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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Racism by any other name

    The fight against racism, after scoring victories along the West Coast and in the Midwest, has moved into the Grand Canyon state.

    This November, the state ballot will most likely include the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, a ballot measure that would prohibit the use of state funds for programs that discriminate on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity and national origin. The opposition, however, is led largely by student activists purporting to stand for diversity. This is a shame. Left-leaning students once championed the cause of ending racially based discrimination; however, a mere generation later, they stand as its staunchest supporters.

    First, though, a bit of background: Ward Connerly, a former University of California trustee and the man behind this initiative, began his fight against racial discrimination in universities when a study showed white and Asian students were systematically discriminated against in the application process, a claim that the school (as well as many anti-Connerly activists) have never openly denied. While Connerly believed that some sort of boost should be granted to those coming from lower-income households, he was adamantly opposed to the principle of favoring wealthy minorities over impoverished white students. He is color-blind in every sense of the word.

    Connerly has actively fought to end these racial preferences through state ballot initiatives. Yet in spite of this seemingly noble aim, its reception on the Arizona campus has been barely lukewarm. David Martinez III, student regent, expressed concern that voters would be “”confused”” by the proposition’s language at a town hall meeting covered by the Arizona Daily Wildcat on March 6. Perhaps we should take a look at the main point of California’s Proposition 209, which will no doubt have very similar language to Arizona’s own proposal: “”The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”” This is not just crystal clear in its language, but in its moral standing as well.

    Still, critics abound. At the same town hall meeting, Celina Ramirez, an “”equal opportunity specialist”” who fretted over the impact this will have on minority students, was quoted as saying that: “”The percentage of people of color attending universities in California dropped 56 percent between 1996 and 2006 after Proposition 209 passed.”” Ignoring her painfully anachronistic choice of words, it’s worth pointing out that Ramirez only discusses professional schools. That’s probably because minority enrollment, as early as 2002, was actually higher at the University of California than it was before the passing of the Connerly initiative. Statistics aside, Ramirez’s argument has some serious moral flaws. Her complaint insinuates some sort of “”quota”” of minority students that the university should be striving for, rather than admitting students on the basis of their academic merit.

    Others expressed fear over the end of minority centers on campus. This is an issue members of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona have repeatedly mentioned, citing concern over the future of the Women’s Resource Center and other diversity groups. Yet these candidates also expressed concern that the UA was far behind in diversity initiatives, and was the only school in the Pac-10 without an independent WRC with its own director. The irony in this is that the majority of Pac-10 schools are located in either California or Washington, states that passed Connerly’s proposals. While the initiative threatens diversity here in Arizona, it mysteriously has given other schools a competitive advantage over the UA in diversity initiatives. Under the ballot proposal, the only type of “”diversity”” initiatives prohibited would be those publicly funded programs that actively discriminate against other races and genders, whether by banning access to facilities or providing scholarships for students of a certain race – in other words, programs that are openly discriminatory and segregating.

    Groups opposing Connerly’s initiatives argue that racism is based in power dynamics. This is at best na’ve, for it is patently obvious that in any system, the power lies with those with wealth, regardless of how much melatonin they have in their system. In a democratic system, though, power ultimately lies with the people who vote, and this power has spoken loud and clear: In the three states where Connerly initiatives were placed on the ballot – California, Washington and Michigan – the proposals won between 54 and 58 percent approval.

    For a more diverse perspective, a survey of affirmative action abroad is in order. On one hand, the opposition party in Malaysia has made its biggest gains since 1957, a result which was triumphed as the return of democratic rule to the young country. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim declared that one of the coalition’s first objectives was to, “”reduce race-based affirmative-action policies and begin to implement a more competitive merit-based system.”” On the other hand, we have the infamous dictator Robert Mugabe, who declared that 51 percent of all business organizations must be owned by indigenous black Zimbabweans. Suffice to say, that proposal has hardly resulted in any sort of multicultural paradise.

    Are these cases extreme? Of course, but they illustrate an essential point: Minority rights are essential in a democracy, but we too easily forget that the smallest minority is the individual. Rather than focusing on granting rights to racial or other groups, perhaps these “”equal”” opportunity warriors should be fighting for individuals, making sure every single person has equal access to public funding opportunities in higher education.

    Yet perhaps in the end, it all makes sense. After all, Ayn Rand pointed out that, “”Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.”” The Democratic Party once won electoral votes by cozying up with the racist tendencies of the South; today, it follows a similar, more insidious pattern in the cultured halls of academia.

    Evan Lisull is a sophomore majoring in economics and political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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