The bastardization of civil rights

Few organizations make me as angry and disgusted as the Center for “Equal Opportunity”. Their website claims that their mission is to “to the promotion of colorblind equal opportunity and racial harmony.” How do they work towards this mission? Primarily, by promoting a twisted bastardization of civil rights thinking and legislation through lawsuits against colleges and universities with educational programs that encourage and assist people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups.

This despicable organization has enlisted the US Justice Department in its crusade. The civil rights division of the Justice Dept is threatening to sue Southern Illinois University if they do not end three graduate fellowship programs for people of color and women. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

In a move Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said “just doesn’t make sense,” the U.S. Justice Department charged that three SIU programs that aim to increase minority enrollment in graduate school exclude whites, other minorities and males, in violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act.

“The University has engaged in a pattern or practice of intentional discrimination against whites, non-preferred minorities and males,” says a Justice Department letter sent to the university last week and obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Reports like this make me quiver with fury, quite literally. It is horrifying and rage-inducing to see civil rights legislation – designed to protect the rights of people of color, women, and other groups who have been long oppressed by American goverment society – be so twisted, so bastardized, so perverted in the wrong way by racist conservatives, the CEO and the Bush Administration foremost amongst them. That the damned civil rights division of the Justice Department has been subverted into a tool for gradually dismantling what little progress has been made to redress centuries of racist and sexist damage inflicted upon people of color and women by and in this country – well, it’s just mindbogglingly wrong.

These people just can’t stand to see people of color get any reparations whatsoever for the evils that our society perpetrates upon us. I mean, they’re crying bloody murder over SIU’s programs when, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, only eight percent of SIU students are Black or Latino. Yes, clearly, grave discrimination is going on against the huge proportion of the SIU population that is white.

This sort of bullshit recently touched close to home, when the CEO went after my alma mater. You see, Swarthmore College, along with nearby Bryn Mawr and Haverford, used to participate in a wonderful program, the Tri-College Institute. Tri-Co was a program for incoming freshmen of color, an extra period of orientation for students about to enter the very white world of these three colleges. I participated in Tri-Co in 1998, and it was an invaluable experience for me. Tri-Co provided my first real chance to look at racism and understand it for what it is. It also gave me my first opportunity in a long time to be in an environment where I was surrounded by other people of color, after attending a very white high school and being friends with mostly white girls. For the first time ever, I was around many people of color, even many Latinos, my age. And I also got to learn a lot from the older students who ran Tri-Co – mostly amazing, politicized folks who helped me get engaged with POC organizations and activism on campus. After Tri-Co, I made a lot more friends and did wind up with quite a few white friends, but I also never lost the bonds of friendship that were formed at Tri-Co, and I think that made a tremendous difference in my time at Swarthmore.

Last year, the CEO decided to set its sights on Tri-Co. Enabled in their bigotry by the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling on affirmative action practices at the University of Michigan (which state that “race could be included as a factor in determining admissions, but not the sole factor”), the CEO sent a letter threatening legal action against Haverford College if Tri-Co continued to be limited to people of color. Disappointingly, Swarthmore and the other schools didn’t put up much of a fight, promptly opening participation in Tri-Co to all students.

The Swarthmore deans defended the decision, saying that “there will not be a major shift in the focus of the program… the one difference will be that there will be white students included in the program.” Um… hello? That one shift is just about the most major shift one could make to the program. It changes everything, making it nothing like the program that I found so valuable when I attended it.

At least SIU has a chancellor who says he supports the programs, and also has the benefit of a kick-ass supporter in the form of Senator Barack Obama. Let’s hope they manage to hold out against the Evil Empire’s assault on the true spirit of civil rights.

2 Responses to “The bastardization of civil rights”

  1. 1 Rhymes With Right

    I guess it really comes down to a very simple question — do you believe that whites and males are covered by the Fourteenth Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act?

    If you want to answer the question in the negative, that is fine — but in that case, please do not be terribly offended when those same groups stand up and decide to exclude you. After all, you have given them the tool to do so with your argument.

    Oh, and do you know WHY only 8% of SIU students are minorities? It has something to do with the fact that SIU is located in a rural part of the state, far from most of the major centers of minority populations in the state. It has to do with the fact that minority students from Chicago would prefer to be a couple of hours from home by car in DeKalb or Normal or Champaign instead of six hours away in Carbondale.

    But then again, what do I know — I’m simply part of the second generation of my family to have attended the school (the third generation is there now), and the son and nephew of retired faculty members.

  2. 2 Jack

    Your “simple question” misses the point entirely. Do you know why the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act were passed, or why they were even needed to begin with? They weren’t passed simply to reassert the equality of all people; rather, both pieces of legislation were direct responses to the rampant racist discrimination in this country. The 14th amendment overturned Dred Scott vs. Sanford, which ruled that Black people could not be US citizens, and was also a response to the Black Codes passed in the South in order to limit the rights of Black people as much as possible after slavery was formally abolished. The Civil Rights Act was specifically designed to end discrimination against Black (and other non-white) people in education, employment and voting.

    It is abhorrent to me that these pieces of legislation are now being perverted (and not in the good sense of the word) in order to dismantle other efforts, like affirmative action, to make right the many years of wrong done to people of color in this country. Simply passing the 14th amendment and the Civil Rights Act couldn’t undo the damage done by these centuries of racism; other, proactive measures (like Affirmative Action) are necessary in order to bridge the gap caused by historical racism, and in order to overcome the racism that is very much alive and well today.

    So, no, I don’t think that the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act have a damned thing to do with protecting the rights of white men – white men, as a group, have always been, and continue to be, the ruling class in this country. I certainly don’t think they need any more protection than what they’re already granted by white privilege.

    And if you can’t understand the difference between the exclusion of white males from programs designed to help people of color, women, and other oppressed groups, and the exclusion of someone like me by white men, then you need to educate yourself about how power and privilege work in this society. Here’s a very basic introduction, if you’d like to start.

    And my point about the 8% is that it’s not as if the college campus is being overrun by people of color all of a sudden (which, of course, would be a wonderful, wonderful thing.) It just seems somewhat ridiculous that opponents of these programs at SIU would object so much when there’s clearly not some antiracist revolution going on because of them.

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