In his concurring opinion of June 28, 2007 about the use of race in student placement in elementary and secondary public schools, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gave the American people some very valuable advice: “If our history has taught us anything, it has taught us to beware of elites bearing racial theories.”
Throughout our history, Americans have been confronted with a host of theories about race, from the early notion that blacks were inferior to the current view that racial integration is crucial to equal opportunity for blacks in education. It might be useful to take a look at a few of these theories.
The first commandment in the bible of racial theories is the view that “diversity equals excellence.” Until recently, this theory has been described in the elementary and secondary education settings as “racial integration.” For more than 50 years, public school districts throughout the nation have been engaged in efforts to racially integrate their schools. They have been subjected to mandatory court desegregation orders and they have implemented “voluntary desegregation plans.” The overall impetus for these activities has been the premise that a racially integrated America is socially desirable and that the process of racial integration should begin in the earliest years of education.
It has been conventional wisdom since Brown v. Board of Education – handed down in 1954 – that a correlation exists between racially integrated schools and the educational quality that is provided to students attending such schools. More specifically, there seems to be an unspoken view that black schools are, by definition, inferior institutions, and that black students can only learn if they are sitting next to whites in school.
At the higher education level, the United States Supreme Court ruled on June 23, 2003 that racial and ethnic “diversity” was so compelling that the use of race by universities was constitutional, despite the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and notwithstanding the command of the 1964 Civil Rights Act against discrimination on the basis of race. Underlying the Court’s decision in the Gratz and Grutter cases of 2003 was the view that “diversity” – the twin policy sister of “racial integration” – improved the quality of education for all concerned.
In the face of inadequate evidence to support the contention that “diversity equals excellence,” Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has often commented on the lack of “diversity” at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, for example, despite the fact that many such institutions continue to produce some of our nation’s most celebrated leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr.
A view that garnered little widespread public attention until the Supreme Court heard the Gratz and Grutter cases in 2003 is the “critical mass” theory, although the theory was put forth in California following the passage of Proposition 209. “Critical mass” means that it is important for a sufficient number of “minorities” to be enrolled on campus so that they not feel “isolated.” When the number of blacks dropped at UC Berkeley following the passage of 209, the opponents of 209 argued that the drop in black enrollment created a “hostile environment” for those enrolled. “Critical mass” theory also means that the remainder of the student body needs to see enough black faces so that they can benefit from “diversity.” I often marvel at this theory and wonder if its proponents ever heard of James Meredith – the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi. Being the only black did not keep Meredith from attending “Ole Miss.”
While there are a host of other race theories worthy of mention, the one that has had more influence than any other, it seems to me, is the “role model” theory. This theory is the centerpiece of “affirmative action” mythology. Blacks and other “minorities” need teachers, principals, police officers and others who “look like them” and to serve as “role models” in order for them to succeed. This theory runs counter to the history of blacks, a history in which access has been achieved in virtually every aspect of American life by some black who had no role model. In fact, an inherent part of the American experiment is the reality that people of all backgrounds break new ground without having had anyone of their “race” or sex or ethnicity or cultural background do something that had not been done before by someone who “looked like” them.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to Justice Thomas for bolding reminding us to ignore the foolish theories of race foisted upon us by the elites. In the world of automobiles, we call such theories “lemons.”