- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

A civil rights strategy based on racial grievance and legislative action is "outmoded" in 21st-century America, the newest member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said yesterday.
"Virtually all of the civil rights legislation that can be passed, has been passed," Peter N. Kirsanow said at a conference on race relations sponsored by two conservative think tanks. The "grievance legislative model" he said, is now obsolete.
"The civil rights movement is stuck in a time warp," said Mr. Kirsanow, who was appointed by President Bush, but was seated only after a federal court rejected a claim by USCRC Chairman Mary Frances Berry that the panel had no vacancy.
Mr. Kirsanow, a black Cleveland lawyer, said the 1960s-era civil rights strategy is now like "a stagecoach in a space-shuttle age," pursuing policies that are actually "aggravating the racial divide" in America.
Describing the "grievance legislative model" as based on affirmative action, group rights and entitlements that function as reparations for past wrongs, Mr. Kirsanow said that policies developed during the "Great Society" era of the 1960s often "perpetuate the very problems they were intended to solve."
His views were echoed at the "Beyond the Color Line" conference by Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Economic Opportunity. Mrs. Chavez described research by Paul M. Sniderman, a political scientist at Stanford University, and Thomas Piazza, a sociologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who found that affirmative action "has provoked broad outrage and resentment."
The Sniderman-Piazza study showed that when a question about affirmative action was asked early in a survey about racial attitudes, white respondents showed greater levels of hostility toward minorities in their answers to subsequent questions. This indicated that racial-preference policies are a cause of, rather than a remedy for, racial conflict.
"The mere mention of affirmative action promotes negative views of blacks," said Mrs. Chavez, who was nominated as Labor Secretary by Mr. Bush but withdrew her nomination in the face of intense criticism from Senate Democrats.
Noting recent findings that admissions preferences at the University of Virginia Law School in some cases favor black applicants over white applicants by a ratio of 731-to-1, Mrs. Chavez said that such policies inevitably are "going to reinforce racial stereotypes."
Yesterday's conference, sponsored by the Manhattan Institute and the Hoover Institution, marked the conservative think tanks' joint publication of "Beyond the Color Line: New Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America," a new collection of essays edited by USCRC member Abigail Thernstrom and her husband, Harvard professor Stephan Thernstrom.
The conference, attended by a broad spectrum of Washington's conservative establishment, provided a glimpse of the Bush administration attitudes on race, civil rights, education and immigration. In addition to Mrs. Chavez and Mr. Kirsanow, participants in the conference at the Willard Hotel included Brian W. Jones, Mr. Bush's appointee as general counsel to the Education Department.
"The racial achievement gap appears almost intractable," Mr. Jones said, referring to the persistence of lower standardized-test scores by black students.
Despite the billions of federal dollars expended in recent decades under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 intended to provide "compensatory education" for low-income children Mr. Jones said, "We are still not seeing a great deal of progress" in closing the achievement gap.
"One of the major factors," he said, is what Mr. Bush has called "the soft bigotry of low expectations," using race and poverty as an "excuse" for poor academic performance by black children.
Mr. Jones added that, in the education bill recently passed after negotiations between Mr. Bush and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, "for the first time, we have a policy that says the racial achievement gap is not acceptable." The bill has "accountability measures built in," he said, such as requiring states to make annual reports of their progress in improving achievement by minority students.
Also participating in the conference were:
U.S. News and World Report columnist Michael Barone, who compared minority groups today to immigrants who came to America 100 years ago.
Manhattan Institute scholar Tamar Jacoby, who said that while immigrants still assimilate into American culture, this process "is more difficult and more problematic now than it was 100 years ago. More immigrants are coming from impoverished Third World countries, trying to make their way in a different U.S. economy," in which it "is harder to rise from the bottom to the top." She said that American government and business are "jumping through hoops" to reach out to Hispanic communities.
American Enterprise Institute scholar Douglas Besharov, who described increasing levels of interracial marriage and noted that there are now about 1 million biracial children in America.
While most of the conferees were critical of race-conscious policies, Dr. Sally Satel said that medical research shows that racial differences have some biological basis.
"Colorblindness is not always the best policy," said Dr. Satel, a psychiatrist and lecturer at Yale University. There are ethnic patterns in some hereditary diseases, she said, such as Tay-Sachs disease, which affects mainly Jews, and sickle-cell anemia, which primarily affects blacks.
Citing ethnic differences in such areas of health as high blood pressure, kidney function, and metabolism, Dr. Satel said a basic understanding of population genetics shows that the "entities called racial groups are simply extended families" linked by common ancestry.
"Race does have some biological dimensions," she said. "We shouldn't blind ourselves to race."
Nor does evidence of progress in racial equality mean that prejudice has been eliminated or ever will be, Mrs. Chavez said.
"We have not yet reached the promised land," said Mrs. Chavez, whose own multiethnic family blending Hispanic, Jewish, German and Irish ancestors was expanded yesterday by the birth of her fourth granddaughter. "Ethnocentricity seems to be part of human nature."
While advocates of multiculturalism deny the existence of a common American identity, the attacks of September 11 have reaffirmed that identity, she said.
"Even if it has become politically incorrect to think of ourselves as one people," Mrs. Chavez said, "our enemies certainly do regard us as such."

Ellen Sorokin contributed to this report.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide