“Equity”?

Who is that masked man, sitting alone at his desk signing “a flurry of executive orders”? There is dispute over whether he comes as a peacemaker promoting unity or as a progressive tool extirpating conservatism, but there is near-universal agreement that the thirty executive orders President Biden signed in his first days in office were aimed at reversing as many of President Trump’s policies as possible:

“Biden signs executive orders to reverse Trump’s policies” (Washington Post); “Biden sets to work on reversing Trump’s policies” (BBC); “Biden signs executive orders, reverses Trump policies” (ABC News); “Biden gets to work reversing many of Trump’s policies” (Associated Press). “The single most radical thing that Biden has done,” according to  Chris Cillizza of CNN, “is act totally and completely normally. He’s signed a series of executive orders rolling back measures put in place by President Donald Trump.”

These orders attempted to extinguish Trump’s policies with such a broad brush—or rather, with so many separate, topical brushes—that most observers made the same error as CNN’s Cillizza—describing Biden’s goal as simply returning to the status quo ante Trump. That is decidedly not true, however, of what will prove to be the most explosively divisive of them all: the Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government. That order does reverse Trump’s ban on the use Critical Race Theory in training government workers, but more fundamentally it reverses the civil rights policy not just of Trump but of every American president back to John F. Kennedy.

On January 7, nearly two weeks before his inauguration, President-Elect Biden signaled his dramatic lurch to the left in civil rights policy by nominating Kristen Clarke, head of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, to be Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division. Even more revealing than Biden’s nomination of Clarke, an outspoken advocate of Black Lives Matter (“Reforming law enforcement is only the beginning of a much larger project. … We must pursue transformational change”), is his silence after the revelation, initially by Tucker Carlson, of racist and anti-Semitic arguments she made as president of the Black Student Association while a Harvard undergraduate.

One measure of how far left the Democrats have moved is that President Clinton withdrew the nomination of Lani Guinier to be head of the Civil Rights Division when several of her highly regarded law review articles—which favored a form of cumulative voting instead of gerrymandering black-majority districts—were criticized as favoring proportional representation. Guinier’s paper trail was academically respectable but controversial; Clarke’s, by contrast, is filled with pseudo-scientific, racialist claptrap.

In an October 28, 1994, letter she co-authored to the Harvard Crimson, Clarke offered the following five points as a rebuttal of Richard Herrnstein’s and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve:

  • Richard King reveals that at the core of the human brain is the “locus coeruleus” which is a structure that is Black because it contains large amounts of (neuro) melanin which is essential for its operation.
  • Black infants sit, stand, crawl and walk sooner than whites.
  • Carol Barnes notes that human mental processes are controlled by melanin–that same chemical which gives Blacks their superior physical and mental abilities.
  • Some scientists have revealed that most whites are unable to produce melanin because their pineal glands are often calcification or non-functioning. Pineal calcification rates with Africans are five to 15 percent, Asians 15 to 25 percent and Europeans 60 to 80 percent. This is the chemical basis for the cultural differences between Blacks and whites.
  • Melanin endows Blacks with greater mental, physical and spiritual abilities–something which cannot be measured based on Eurocentric standards.

In an editorial published a week later, the Crimson staff urged Clarke to retract her “outrageous statements,” noting that “we searched in vain for a hint of irony” in her letter. In a subsequent statement, Clarke commented that “The information [contained in the letter] is not necessarily something we believe, but some information that we think those persuing [sic] a true understanding of The Bell Curve theory should either address, ignore or refute.” The editors were having none of it, concluding that “her follow-up statement doesn’t suggest any tempering of the beliefs espoused in the letter.” A third editorial five days later charged that “Clarke’s tactics are disturbing” because she “refuses to explicitly deny” the melanin theories.

Three weeks later, on November 30, 1994, in a further affront to a subset of her melanin-deprived peers, Clarke’s Black Student Alliance sponsored a speech by notorious anti-Semite Tony Martin, Wellesley professor of Africana studies and author of The Jewish Onslaught.

In a review in the Journal of American History, Professor Clayborne Carson, editor of the Martin Luther King papers at Stanford, described Martin’s book as “a scurrilous polemic” whose “single-minded goal is to accumulate evidence that Jews are invariably antiblack and thereby to discourage contemporary alliances between African Americans and Jews.” Similarly, Harvard professor Martin Kilson sent an open letter to his students criticizing the invitation and describing Martin as “a xenophobic Afrocentrist.” Clarke dismissed this criticism and others, insisting to the Crimson that “Professor Martin is an intelligent, well-versed Black intellectual who bases his information on indisputable fact.”

