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California Keeps Its Ban on Racial Preferences

“California voters will not be asked this year to decide whether to roll back California's ban on racial preferences in college admissions, Assembly Speaker John A. Perez,” announced this week, according to the Sacramento Bee.  The story notes, “The move came a week after three Asian-American state senators -- who had previously supported putting the question to voters -- asked Perez to put a stop the measure ….”

That’s great news, and here’s hoping the withdrawal is permanent.  The fact that what doomed the measure was opposition from Asian Americans is important, too, with a caveat.  An important problem with racial and ethnic preferences is that they are more and more unwieldy in a country that is more and more multiracial and multiethnic. And it’s good that Asian Americans were aggressive here in opposing the measure.

But such preferences would be objectionable no matter who the victims of the discrimination would be:  whether “only” whites are discriminated against, or whether in some contexts (e.g., contracting) some Asian Americans (e.g., the Japanese but not the Turks — see next item below in this email) might be given a preference, or whatever.   And then there’s the fact that, given the “mismatch” problem, even those groups given a preference (typically blacks and Latinos) are hurt.

No, it’s just “a sordid business, this divvying us up by race,” as Chief Justice Roberts wrote some years ago.  And it shouldn’t really matter whose ox is being gored.

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Indianapolis Recorder columnist Amos Brown is incensed at an outrageous perversion of law and justice right there in his fair city. The whole column is here, but this will give you the gist:

A front page story . . . reports the machinations and political logrolling by Ersal Ozdemir, a politically connected businessman, who’s used his connections to garner millions in tax benefits and subsidies for a variety of projects throughout Indianapolis. . . .

But what makes the deals of Ozdemir and his main business Keystone Construction of great interest to our African-American community is that his business has been certified as a minority-owned business by both the City of Indianapolis and the State of Indiana.

Just one problem – Ozdemir isn’t a minority, based upon the commonly accepted definitions of minority-owned businesses (MBE).

Ozdemir is a native of Mersin, Turkey, a town on the Mediterrean [sic] Sea. . . .Under existing laws, individuals from Turkey aren’t considered one of the minority groups — Black/African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and American Indian, defined by the feds, state and city. . . .

Ozdemir appealed saying that because Turkey is located both in Europe and Asia; he should be considered “Asian” and thus a minority. According to geography, Ozdemir’s homeowtown [sic] is in the part of Turkey that’s in Asia. But, according to geography, so are nations close by, including Cyprus, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.

But, the federal government strongly disagrees. The feds say persons from Odzemir’s native land are considered as whites: “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.” . . .

Several sources who have years of experience working with minority-owned business issues, told me they were puzzled as to why the city classified Ozdemir and Keystone as an “Asian” minority-owned business. They can’t remember any instance where a businessperson from Turkey or neighboring nations in what’s described as the Asia Minor Region have been classified as an MBE.

The National Minority Development Supplier Council, which works with minority-owned businesses, doesn’t recognize businesses owned by individuals of Turkish origin. . . .

Worse, classifying Keystone Construction as an Asian-owned business is a slap in the face to the many legitimate businesses owned by true Asian residents of Indianapolis. . . .

Ozdemir is a smart, cunning businessman. He didn’t need to bend and break the MBE rules in order to succeed. The fact that he did and that the administrations of former [Indiana] Gov. Mitch Daniels and [Indianapolis] Mayor Ballard perverted the rules to let him do so, demonstrates that we may have reached a point, unfortunately, where the MBE programs in Indiana and Indianapolis may have become corrupt and worthless!

Well, at least Mr. Brown reaches the correct bottom line: These programs are indeed corrupt and worthless.  What difference does it make what kind of an Asian someone is, or whether he is an Asian at all, when the city awards contracts?

It’s not easy figuring out who comes out looking the worst and silliest here:  the Turk (for turning himself into an ethnic pretzel), the city and state officials (for running a program that encourages such gyrations), the federal government (ditto), or Amos Brown (for his indignant insistence that only the “right” ethnic groups are entitled to this particular piece of the public pie).  By the way, I wonder if Mr. Ozdemir claims to be Asian when his children apply to college?  Not if he’s really “cunning,” he won’t!

Finally, one reader asked me why Mr. Ozdemir can’t argue that Turks add just as much “diversity” to the city’s contracting as other Asians.  The answer is that the legal rationale, such as it is, for contracting racial preferences is “remedial,” as opposed to the “diversity” rationale used in racially preferential university admissions.  So the question isn’t whether Mr. Ozdemir will add diversity; the question is whether his Turkish brethren have suffered oppression in Indiana, to the same extent that “true Asian residents of Indianapolis” have.  As I indicated, each layer of this onion is sillier than the last.

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The latest edition of Education Week published my response to a recent plea it had run titled “Why We Need More Black Men in Teaching.”  Here’s what I said:

It should be borne in mind that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to weigh race in employment decisions, and this includes hiring teachers. What's more, for public employment, the U.S. Constitution likewise makes it presumptively illegal to make decisions on the basis of race.

The federal courts have never recognized a "diversity" exception for Title VII. In addition, in 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly rejected the "role model" justification in the employment context for teachers, in Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education.

A decade before that, in Hazelwood School District v. United States, the court had similarly noted that a school district could not point to the racial makeup of its student body as a justification for the racial makeup of its faculty. This is not only the law. It also makes perfect sense.

As Justice Lewis Powell wrote in Wygant, "Carried to its logical extreme, the idea that black students are better off with black teachers could lead to the very system the court rejected in Brown v. Board of Education."

There is no reason why students cannot have as role models people who do not share their skin color.

Schools should, in any event, hire the best-qualified individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity. Anything less is a disservice to the students and the community, besides being unfair to the applicants.

Later in the week, the Center for Equal Opportunity incorporated this response into a memorandum we sent to a town that had announced new “affirmative action” efforts in, among other things, its hiring of public schoolteachers.  We warned them that
[T]here are lawful and unlawful ways to pursue “affirmative action.”

Certainly it is a good thing to take aggressive steps to ensure that no one is being discriminated against and that the best possible candidates for positions are encouraged to apply, without regard to race, ethnicity, or sex.  But, by the same token, the law forbids anyone getting a preference in hiring on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex.  The best qualified individuals should be recruited and hired.

For example, public schoolteachers were discussed in the [city’s announcement].  In this regard, the [response] that appears in the current issue of Education Week should be of interest to you, and is appended to the end of this email.