Ending Racial Preferences: The Michigan Story

Book Review:
Ending Racial Preferences: The Michigan Story by Carol M. Allen (Lexington Books, 2008, 422 pp.)

I like this book, but fairness to the prospective reader requires disclosure of three facts: (a) it is an odd book, (b) I am an odd reader, and (c) it costs ninety dollars, for Pete’s sake.

The last point speaks for itself, and the book is a mere 422 pages long, with no elaborate photos or foldouts or anything like that and not even a book jacket, so go figure. The reason I describe myself as an odd reader is that my lot in life is to write, speak, and debate against racial preferences, so all of the book’s variegated parts are of interest and value to me.

The variegation is the reason I say the book is odd. The author is Carol M. Allen, who is secretary of Toward A Fair Michigan (TAFM), which was created when the movement in Michigan led by Ward Connerly and Jennifer Gratz to ban racial, ethnic, and gender preferences by state programs there was launched in 2003. Probably the most valuable part of the book is its impressively documented and on-the-ground account of how the resulting ballot initiative came to be passed by voters in 2006, despite opposition from every part of the state establishment–business, labor unions, educators and academics, both political parties, the media, and even the clergy. The TAFM folks did their best to lend some civility and thoughtfulness to a campaign in which the initiative’s opponents frequently lived up to the name of their most notorious organization, By Any Means Necessary–whose national chairman threatened Jennifer Gratz with a switchblade, just to give you some idea of the level of discourse it preferred. (BAMN carries on, by the way, in its opposition to similar ballot initiatives this year in Colorado, Arizona, and Nebraska, harassing those collecting signatures and attempting to buy the signatures once collected, presumably so that they can be destroyed.)

But before the two chapters recounting the Michigan campaign, there is another chapter, also interesting but without the firsthand flavor, chronicling earlier and similar efforts in California, Washington, Houston, and Florida. TAFM’s contribution to the Michigan campaign was its sponsorship of a series of debates about the initiative, so there is also a chapter that includes written versions of the four presentations at one such event, and then a much longer chapter that prints the verbatim, written answers to dozens of questions submitted by citizens in the course of all of them. (The debates were no doubt civil, but the arguments by the initiative’s opponents were no more honest for that.) Then there is an even longer chapter that lays out–state-by-state and with lots of empirical data (mostly the numbers of students of various skin colors admitted to various state universities)–the aftermath of the successful campaigns in Michigan, California, and Washington, as well as for Florida, where the campaign was short-circuited by a series of executive orders signed by Governor Jeb Bush that accomplished much of what a ballot initiative would have.
There’s also a concluding chapter on “Moving from Diversity to Inclusion: The Way Forward,” by William B. Allen, Ms. Allen’s husband and the chairman of TAFM (as well as a professor of political science at Michigan State); and a brief foreword by Barbara Grutter, president of TAFM and the unsuccessful plaintiff in the 2003 Supreme Court decision Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the University of Michigan law school’s use of racially preferential admissions and sparked the Connerly-Gratz campaign (in Ms. Gratz’s case, Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court on the same day struck down the university’s undergraduate admission preferences). And there are three appendices, including an amicus brief filed by TAFM, opposing (successfully) a lawsuit that challenged the signature-gathering for the initiative as violative of the Voting Rights Act.

Allen is clearly sympathetic with the movement to get rid of racial preferences, and none of the book is badly done. There’s more about what TAFM did and why in the book than most readers will care about, I suspect, as well as more generally a high chaff-to-wheat ratio–especially for non-specialists, but perhaps I’m wrong about that. At ninety bucks, though, I’d check the book out of the library and skim it over before buying it, or else get a generous New York think tank to send you a copy in exchange for a review.


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