Write 150 words about the video. What is the video about? What did you think was interesting about the video? What is Affirmative Action and Reaction mean? What did you learn from the video? No title page. Need to cite and reference.
Affirmative Action and Reaction. Films Media Group, 1995, fod.infobase.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=18566&xtid=5948. Accessed 1 Apr. 2017.
Joining us today is Professor Lani Guinier. Prior toher teaching law at the University ofPennsylvania, she was assistant counsel at theNAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In1993, she was nominated as Assistant AttorneyGeneral for Civil Rights by President Clinton. Amedia firestorm erupted over her views onelection laws and affirmative action, andPresident Clinton withdrew her nomination.
She then published The Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy, which became a best-seller inWashington, DC. And most importantly, I think,Lani Guinier has been a frequent panelist on Think Tank.
At a recent discussion to celebrate Think Tank‘sfirst anniversary, comments by Professor Roger Wilkins and Judge Robert Bork on affirmativeaction provided a rich sense of the issues involvedin the debate.
I am here to tell you out of my own experiencethat white people did not start doubting theabilities of black people when we started havingaffirmative action. White people have alwaysdoubted the abilities of black people. No, thisaffirmative action didn’t come down out of thesky to punish white men. We Americansdeveloped affirmative action because we hadsignificant problems of exclusion, of denial, and of unfairness, and of limited opportunity for a wholerange of people.
Today in the United States, affirmative actionapplies to 2/3 of the American population. Now, I think black Americans are the only ones of all thegroups we have fit in here that have a claim toaffirmative action. I don’t think women do. I don’tthink other ethnic groups do. But it’s going to bevery hard to hold a– I think the other groupscould end affirmative action right now. I thinkwith respect to blacks, it has to be phased out insome way that does not cause great pain andsuffering.
Clearly a big battle lies ahead. Should affirmativeaction be reformed? And perhaps moreimportant, how can Americans navigate throughthis issue of civil rights in a civil manner? Lani Guinier, what do you make of this current tensesituation about affirmative action the UnitedStates?
Well, I think what’s happening with the issue ofaffirmative action in many ways symbolizeswhat’s wrong with public discourse in general,and the way in which we don’t talk directly aboutissues of race, or even gender. But indirectly,those issues affect the discourse. And because weare not confronting our prejudices– and I don’tmean that in terms of bias, but justpreconceptions and misconceptions– we have aconversation in which we’re talking past eachother. We use words and they mean very differentthings.
Why don’t you give me some examples, concreteexamples within the dialogue on affirmativeaction?
Well, I think, for example, for many African-Americans, affirmative action means an effort toopen opportunities to people who have beenexcluded previously. And I think for many whites,affirmative action means the hiring or admissionof unqualified people based on race or gender.
Well, those are really very different assumptions.For African-Americans, they are not assuming thataffirmative action relates to unqualifiedcandidates. They are suggesting that people whohas been denied the opportunity to compete haveto be given that opportunity. And perhapsuniversities or employers have to be required togo beyond ordinary employment routes in orderto make those opportunities available.
Whereas for whites, I think the assumption is thatthe ordinary channels are OK, that the ordinarychannels are based on merit, and that theordinary channels are producing or makingavailable to people on an equal or colorblindbasis the opportunities to compete.
Well, part of the problem with the debate is thatboth are right, and there are legitimate concernson both sides of the debate. And so because inthis country– and this is my initial point– we tendto think of conversation in the frame of either asports or battle metaphor, that somebody has tobe right and somebody has to be wrong,somebody wins, somebody loses. We don’t thinkthat–
We have food fights on television and we all throwthings at each other, right?
Well, that’s, yes, when we get really juvenile.
Right. Not on Think Tank, but on other programs.
Absolutely. Absolutely not on Think Tank.
I think we need to shift the paradigm. I think wehave to see if there are ways in which we canidentify the legitimate concerns on both sides ofthe issue and then come up with alternatives thatdon’t say one person or one group or one positionis right. It could be vaguely right, but that doesn’tmean that we have to ignore the ways in whichanother position is also vaguely right.
