When I was in high school, I was a proud, if white, member of the black student union. I took my school's first black history course. I believed the club and the course would promote awareness and racial harmony _ and I like to think they did.
But I do not believe today's ethnic student organizations generally promote racial harmony. I don't think many of their members even want them to.
Segue to the University of California. Regent Ward Connerly _ who also heads the campaign for the California Civil Rights Initiative, which would end racial and gender preferences in state hiring, contracting and admissions _ has called for an end to university funding of special graduation ceremonies for black, Latino and Asian students.
The University of California wants to keep them. Spokesman Terry Colvin noted that the ceremonies, which augment official graduations, are associated with university departments, like black studies. They are not associated with ethnic clubs, he said, although it should be noted that ethnic-based clubs not associated with any academic department also exist. And they get money from student fees.
"There are sound educational reasons for the university to support these activities," Colvin explained last week. "We discovered students who lack support groups tend to fail at higher rates. They dropped out. The one antidote to combating this dropout rate was to provide them with support both from faculty and fellow students."
But as Gail Heriot _ a law professor at UC San Diego and co-chair of the CCRI campaign _ sees it, preference policies ultimately promote segregation. Some _ not all _ minorities admitted into UC Berkeley have lower academic credentials. They start to feel like "losers. And they are not losers. They are above-average high-school graduates who would have performed well at a less competitive college or university.
"It shouldn't surprise anyone that some students in that position attempt to justify their poor performance." The result is not racial harmony, Heriot said, but "racial resentment."
I'll add that the resentment is pointed at the wrong targets. Black leaders, for example, ought to be pushing for public schools that don't rob black children of an education. There ought to be daily demonstrations in front of the San Francisco Unified School District, where the grade point average for black students has been 1.86. Instead, they save their volume for defending preferences that admit black kids with C averages into a UC law school.
Defending the University of California's discrimination, Douglas Allen wrote in the Oakland Tribune that Connerly _ who is black _ is "a tool of the white elite," "a lackey" and "no friend of his race." Allen explained, "You favor whites or you favor blacks." He called his philosophy "redemptive bigotry." It's bigotry, all right.
Next stop, I fear: the white student union, with its own tales of victimization.
I've come to one conclusion about discrimination: If group members think they experience it, they do. The lesson for whites is not to scoff at black anger. Despite a system of pro-minority preferences, poor blacks are often overlooked for employment, and middle-class blacks are wrongly presumed incompetent. That hurts.
Likewise, blacks should not pooh-pooh talk of reverse discrimination. It isn't all in the heads of whites, and that hurts, too.
Most black people I know see the lunacy in "redemptive bigotry." Yet that is what affirmative-action preferences are: a discriminatory response to redeem an ugly history of racism. Alas, the cancer of discrimination can't work without sowing more disease.
I'm proud that I was in my school's black student union. But I shudder at what these clubs have become.