In “My Kristen Clarke Problem,” Harvard undergraduate Martin Lebwohl noted in a Crimson column that, immediately after her introduction, “Martin lavished praise on Kristen M. Clarke ’97, the BSA president, who, he said, had courageously invited him ‘in the face of enormous pressure from the forces of reaction.’ It is young people like Kristen, Martin said, who are the hope and future of the African-American community.”

That thought, Lebwohl concluded with concern,

was one of the few true things Martin had to say. Young Black leaders like Kristen Clarke … will no doubt have an enormous impact on the future leadership of the African-American community. The Kristen Clarkes of America’s campuses will soon be on the front lines, fighting against racism and other societal and historical impediments to better lives for African-Americans. This is why we should all be thinking about Kristen Clarke.

True, even prescient, but what should we think now that she is in fact “on the front lines”? Clarke, of course, is frantically backpedaling, telling the Jewish Forward in an interview that it “was a mistake” to invite Martin, but conservative news outlets put out “a lot of false and twisted information.” Her only example, however, was a claim that no one who observed or interviewed her at Harvard at the time believed: that her intention was to expose “the ugly racist underpinnings of The Bell Curve” by expressing “an equally absurd point of view—fighting one absurd racist theory with another absurd racist theory.”

Certainly, the anti-Semitism she sponsored and the black superiority melanin “theory” she put forward were absurd, but more interesting than whether she believed what she said and wrote is how Biden’s transition team could have come up with her in the first place, given this easily available paper trail?

Incompetence is always plausible, but a close look at the civil rights agenda laid out in Biden’s January 20 Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government strongly suggests that the president agreed to put the Black Lives Matter wing of the Democratic Party in charge of his race policies and personnel. Although Frederick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, granted that the order, “if carried out responsibly, could raise important issues,” he told Inside Higher Ed that it “reads like it could have come from an advertisement for a seminar in critical race theory at Oberlin.”

Consider, first, that order’s revocation of President Trump’s Executive Order 13950 prohibiting the use of critical race theory in training materials used by the government and contractors.

Here are a few specific examples of what it targeted from Trump’s order:

  • Training materials from Argonne National Laboratories … stated that racism “is interwoven into every fabric of America” and described statements like “color blindness” and the “meritocracy” as “actions of bias.”
  • A Treasury Department seminar that promoted arguments that “virtually all White people, regardless of how ‘woke’ they are, contribute to racism,” and that instructed smallgroup leaders to encourage employees to avoid “narratives” that Americans should “be more color-blind” or “let people’s skills and personalities be what differentiates them.”
  • A Smithsonian Institution museum graphic recently claimed that concepts like “[o]bjective, rational linear thinking,” “[h]ard work” being “the key to success,” the “nuclear family,” and belief in a single god are not values that unite Americans of all races but are instead “aspects and assumptions of whiteness.” The museum also stated that “[f]acing your whiteness is hard and can result in feelings of guilt, sadness, confusion, defensiveness, or fear.”

This is the sort of “diversity training” that Biden’s executive order will encourage and even require government agencies to provide.

The revocation of Trump’s executive order was contained in Section 10, the last, brief item in Biden’s order. The preceding nine sections were devoted to a radical redefinition and redirection of federal civil rights policy.

“By advancing equity across the Federal Government,” the Order begins, “we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved.” Thus, it continues, “each agency must assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups.”

The Order signals the abandonment not only of colorblind neutrality but also of the traditional commitment to equal protection. There is no mention in the 2000-word document of “equality” or “equal protection.”

They—not simply the terms but the principle—have been dropped in favor of the new buzz word, “equity,” which appears 20 times. Also largely missing is “underrepresented”—which appears only twice, probably as an editorial oversight, because it suggests the need for quotas—in favor of “underserved,” which appears 14 times.

The Order does provide definitions, but they are unhelpful, even contradictory and circular.

The term “equity” means the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.

“Impartial,” of course, means without regard to the very characteristics the Order demands that government agencies favor.

The term “underserved communities” refers to populations sharing a particular characteristic … that have been systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life, as exemplified by the list in the preceding definition of “equity.”

What “particular characteristic” must the “underserved” share? See equity above.

Whoever they are, “Each agency must assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups.” In what sense, one wonders, are “underserved groups” underserved by, say, the State or Defense Departments or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?

