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End race preference policies?

By LISA TROSHINSKY, For United Press International   |   June 12, 2002 at 1:35 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, June 11 (UPI) -- Race relations have improved dramatically since the 1960s, and United States law and policy should reflect this change, two conservative think tanks report in a new book.

"Beyond the Color Line: New Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America," published by the Hoover Institution and the Manhattan Institute, concludes the "need to go beyond the black-white paradigm and the victimization model of race relations in the United States," a Manhattan Institute representative said at a conference Thursday on the book in Washington.

Changing demographics, interracial marriages and newly found patriotism after Sept. 11 are major factors that have brought the U.S. melting pot closer together, said authors of the 26 essays that make up the book and other panelists.

Special considerations -- such as affirmative action and bilingual education -- need no longer be given to minorities, and continuing to do so serves to deepen racial prejudices, they said.

"Beyond the Color Line" is the brainchild of the Citizens' Initiative on Race and Ethnicity, an organization formed in 1998.

Specifically, it counters the assertions of the Clinton administration's Franklin Commission, which, according to the Hoover Institution's John Raisian, concluded, "Blacks' problems are the sole result of pervasive white racism."

"The Franklin report becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of victimization," said Robert Zelnick of the Hoover Institution. "We are in favor of a color-blind public policy. Discrimination on the basis of race has generated nothing but ugliness and divisiveness. It's been the national tragedy of this country."

"We have moved from Dr. Martin Luther King's dream of all Americans being judged solely by the 'content of their character, not the color of their skin,' to today's vaguely Orwellian civil rights orthodoxy that it is necessary to treat some persons differently in order to treat them equally,'" wrote the book's editors, Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom.

The book also disputes the Franklin Commission's "one drop rule," that counts a U.S. citizen as a minority if only one grandparent is of that minority, and lumps blacks, Hispanics and Asians into one color coalition.

"Absurd liberal thinking," said Stephan Thernstrom.

"Minority groups today resemble the immigrants at the turn of the century -- they are not all the same," said conference panelist Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report. "Blacks vote Democrat and in favor of public sector jobs, as did the Irish. Latinos all vote differently, depending on where they live, and don't trust the public sector, like the Italian immigrants. Asians ... are politically split down the middle, as were (early immigrant) Jews.

"The people-of-color model doesn't explain things, and after Sept. 11, there were lots of American flags in minority neighborhoods," Barone said. "We will interweave minorities into the American fabric."

"The Franklin Commission was blind to demographic changes that have transformed the ethnic and racial landscape," said Stephan Thernstrom. "By the middle of the 21st century, they predict ... whites will have been reduced to minority status."

Douglas Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute said interracial marriages are on the rise, which means that racial discrimination is slowing eroding.

Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute said that to further strengthen the American fabric, the United States must increase the assimilation of immigrants by decreasing multilingual advertising and education.

"Assimilation is more problematic today than it was 100 years ago," she said. "Newcomers today are from Third World countries, are often of a different color, and often visit their home countries," she said.

Perhaps one of the hottest topics addressed in the book is affirmative action, since its constitutionality in college admissions -- set in place by the 1978 case Bakke vs. the University of California -- is being reconsidered by the Supreme Court, with a decision due by this time next year.

Workplace affirmative-action policies and race quotas in higher education should be eliminated because they are unfair and serve to promote -- not eliminate -- racism, several panelists said. Such policies have moved away from reparations of past wrongs, like slavery, and are used for the sole purpose of ensuring diversity, they said.

The Bakke decision -- which deemed it constitutional for universities to give racial preference to incoming college students in order to ensure diversity -- will probably be overturned, which could mean the end of affirmative action, Zelnick said.

"Even if you take the position that affirmative action is for reparations, that is an insult to minorities," said Peter Kirsonov, an attorney at Beresch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff. "Look at Cosby's Kids (a charitable program that supports the academic efforts of minority children). Ninety-five percent of Americans can achieve if they get out of the victim mindset."

"There is an inverse relationship between the decline of discrimination and public policies of racial preferences," said Linda Chavez, founder and director of the Center for Equal Opportunity, who spoke at the conference. "The racism left in our country is propped up by race-conscious policies."

"We need to take race preferences out of federal programs," said Michael Franc, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation. "We need a level playing field."

Bill Niskanen, chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, says he is generally sympathetic with the views of the book's authors.

"This book demonstrates the importance of think tanks when the academic community won't address this issue (minority quotas in schools)," he said.

Instead of affirmative action, grade and high schools should have more accountability, said the conference panelists. "All kids must meet the same academic standards; that is the right message," said Abigail Thernstrom.

"The Bush campaign talked about the 'soft bigotry of low expectations,'" said Brian Jones, assistant secretary of civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, who spoke in favor of the proposed "No Child Left Behind" bill requiring grade and high schools to have the same standards for minorities as they do for white students.

On the other hand, William Dickens, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argued in favor of keeping affirmative action, saying it helps minorities far more than it hurts whites, and that there is no evidence that it results in reverse discrimination.

"Promoting affirmative action -- where preferences are given to minorities in admissions to elite graduate and undergraduate programs -- is barely displacing whites," Dickens said. "It's the example of the handicapped parking space in front of a fancy restaurant; hundreds of people are driving by, thinking if it weren't for the handicapped sign, they could park there. But in reality, the spot can accommodate only one vehicle, and in the case of elite institutions, only a small handful of minorities.

"Also, the argument that preferences hurt minorities, because they fail more in those elite institutions, is wrong. The positive effect of admission into elite schools is greater for minorities than it is for white students who are accepted to those same institutions," said Dickens.

"Also, the other side argues it's unfair not to give every position to the best qualified, based on objective criteria. Yet they don't complain about other admissions preferences based on legacies, sports or veterans' preferences," Dickens said.

He also took issue with another criticism about policies that support racial or ethnic preference.

"Does affirmative action lead to resentment?" he asked. "During the period of the most aggressive affirmative action in elite institutions, public attitudes towards minorities greatly improved," he said.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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