Archive for November 11th, 2005

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.