When the economy is as bad as it is here in Michigan, and likely to get worse as more job cuts occur in the auto industry, there’s an “every man for himself” mentality that works against affirmative action.
I also have to think that the passage of the bill must be seen, at least partially, as a continuing referendum against Detroit. Because, sadly, in the minds of a lot of people affirmative action = African-Americans = Detroit, where most of the black population of the state is concentrated. And Detroit has been a big problem in the minds of many residents for decades.
The referendum against Detroit started 50 years ago when the white population oozed out into the suburbs and moved their centers of business with them. Those areas feel less and less invested in Detroit as they’ve prospered elsewhere. And that connection with the city will dwindle further as the prosperity of the burbs is threatened by the woes of the automakers.
State residents who live “Up North,” roughly north of I-96, are largely rural, white and rely on farming, tourism and service-sector jobs which are more seasonal the farther north you go. These residents are themselves underrepresented in the state’s big universities. They may feel sorry for the residents of Detroit in a theoretical way, but they feel sorrier for themselves and believe, rightly or wrongly, that Detroit gets a disproportionate amount of their state tax dollars while they are left to fend for themselves.
The so-called “Westsiders,” especialy the Grand Rapids area, are heavily conservative, and affirmative action has always been viewed as contrary to the Protestant work ethic.
While Westsider Dick DeVos couldn’t defeat incumbent Gov. Jennifer Granholm, it is his region of the state that has gained in population and is seen as friendlier to business. That shift in demographics will give the Westside more clout in upcoming years. Whether attitudes will liberalize with the demographic shift, or whether the Westside conservatism will influence the incomng population remains to be seen.
More than anybody probably wants to know about Michigan, I’m sure.
See Kathy and Peter’s threads below on values anf faith shaping politics.
In the current America, now on line, Fr. Anderson interviews james Cone on the dearth of theologians speaking out on the continuing problem of racism (here against blacks and certainly appropriate to Michigan, as Jean points out.)
Cone notes things poo-poed in some threads here like empathy and the common good.
I fear as Oscar Hammerstein and James Michener pointed almost 60 years ago, we’ve been “carefuly taught.”
I think it is unfair to pen this up to racism. We now have two generations of people who have experienced affirmative action, and I know of very few who have not seen or experienced the downside first-hand.
When I was in my third year of law school, I was asked to participate in a special program for incoming students on how to study and prepare for class. The program was for minority students. When I came to do my talk, there were about 20 students, all black, latino, asian, and one Native American. They were all bright kids. After the seminar I visited with some of them and we talked about where they were from etc. Some of the schools they had gone to undergraduate included Brown, Stanford, Yale, and Cornell. This didn’t surprise me because the law school was a tough one to get into, and a lot of my classmates were from similar backgrounds. What did strike me was that it was kind of ridiculous that I, who had not gone to an Ivy League school undergrad should be telling them how best to study just because of the color of their skin.
Affirmative action, invariably, focuses on input, not output, so the biggest downside is sometimes for the “beneficiaries” themselves. I was an instructor at the AF Academy for several years and had many students who benefitted from afirmative action programs. One of them, I must admit, turned out to be one of the finest cadets I taught (in terms of professionalism and character if not academics), but for every one like that there were probably three who barely made it or were forced out. It was not fair to them. They weren’t ready. They could have been successful in a slower moving less demanding atmosphere, and even have acheived just as much, but the system, because it was so demanding just chewed them up. We don’t do people any favors by setting them up to fail.
It is not clear that there is a “right” answer on affirmative action in Catholic Social Thought. In fact, I think good arguments can be made for and against this proposal could be made from CST. That didn’t stop the “wise” bishops of Michigan from issuing through their Michigan Catholic Conference a document caling for a “No” vote on Proposal 2. (Here it is: http://www.micatholicconference.org/pdf/focus/focus_200609-Proposal2.pdf) Whether you are for or against this proposal, I hope we can all agree on several things: 1) this is an issue upon which good Catholics can disagree; 2) the Michigan bishops should not have issued this document just as they should not have campaigned for the passage of the school-choice proposal 4 years earlier; 3) the document is really an embarrassment. It is an embarrassment because it invokes no Catholic Social Thought in favor of its conclusions (except for a one sentence statement from the USCCB). Instead it makes half-baked liberal policy arguments some of which are fairly dubious (such as the discussion of women’s wages relative to men’s).
I imagine that there will be some readers here who disagree with me. But if that is the case, I hope you agree that the Michigan Bishops were right to come out full force for the school choice proposal 4 years earlier — a position which finds much justification in Catholic Social Thought (I favor school choice but I also believe good Catholics can disagree though I think there is a harder case to be made in CST that school choice should not be tried).
That link didn’t seem to work for me, but here are a few more:
I’d be interested to know if anyone (particularly those who typically complain about politicization) thinks that there’s any excuse for Catholic bishops to be so heavy-handed in telling people to vote for affirmative action programs? (The notion that the parable of the Good Samaritan requires the use of affirmative action in college admissions is a theory of scriptural interpretation that I hadn’t heard before.)
I don’t blame racism, pure and simple, for the passage of the ballot issue here in Michigan, and if anyone took that message away, I did a poor job trying to capture the complicated political landscape in the state.
