1954) dealt with higher education admissions (law and medical schools). With the periodic triumph of these cases, momentum of resistance developed and Plessy v. Ferguson separate but equal clause was finally overturned. What Tobriner believes to be a shame is that the spirit of the Brown v. Board of Education is going down the drain, all because a few individuals believe they are entitled to a higher-education. Unfortunately, college in this country is a privilege not a right. And for a long time blacks were denied access into these honorable institutions we call the University. This literal white privilege has been part of college admissions, private and public, for a long time. And it seems that the rights of an individual (of a majority group), is becoming more important than the rights to a historically disenfranchised  minority group.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 comes from a long history of racial justice. And surprisingly the roots of its language stems from the semantics of the Bill of Rights. While slavery was still well in place, Americans fought the tyrannical power of British Colonists and after declaring independence drew up the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, was created in order to protect citizens from such Intolerable Acts as the Quartering Act, and no Taxation without representation. These first ten amendments addressed the needs of Americans.

The Civil War was a war to end slavery. And legislation which would follow was created to protect the rights of black people against the hegemony of the southern Confederacy. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments gave black people citizenship, the vote, and total abolishment of America’s peculiar institution. Similar to the way in which the Bill of Rights protected Americans from a tyrannical federal government, the 13th, 14th, and 15th protected black people from racist state power, especially in the south, where Jim Crow Laws ran rampant. And then finally Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Brown v. Board of Education 1954, would protect individuals from local, state, and federal policies denying citizens “regardless of race, color, or national origin” their basic human rights. What seemed like a series of laws that had black people in mind, at its center, would transform and become the grounds by which disgruntled white folks would illustrate their custody over the few and far in between college seats across the nation. Lawyers for Bakke, “sued on the grounds that both the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause ‘Nor shall any state…. Deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.’ And the title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the very same Title VI used by university administrators to justify preferential admissions prohibited such race- based preferential admissions procedures.” (Ball p. 7)

This use of the Fourteenth Amendment did not end in the Bakke case, it would also apply to what we now know as the Michigan Affirmative Action Cases. Things would not look good for black folks wanting to attend law school at the University of Michigan “The law school’s inability to meet the standards of constitutional statutory review for its affirmative action program led the district court, via Judge Freidman’s opinion, to conclude that the affirmative action policy violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.” (Perry 75)

There were however Judges who did believe that the fruits of affirmative action was priceless. “O’ Connor responded for the majority that the Fourteenth Amendment’s ‘Equal protection clause does not prohibit the law school’s narrowly tailored use of race is admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” (Perry 146)

Much of what created such a permanence among white students was the notion of white privilege, Time Wise illustrates this interesting phenomenon that occurs amid white students. “Although not every white person’s story is the same as mine, the simple truth is that any white person of color, and as such received directly the privileges, the head start, the advantages of whiteness as a matter of course. This goes for all whites not merely some, but all.” (Wise 13)

“Whiteness, as these stories in part demonstrate, is about never being really out of place, about having access and, more to the point, the sense that wherever you are, you belong, and won’t be likely to encounter much resistance to your presence. Despite my lousy test scores and mediocre grades, no one ever thought to suggest, for example, that I had somehow gotten into Tulane because of some form of ‘preferential treatment’ or as a result of standards being lowered. Students of color though, with similar grades and scores regularly had to content with this sort of thing, prescribed to be the less qualified beneficiaries of affirmative action.” (Wise 44)

“People of color can’t really avoid white spaces, and if they do it’s probably because they live in the poorest areas, and are the most destitute persons of color around: after all, having much the opportunity in the job market or in education typically requires a fairly high level of interaction with white folks, since so much of the power within either setting resides in white hands. (Wise 47)

            Wise emphasizes the point that the reason why many white students file law suits is because they feel privileged. And that years of discrimination is mutually exclusive of the law. Everyone attending college should start on a clean slate, and should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Unfortunately the law historically has not been mutually exclusive of social constructs such as race. And that race has played a part in such pieces of legislation as the 3/5 compromise. The spirit of the 14th Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act was to make sure that everyone was treated fairly. And in order to do so, white students must make room for their colleagues who, may have been qualified generations ago, but was denied entrance due to Jim Crow Laws. Sure, white students may not get into the college of their first choice, but this doesn’t mean that they are not going to college. These students in fact get accepted in greater numbers than blacks, and go on to have an easier time landing a job. Call it whatever you want: achievement gap, white privilege, reverse discrimination, whichever way you slice it there is social divide along lines of race, one in which becomes difficult to resolve. This dilemma however, as difficult as it may seem, often times is remedied on the college campus, where the magic word diversity becomes the byproduct of affirmative action. Students get to meet other students who may not be of the same gender, race, religion, or economic class, and forge bonds that may seem incredible. It is the conversation and actions of these young people, harmonizing with one another that will determine if affirmative action is worthwhile. And sometimes moral authority trumps legality. 


Ball, Howard The Bakke Case published by University of Kansas 2000

Perry, Barbara A. Michigan Affirmative Action Cases published by the University of Kansas 2007

Wise, Tim White Like Me: Reflections From a Privileged Son published by Soft Skull Press
                  New York 2005


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