By Michael Meyers
At a recent Manhattan Institute forum, Ward Connerly, the fierce opponent of race and sex preferences by government (who's leading a state-by-state referendum drive to abolish affirmative action) admitted how the Bush Administration has disgraced itself by endorsing racial and gender-conscious policies and practices. Connerly did not give examples, but one glaring illustration is President Bush's Education Department's failure to address racial and gender discrimination underway in public schools and higher education in the guise of helping black men through differential treatment and separate programming.
This latest rage in education takes the form of Black Male Initiatives, which usually include "special" classes, counseling, mentoring, tutoring, and, on some campuses, even separate residences for blacks and ethnic minorities. The U.S. Education Department simply won't comment. I know because I asked Secretary Margaret Spellings to do so in the context of the Administration's claims that it supports the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine in the field of public education. There are a plethora of laws that dictate that race may not be used as a proxy for educational disadvantage by public schools and universities, yet programs have been designed and implemented for black men only in public higher education systems and lower schools in Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Many of these efforts proclaim their intent to "save" black boys and black men and also to "restore" them to their "rightful place" as credits to their race and as leaders "in their own communities" and, also, as heads of "the black family." All of that racial rhetoric is propagated by governmental and academic leaders at a time we are supposed to have entered a color-blind, 21st century, world where racial and gender stereotypes are not only old-hat but dysfunctional.
Spellings never answered but instead punted to the DOE's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) which can on its own, if it wanted, give recipients of federal funds guidance on the do's and don'ts - especially the don'ts - of separating and differentially treating children and adults in education solely on the basis of their skin color and/or gender. But notwithstanding this Administration's commitment to color-blindness and equal sex treatment, it, like the Clinton Administration, is frozen and mute when it comes to giving leadership and clarity on this momentous government-assisted, publicly-financed racial and gender divide of our times. So, I brought a complaint to OCR, so that they could no longer ignore the race fad that was sweeping the nation under the nomenclature of the "Black Male Initiative."
Our complaint against the City University of New York's Black Male Initiative is nearly two years old, and OCR is still stuck studying the policy dilemma presented it whenever, as with CUNY, well-intentioned public officials purposefully identify and segregate out black male students from all others of similar qualifications as "at risk" students.
What CUNY did was pretty egregious. It set up race and sex as proxies for differential programming as, say, a church might when they're conducting separate instruction in a Men's Program; such separatism in academic and special services steer black men from equal interaction with women of any color and with other males who are not "black" in academic and other programming. You see, black men are "special." And fragile. As one CUNY college dean explained, black men would not open up if women were present in the class. So, a class for black men only was created and taught by black male teachers at CUNY's Medgar Evers College. At another CUNY college black men were promised special tutoring, career services and academic services. Until caught, Hunter College invited only black male students to a planning conference on its Black Male Initiative.
Many academic and black leaders have praised CUNY's stereotyping as "outreach." And the New York City Council unanimously funded CUNY's effort at promoting the black male self-identity movement. In fact, many liberals and conservatives have jumped on the bandwagon. Hence, with virtually no critical inquiry, CUNY loudly declares it is "proud" of its Black Male Initiative - but, to stave off federal governmental sanctions, it simultaneously and disingenuously avows that the stigmatizing BMI programs are open to all students who are "eligible."
This week, in an obsequious try at perfection and "thoroughness" OCR, instead of deciding our complaint opened up probes into 16 BMI programs on CUNY campuses, while continuing, it claims, its investigation of CUNY Central's policy and grant making that have systematized its Black Male Initiative. By the time it decides the 16 plus open cases the Bush Administration will be out of office. That is a failsafe strategy of further delay and obfuscation because they are banking on the absence of any prominent educator or public official or grassroots revolt to oppose separate treatment of these ostensibly poor, disadvantaged, criminally-prone, sex-driven, academically at-risk black males - separate treatment based solely on their skin color and sex. Many if not most pundits see this rescue mission as a no-brainer for a public university, because they truly cling to discredited notion that there is such a thing as "the black male" whom they want to study further-just as many received grants once upon a time to study "the Negro."
Not surprisingly, there has not even been an inquiry about these CUNY separatist practices from New York's Board of Regents. That body long ago morphed into silence and acquiescence to the politics of racial identity. The Regents have ignored for years their own policies that committed college officials to avoiding "any practices which would perpetuate a caste system in which groups are placed in certain stereotyped positions with little regard for the needs and desires of the individual." That Regents policy continued, "Racist patterns of segregation can lead only to blocked communications, with a resultant social climate that is close and tense, if not hostile. Moreover, the de facto segregation of a minority group, even if demanded by that group, often results in peer pressure on individuals which may lead to intragroup hostility." Nice lofty words.
Today's academics have lost their way. Racial breast-beating seems to be an acceptable if not legal loophole around the civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination and separate treatment or segregation on account of race and sex. Too bad, too, because when the college takes on the in loco parentis role of progenitor of racial coda and also reinforces strict sex stereotypes and roles between men and women within "the black race", it abandons the rigors of race and gender-free scholarship, as well as sacrifices the individual pride that emanates from intellectual achievement and one's dogged pursuit of truth - and puts in their place identity politics in the form of racial gender theology. That is a sure formula for stunting their intellectual growth and for narrowing the horizons of black men; who should never be treated and called aside and told they're different and in need of special and separate help solely because of their skin color and gender. That is what the Supreme Court meant when the nine justices declared that in public education separate is inherently unequal. OCR needs to reread the Brown decision and federal laws one more time and then force CUNY to do the right thing - which is to disestablish its separate race and gender-scripted programming.
Michael Meyers is executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition and a former assistant national director of the NAACP.