You know, I’ve had over 1,000 students in the past many years, and I truly don’t know how many of them made it to college because of affirmative action.
What I do find is that minority and majority students tend to come to class with different strengths and weaknesses. I’ve had a few who couldn’t cut it, but, proportionally speaking, no more than the white students.
I didn’t take your comment as accusing people of racisim. I was referring to Robert’s South Pacific allusion and some things in the original article. Sorry I wasn’t more clear.
Will and Stuart,
Dang! I wish I’d kept the diocesan voters guide that came inside the monthly mag.
As I recall, there was a very brief opinion piece that outlined the Michigan Catholic Conference’s “no” position on Prop 2.
It seemed, however, to present that stand as “food for thought,” but didn’t lay down any mandate.
Yes, I agree that Catholics may disagree over mandatory affirmative action programs. I think they’ve done some good, but they’re not panaceas. For that you have to raise kids to be more tolerant. I am encouraged that this is happening.
The allusion to South Pacific says that racism is still alive and well in our country, and, if you don’t think so, I think you’re delusional.
Here in the Land of Enchantment where it’s about Hispanics, I hear it in the weight room, or sometimes on the tennis courts or in the center “chat room.”
Elsewhere there’s anti-white prejudice and these things can fester under the surface easily.
As to Michigan, I think the vote certainly had some racist part.
Folks can disagree about affirmative action, but the main thoughts I hear on that side are about their rights; the bishops were encouraging a view that looked to the total community. I would guess they were advised by their Catholic confernce and local peace and justice people, who are surely not completely ignorant; hence, I feel outright dismissal are out of hand both as to racism in general (again I cite the Cone interview) and the Bishop’s approach.
No one said the racism doesn’t exist, just that it is unfair to treat those against affirmative action as racist.
Moreover, isn’t it just possible that affirmative action programs have done as much to perpetuate racism as to resolve it? The underlying premise is that it is OK to treat people differently on the basis of race or ethnicity to acheive racial balance or to right past wrongs. To those on the short end now, it may be a little hard to appreciate the value of it and they may become bitter just as those who were on the short end four decades ago did. Moreover, it sends the implicit signal that those who benefit can’t otherwise succeed. More than a generation after the first preference programs began, these problems become more, not less, pronounced.
Sean says: Moreover, isn’t it just possible that affirmative action programs have done as much to perpetuate racism as to resolve it?
Jean observes: I’ve thought about this question a lot, and my conclusion is that if you resent minorities more because of affirmative action, you (not saying you personally, Sean) need to examine your conscience because it’s the lawmakers, not the minorities who enacted the law.
If you simply feel that headway made by minorities is now sufficient and we should try to do without affirmative action, you have a valid point from which to argue. I suspect you fall into this latter camp, and while we may not agree, I do respect this POV.
One of the reasons I continue to be in favor of affirmative action is that I have received an increasing number of phone calls and e-mails from the largely white, privileged parents of college students students wheedling, griping or threatening things because Little White Darling isn’t getting the schedule he wants or the grades he needs or the breaks he should have.
I don’t need to pass a law against this. If the parent becomes abusive, I have my own arsenal of withering remarks I have honed for just such occasions. And as someone from the working class who put herself through college and graduate school, I admit I sometimes enjoy these skirmishes in class warfare. I’m sure it’s a sin for which I will have to atone in Purgatory.
My point, though, is that there are plenty of people out there ready and willing to bankroll lawsuits and formal complaints if Little White Darling doesn’t get what his parents think he’s entitled to.
So I don’t particularly resent a minority student with enough gumption to try to go to college getting a foot in the door.
Affirmative action, after all, doesn’t call me up on the phone and demand to know why a kid is getting a poor grade, and neither do the parents of these kids. Most of them still have sense enough to badger the kid for not trying hard enough and to stay out of the tavern on weeknights. Which is usually the problem.
I’m still interested to know the answer to my question.
Stuart’s question: I’d be interested to know if anyone (particularly those who typically complain about politicization) thinks that there’s any excuse for Catholic bishops to be so heavy-handed in telling people to vote for affirmative action programs?
My answer: No, no excuse. Some church leaders (and some individual Catholics) are far too quick to tell people how to vote.
I don’t live in a diocese that’s heavy-handed, so I suppose that’s why I seemed to weasle.
Jean Raber says:
“…white, privileged parents of college students students wheedling, griping or threatening things because Little White Darling isn’t getting the schedule he wants or the grades he needs or the breaks he should have.”
I think Jean just kneecapped herself credibility-wise. The contempt and disdain displayed in that little sentence are very revealing.
Bob, I apologize for the ill-advised rhetoric. It was offensive and, worse, obscured my points.
Which are these:
1. Some might argue that affirmative action seeks special favors for minorities by helping them gain admission to college and shutting off opportunities for other when there is limited enrollment.
That’s a point on which honest people can disagree.
2. I object parents who pressure and threaten for higher grades and special favors for their kids, which many don’t seem to have any compunction about doing.
And it especially rankles me personally that the parents who have done this in MY experience are those who are white, upper-middle-class professionals.