President Bush recently made some remarks opposing affirmative action
at the same time that he spoke in favor of promoting the principle of racial
diversity in the American society. My friend Tim asked for my opinion on the
issue. Here is the reply.
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2003 20:15:47 -0600
From: Jesus Ortega
To: Tim Kramer
Subject: Re: President's remarks on affirmative action
On Thu, Jan 16, 2003 at 10:55:56AM -0600, Tim wrote:
> Some good remarks by the President on affirmative action.
> The one thing that bothers me, and it seems to be a sort of political "can't
> touch this," is that the President doesn't argue the case for racial diversity
> itself. In other words, he makes the argument that affirmative action is a bad
> way to promote racial diversity (with which I certainly agree), but he never
> makes the case as to why racial diversity in and of itself is needed at all.
> But then he says that "My administration will continue to actively promote
> diversity and opportunity in every way that the law permits." It doesn't
> make sense to me that the administration is promoting something for which
> a case has never been made.
We wouldn't find difficult, I believe, to agree on the issue of affirmative
action. I am willing, nevertheless, to hear the arguments in favor, since
I truly never considered the issue in depth (i.e., listening to both sides
of the debate and then taking the time to think it through myself and making
up my mind). Therefore, while tending to agree with the positions that are
opposed to affirmative action, my position on the issue may not be as strong
as the one I believe you have. So, in trying to be consistent, I don't think
you will be hearing criticisms against the President's remarks coming from
Now, the issue of racial diversity itself may be a completely different
story. Read below.
> I don't understand why we MUST promote racial diversity. I've never seen
> racial diversity as something that needed to be promoted, and I have never
> seen a satisfactory case (one based on strictly rational, sound logic, and
> not appealing to emotions) made that racial diversity in and of itself is
> beneficial. Even if we admit the affirmative action argument that "there's
> a racist on every admissions board," (which is pure nonsense) that still
> doesn't explain why there is a necessity to have racial diversity on college
I'd agree that the statement "there's a racist on every admissions board"
is completely gratuitous and lacks any evidence. For that matter, I can
also state that "there's an environmentalist/conservative/liberal/leftist/
fascist (your pick) on every admissions board" without any sort of evidence
to back it up either. Yet, the statement "there _could_ be a racist on
every admissions board" or, even better, "there _could_ be a racist on _this_
particular admissions board" is completely different and far more likely to
truly reflect the reality. This is something to bear in mind, and like it
or not it is something that those who belong to certain minorities have to
put up with while many other people don't. That's just a reality of life,
and in consequence it is something we should take into account when discussing
the issue and making political decisions. The fact is that there are still
racist people out there, and that is not likely to change as long as there
are human beings.
Now, let's deal with the issue of promoting racial diversity. Why is it
something that may deserve to be promoted? I assume here that you are
referring to the principle itself, and not to this or that particular
implementation of it (see below for more on the latter, specifically in
regards to President Bush's remarks). If that is the case, I must say that
promoting not only racial diversity but diversity of any type may actually
be a laudable objective for it is precisely what it may make it unnecessary
to have affirmative action in the first place. Let's face it, those who
are brought up in an homogenous environment where they don't have to
interact with people of different beliefs, ideas, backgrounds and experiences
will rarely end up understanding them at all or showing any real tolerance
towards others. Human beings tend to learn from what they are exposed to,
from what they experience in one way or another. Racial diversity (or, as
I said, any type of diversity) will do nothing but to strengthen our
knowledge of other social, political, religious, cultural and racial groups.
As a matter of fact, I'd go as far as to say that promoting diversity is
truly the best way to promote a society that is able to live in peace and
respect each and every one of its constituent members.
Please, understand that I am not saying this from a very theoretical point
of view either. I have seen this in my own kids. Because of our families
and the racial makeup of our own neighborhood, my kids didn't mix with many
kids of color during the first two years of their lifes or so. As a direct
consequence of this, when they finally encountered them somewhere (in the
park, while at the Children's Museum...) their reaction was of fear. It
is perfectly normal. The feared what they didn't know. Likewise, I have
witnessed first hand certain behaviors that can only be labeled as racist
in several family gatherings, even though the people who uttered the comments
would always watch what they say in a more open public setting. As I said
above, racism is there whether we like it or not, and chances it will
always be there while there are human beings on the face of the Earth.
I'd go one step further and stress again that I am not only supporting
here the concept of racial diversity, although that is what originated the
reply. I also find it extremely important to promote diversity in general
out of a conviction that it fosters healthy, dynamic societies that are
more capable of dealing with the challenges of the times. In this sense,
I also find it necessary to promote a diversity of ideas in academia, so
that it is not so strongly dominated by the left, just to give you an
example that you may understand better.
> Perhaps it all goes back to the classic contradiction, that it's okay to
> have a "historically Black college" but the moment you try to put up a
> "historically White college" you're accused of racism. Maybe that's why
> people are afraid to argue against racial diversity itself (not just the
> means of attaining it).
Needless to say, I agree with you that supporting the idea of a "black
college" while opposing "white colleges" is an obvious contradiction that
cannot be supported, and yes, it is every bit as racist as the opposite.
Now, where the chicken comes to roost is when one has to decide how to
promote these values in a way that doesn't fall in the opposite pattern
(i.e. that of the so called "positive discrimination"). This is precisely
where I would challenge President Bush to detail his plans a little bit
more, for I find it quite difficult to promote racial diversity as a
national policy without resorting to this such as affirmative action.
There may be a way, and that's where I am eager to listen to what he may
have to say. Policies such as the one he implemented in Texas where a
given top percentage of _all_ schools get to pick what university they
want to attend may be a step in the good direction.