Since “underrepresented” came to be associated with a demand for proportional representation, the new, preferred term is “underserved,” but it implicitly makes the same demand. Just as “diversity” was the polite term for racial preference, so “equity” is now the wolf of quotas in sheep’s clothing. How do you know when a result is “equitable”? Easy: when your preferred group or groups are no longer “underrepresented.”

The Order requires across-the-board “equity assessments.” Since there are no clear indications of how to determine whether “equity” has been achieved, the result will no doubt be encouraging or requiring proportional representation. The order does state that the policies it requires to root out “systemic barriers” must be “consistent with applicable law,” but it is hard to see how “advancing equity” will avoid coming in direct conflict with the longstanding prohibition of quotas. As Justice Powell wrote in Bakke and as many later opinions have cited, “If petitioner’s purpose is to assure within its student body some specified percentage of a particular group merely because of its race or ethnic origin, such a preferential purpose must be rejected not as insubstantial, but as facially invalid. Preferring members of any one group for no reason other than race or ethnic origin is discrimination for its own sake. This the Constitution forbids.”

The Order does not directly apply to higher education, but Chronicle of Higher Education reporter Fernanda Zamudio-Suarez provides a revealing example of what it may portend in her article, “Deep Dive into Diversity Data.” What she learned was “just how dire higher education’s racial representation problems are.” Note well the easy, increasingly unexamined assumption that what must be achieved is racial representation.

How far we have come from 1975, when a young Senator Joe Biden told a Delaware newspaper that “I am philosophically opposed to quota-systems. . . . It is one thing to say that you cannot keep a black man from using this bathroom, and something quite different to say that one out of every five people who use this bathroom must be black.”

The race-based policies “equity” will unleash are as far from traditional affirmative action as affirmative action was from non-discriminatory equal treatment. Although Biden’s Order was not honest enough to say so, it clearly revokes the Executive Orders of Presidents Kennedy (10925) and Johnson (11246), both of which required government agencies and contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

Kristen Clarke was no accident. She is the embodiment of “equity.”


Image: The White House, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

John S. Rosenberg

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

3 thoughts on ““Equity”?

  1. I suspect that Biden will in time come to regret hs pandering to the crazed fringe of the Democratic Party, as represented by people like Clarke. She is bound to say and do things that will disgust Americans who don’t share her discriminatory notions of “equity.”

  2. The purgatorial cesspool of higher education is now overflowing across the land.

    This is not necessarily bad in that while courts may defer to the “academic judgement” of institutions of higher education, the governmental bureaucracy is not entitled to any such deference — and the left has established the precedent of the National Injunction.

    And when someone sues, in a friendly jurisdiction, the judge is inevitably going to rule that Biden has violated both the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment.

    There’s also the procedural precedents established by Trump’s attempt to repeal DACA, an Obama Executive Order, and I suspect that intrepid attorneys are already thinking of ways to apply those precedents to Obama’s attempt to repeal Trump’s Executive Orders.

    Hence, not only may this not last too long, but it may also be a blessing in disguise.

    1: It isn’t like the agencies don’t want to do this — the career bureaucrats of today lean far left and all Trump did was tell them to stop doing things that they’d started doing on their own. Biden’s language may be inflammatory, but you’d likely find very similar language if you went through the agency personnel manuals, particularly at the regional level. Hence a court injunction would not only prevent compliance with Biden’s edicts but also end a lot of the stuff that they’ve been doing for years.

    2: Biden’s Minions don’t realize that they aren’t in academia anymore — they don’t realize that they now are on the public stage. They will inevitably go to far, much like Joe McCarthy did, and they will implode much as he did.

    For example, the unions aren’t happy about the Keystone Pipeline being cancelled, and they’re even less happy about the concept of those trades (e.g. pipefitters) be permitted (let alone encouraged) to take jobs in the electrician trade — installing solar panels. (Imagine the outcry if a Provost were to say that freshman comp would now be taught by the Engineering Department — or thermodynamics taught by the English Department.) And that’s just one example — and we’re only two weeks into this charade.

    3: SCOTUS decreeing that “thou shalt not discriminate” likely would apply to higher education as well, at least in the public sector. And politically, this stuff doesn’t play well in Peoria, nor anyplace else outside the academic/bureaucratic bubble. When Joe Sixpack and Suzy Sweatpants start seeing this bigotry affecting them, there will be a rather visceral response — one which likely will extend to higher education.

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