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August 05, 2004


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Very interesting points you raise. I felt called out when you mentioned "the gratuitous comparison between somebody in the black middle class and some white hillbilly, er uhm excuse me 'Appalachian'." I trot that one out all of the time in affirmative action debates I have with other black people. And while it may be gratuitous, I think it is still useful in the sense that it lets me know if AA supporters are for "diversity" or "opportunity" (or a little bit of both). I'd rather be black and middle class than white and poor (of course, I have no desire to change color anyway, but you get my point).

I too do not believe that racism is dead, but I feel that classism is alive and well and is more of a factor. I think even the racism is different from earlier times in the sense that being black or hispanic is now a proxy for class. I think there is an all time low number of whites who actually think that blacks are inherently inferior, but I think when we see racism, what we are really seeing most times is a Pavlovian reaction -- that is, when a white person sees "black" what they really think they are seeing is "poor" or "uneducated."

I'd be interested to read your thoughts if you have the time.


Nobody can get elected by promising anything about race, and nobody who says the absolute right thing can make significant gains from it.

Why do you write about it, then?


Well I'm not trying to get elected, that's for sure. But what I had specifically in mind was the fact that as 'the first black president', Bill Clinton said exactly everything right on Affirmative Action but what good did it do him? He sponsored the Race Intitiative Task Force or some such with our favorite black historians. People can hardly remember that it happened.

My boohabian task, which bleeds over into Cobb, was to develop an anti-racist praxis in all Americans. A standard playbook that made understanding racism clear such that people could avoid getting bogged down in their politics. My perception then, as now, is that the overwhelming majority of Americans don't want to be racist, but don't know how to combat their own, or other's racism. Even knowing what racism is was difficult. Given that, I believed, then as now, that majoritarian sentiment in support of basic anti-racism would be enough to improve the quality of our politics.

The sterling thing that I think I helped accomplish was to get whitefolks to unpack their own identity and deal more objectively. My essential provocation was that you can't be both 'white' and 'colorblind' at the same time. This was a big deal in 96, it's not nearly as much now. I did so by speaking mostly to whitefolks in white dominated spaces online.

With Cobb, I'm trying to get blackfolks to unpack their racial baggage from identity by emphasising class affiliations in the aftermath of the success of integration. By doing so I hope to re-establish some integrity of the Talented Tenth by getting them and other blacks to recognize what is realistic with regards to their political demands and cultural values in the context of mainstream politics and economics.

Here at VisionCircle I am trying to establish a bottoms up approach to black policy making by getting competent thought leaders to weigh in on serious issues, and generally disable black populism, which I find to be a gross diversion of African American political power.

As part an parcel of that, from the provocative position of a Republican, I am taking apart the racial subjects and reducing them to a principled minimum package with the goal in mind of coming up with something that a permanent majority of Americans will support politically. I am also trying to put in perspective how little I think is gained by the focus on what racial subjects won't fit into that package.

So I am not promising anything about race other than quantifying on my own how much its significance has declined. I'm also trying to be very realistic about what remains in the strengths of various elements of African America such that the removal of a lot of foolishness around race doesn't leave us with a black politics that is completely meaningless.

So I'm looking towards people I perceive who have a strong black cultural and traditional figure who have succeeded and yet neither been bogged down by racial issues, nor naive or foolishly dismissive of them.

This is not just theory. My children are not black in the way I was growing up. My parents had 1/8 the choice of neighborhoods to raise us in as I do. Black politics and identity are dynamic. I'm trying to get my arms around the future.

Ward Bell

"... if Affirmative Action programs were as acceptable today as they were 20 years ago ..."

I've said it so many times that it might not bare repeating but I'll try one more once .....

"Affirmative action" is a legal remedy resulting from the findings of discrimination. The legal principle is simple: to correct the discrimination, we insist that you do "x," "y," and "z." We will monitor and count noses.

In a technical sense, the "acceptability" of affirmative action 20 years ago or today has not change: what has changed is that it is more difficult to prove discrimination and a priori application of the principles have been found illegal by the courts.

The real problem (in my view) comes because so many are lazy and it is easy to confound "affirmative action" with other things. It does not help that the opponents are loud and vocal and mis-use the term; it hurts me more that those who are favorable to the concept also mis-use the concept.

I may be all wet but I think it very important that the terms be applied properly. To me, it is like those cases in patent and copyright law: misuse your copyright and you lose it.

I don't know if equalibrium is the right term: maybe "steadystate" is more appropriate?


How do you distinguish between voluntary diversity programs and mandated Affirmative Actions?

Ward Bell

One is a legal remedy and is built around the legal concept of redress: taking specific, proscribed action ("affirmative") intended to rectify a situation found wanting. The other is just that: voluntary. At the descretion of those in power.

Speaking of which: most of those in power recognize the changing demographics of our country and recognize that diversity is good business.

The devil is in the details, of course. On one side you have those carping that they are getting screwed; on the other, the steadystate or equilibrium process has impacting their "catching the bus."

My larger point is that, for example, the recent University of Michigan ruling was not an "affirmative action" judgement: it was about the methodology the University chose to achieve its diversity goals. Similar but not the same!


I guess what I meant to say was that outside of civil service and court orders I have largely viewed post-bakke affirmative action as a positive response to social and political pressure, not as legally mandated. In my worldview, maybe 15% of Affirmative Actions are mandated.


I have largely viewed post-bakke affirmative action as a positive response to social and political pressure, not as legally mandated.

Social and political pressure set the stage for legal mandates. As such I pretty much see them as stages in the same process.

Ward Bell

I may be nitpicking, but is what you call something important? When the opponents call "affirmative action" a "quota system," is it important that they are challenged? If so, then I think we proponents of the outcomes should be very careful about how we use the term as well.

(I do agree, that social and political pressure often lead to legal mandates and that they are part of the same process.)

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