I don’t think that it’s helpful to just take a vote, asthey are proposing to do in California, and say,well, this is wrong, and we’re never going to allowthis approach under any circumstances. Becausethat, by itself, polarizes people to the point wherethey can’t hear each other.
That California ballot referendum doesn’t domuch more, as I recall reading it, than rephrasethe 14th Amendment and the 1964 Civil RightsAct. And those are fairly absolute laws. What iswrong with restating the 14th Amendment andsaying, but this time we really mean it, for blacksand whites both?
Well, I guess part of my problem with theapproach by referendum is that it is a directreferendum, in which you are giving the majoritythe absolute right to prevail, without taking intoaccount the views of the minority. And thedifference in terms of a constitutionalamendment is that both the Congress has toapprove it, and then it has to be approved by thestates. It’s a much more deliberative process. It isnot simply an up or down vote that is taken onone day in one year that is going to governdecisions for the rest of this century.
But we already have a constitutional amendment.The 14th Amendment says equal protection underlaw, and it doesn’t say just for blacks or just forwomen. It says for everybody.
Well, that’s true. I think what is prompting theanimus or what is motivating the desire to have areferendum is that there is a backlash, or a sensethat the way in which the courts have beenenforcing the 14th Amendment is tipping thescales unfairly toward one group compared toanother. And if– and I think this is the president’spoint– if, in fact, that is happening because ofbureaucratic calcification or because of ways inwhich something that was done in 1965 doesn’tmake sense in 1995, then certainly it’s appropriateto reconsider.
But an across-the-board referendum, if it’s beingdone as it is in California, my view is really a battlecry. It’s a way of saying that people who areunhappy with one or two situations orcircumstances are now going to prevail across theboard. I think we need to have a much morecontext-driven conversation, where we don’t havea universal solution or a simple solution forcomplex problems.
Let me ask you a question. You talked earlierabout the animus that seems to be growing. Iguess you were talking about it among whites.And we have had this phenomenon of the so-called “angry white male” that allegedly drove theelections into the Republicans’ hands in 1994.
I interviewed Reverend Jackson recently, and hesaid he thinks the 1990s are going to be like the1890s, the post-Reconstruction era when blacks,as he describes it, were re-oppressed. And hethinks this is a dreadful moment where people arescapegoating, and whites feel that this is a veryimportant issue and they are getting angry.
Do you find the temperature going up in thiscountry on the issue generally of race?
Yes. I think that the temperature is going upwithout the store of information going up to meetit, so that you have people who are feeling veryangry without a lot of information to help channeltheir anger. I think what is happening is that a lotof Americans feel insecure, feel afraid, feel thatthey can’t depend on their government or theiremployer to provide them some of the things thatthey, in the past, depended on. They can’t be surethat they can pass on to their children the samequality of life that they now enjoy.
But I don’t believe that the correlation has beenmade, except in terms of political rhetoric,between the source of their anger ordisappointment and affirmative action.
Lani, you had talked a little bit about thetenseness in the in the dialogue, and we just weretouching on politics. And I was talking about myinterview with Jesse Jackson. And he indicatedthat he was of a frame of mind now that, unlesshe saw real evidence that the Clintonadministration was not going to back off, itsounded to me, at all on affirmative action, hewould consider strongly running a third-partyeffort against both parties. But it would hurt,obviously, the Democrats more than theRepublicans.
How would you come out in that?
I think that we need a real debate in this country,and that part of the problem with our presenttwo-party system is that we are denying theAmerican people a genuine conversation on someof these issues. It’s not that the politicians are ill-intentioned, but they are so consumed with apolitics of re-electability that we have lost thenotion of a politics of accountability.
I support the idea that everyone should have anopportunity to participate in the nationaldialogue. And sometimes the only way to get thatopportunity is to run for office. I wish that werenot the case, but if Jesse Jackson feels that theonly way he can get his viewpoint on the agendais to run for office, then I think that’s a positive.Because I don’t measure what’s good and badsimply based on who’s going to get elected andwho’s going to be defeated. I really see politics asan opportunity to have a genuine, democraticconversation.
We have heard– around Washington, at least,inside the Beltway– that this situation seems tobe tense enough that if, in fact, there is aconcerted effort to roll back affirmative action,that