Thursday November 2
Turn on the radio or TV in Michigan right now, and you hear the same argument, so appealing in its simplicity, being repeated ad nauseam by anti-affirmative action opponents: it’s wrong to classify people based on their race; we need to start treating people equally.
The intuitive logic of this stance is apparent, and that’s why it so often works for conservatives. But, as the t-shirts sported by many University of Michigan students state, one must realize that race is a factor because racism is still a factor. It is impossible to “treat people equally” when their underlying circumstances are not equal–a problem affirmative action seeks to address. And affirmative action is not simply a race-based initiative; it affects women, the LGBT community, individuals with disabilities, and people from disadvantaged socioeconomic communities.
But millionaire anti-affirmative action activist Ward Connerly and others have been capitalizing on how simple it is to vilify affirmative action, particularly at universities, by ignoring the nuances of admissions policies. With his sponsorship, ballot initiatives to eliminate affirmative action have passed in both California and Washington State. In Michigan right now, Proposal 2 is a ballot initiative introduced by Connerly and Jennifer Gratz. Gratz was the white plaintiff in Gratz v. Bollinger, the 2003 Supreme Court case that, along with Grutter v. Bollinger, famously challenged the University of Michigan’s affirmative action admissions policies. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court upheld the use of race in admissions policies.
What is ironic about Proposal 2 is its official title; the ballot initiative is known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, though most civil rights advocates wouldn’t be caught dead backing it. Yet it is precisely this name and the misleading campaign to promote it that has allowed the initiative to garner so much support. According to the most recent poll data, Michigan appears to be leaning in favor of passing Proposition 2, with 49 percent likely to vote for the MCRI, and 42 percent likely to vote against it.
What is truly disappointing, however, is the way discussion of the MCRI is framed in the national media. Consider Tuesday’s article in The New York Times: the beginning highlights Jennifer Gratz’s personal feelings of victimization by the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies without noting that race is not the only aspect of affirmative action. The Times devotes seven paragraphs to Gratz’s personal angle on the issue and focuses a majority of the article on the admissions policies at Michigan, while failing to discuss the major policy implications of the MCRI.