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Write 150 words about the video. What is the video about? What did you think was interesting about the video? What is Affirmative Action and Reaction mean? What did you learn from the video? No title page. Need to cite and reference. 

 

 Affirmative Action and Reaction. Films Media Group, 1995, fod.infobase.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=18566&xtid=5948. Accessed 1 Apr. 2017.

 

Video Transcript

 

Joining us today is Professor Lani Guinier. Prior toher teaching law at the University ofPennsylvania, she was assistant counsel at theNAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In1993, she was nominated as Assistant AttorneyGeneral for Civil Rights by President Clinton. Amedia firestorm erupted over her views onelection laws and affirmative action, andPresident Clinton withdrew her nomination.

She then published The Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy, which became a best-seller inWashington, DC. And most importantly, I think,Lani Guinier has been a frequent panelist on Think Tank.

At a recent discussion to celebrate Think Tank‘sfirst anniversary, comments by Professor Roger Wilkins and Judge Robert Bork on affirmativeaction provided a rich sense of the issues involvedin the debate.

I am here to tell you out of my own experiencethat white people did not start doubting theabilities of black people when we started havingaffirmative action. White people have alwaysdoubted the abilities of black people. No, thisaffirmative action didn’t come down out of thesky to punish white men. We Americansdeveloped affirmative action because we hadsignificant problems of exclusion, of denial, and of unfairness, and of limited opportunity for a wholerange of people.

Today in the United States, affirmative actionapplies to 2/3 of the American population. Now, I think black Americans are the only ones of all thegroups we have fit in here that have a claim toaffirmative action. I don’t think women do. I don’tthink other ethnic groups do. But it’s going to bevery hard to hold a– I think the other groupscould end affirmative action right now. I thinkwith respect to blacks, it has to be phased out insome way that does not cause great pain andsuffering.

Clearly a big battle lies ahead. Should affirmativeaction be reformed? And perhaps moreimportant, how can Americans navigate throughthis issue of civil rights in a civil manner? Lani Guinier, what do you make of this current tensesituation about affirmative action the UnitedStates?

Well, I think what’s happening with the issue ofaffirmative action in many ways symbolizeswhat’s wrong with public discourse in general,and the way in which we don’t talk directly aboutissues of race, or even gender. But indirectly,those issues affect the discourse. And because weare not confronting our prejudices– and I don’tmean that in terms of bias, but justpreconceptions and misconceptions– we have aconversation in which we’re talking past eachother. We use words and they mean very differentthings.

Why don’t you give me some examples, concreteexamples within the dialogue on affirmativeaction?

Well, I think, for example, for many African-Americans, affirmative action means an effort toopen opportunities to people who have beenexcluded previously. And I think for many whites,affirmative action means the hiring or admissionof unqualified people based on race or gender.

Well, those are really very different assumptions.For African-Americans, they are not assuming thataffirmative action relates to unqualifiedcandidates. They are suggesting that people whohas been denied the opportunity to compete haveto be given that opportunity. And perhapsuniversities or employers have to be required togo beyond ordinary employment routes in orderto make those opportunities available.

Whereas for whites, I think the assumption is thatthe ordinary channels are OK, that the ordinarychannels are based on merit, and that theordinary channels are producing or makingavailable to people on an equal or colorblindbasis the opportunities to compete.

Who’s right?

Well, part of the problem with the debate is thatboth are right, and there are legitimate concernson both sides of the debate. And so because inthis country– and this is my initial point– we tendto think of conversation in the frame of either asports or battle metaphor, that somebody has tobe right and somebody has to be wrong,somebody wins, somebody loses. We don’t thinkthat–

We have food fights on television and we all throwthings at each other, right?

Well, that’s, yes, when we get really juvenile.

Right. Not on Think Tank, but on other programs.

Absolutely. Absolutely not on Think Tank.

Right.

I think we need to shift the paradigm. I think wehave to see if there are ways in which we canidentify the legitimate concerns on both sides ofthe issue and then come up with alternatives thatdon’t say one person or one group or one positionis right. It could be vaguely right, but that doesn’tmean that we have to ignore the ways in whichanother position is also vaguely right.

I don’t think that it’s helpful to just take a vote, asthey are proposing to do in California, and say,well, this is wrong, and we’re never going to allowthis approach under any circumstances. Becausethat, by itself, polarizes people to the point wherethey can’t hear each other.

That California ballot referendum doesn’t domuch more, as I recall reading it, than rephrasethe 14th Amendment and the 1964 Civil RightsAct. And those are fairly absolute laws. What iswrong with restating the 14th Amendment andsaying, but this time we really mean it, for blacksand whites both?

Well, I guess part of my problem with theapproach by referendum is that it is a directreferendum, in which you are giving the majoritythe absolute right to prevail, without taking intoaccount the views of the minority. And thedifference in terms of a constitutionalamendment is that both the Congress has toapprove it, and then it has to be approved by thestates. It’s a much more deliberative process. It isnot simply an up or down vote that is taken onone day in one year that is going to governdecisions for the rest of this century.

But we already have a constitutional amendment.The 14th Amendment says equal protection underlaw, and it doesn’t say just for blacks or just forwomen. It says for everybody.

Well, that’s true. I think what is prompting theanimus or what is motivating the desire to have areferendum is that there is a backlash, or a sensethat the way in which the courts have beenenforcing the 14th Amendment is tipping thescales unfairly toward one group compared toanother. And if– and I think this is the president’spoint– if, in fact, that is happening because ofbureaucratic calcification or because of ways inwhich something that was done in 1965 doesn’tmake sense in 1995, then certainly it’s appropriateto reconsider.

But an across-the-board referendum, if it’s beingdone as it is in California, my view is really a battlecry. It’s a way of saying that people who areunhappy with one or two situations orcircumstances are now going to prevail across theboard. I think we need to have a much morecontext-driven conversation, where we don’t havea universal solution or a simple solution forcomplex problems.

Let me ask you a question. You talked earlierabout the animus that seems to be growing. Iguess you were talking about it among whites.And we have had this phenomenon of the so-called “angry white male” that allegedly drove theelections into the Republicans’ hands in 1994.

I interviewed Reverend Jackson recently, and hesaid he thinks the 1990s are going to be like the1890s, the post-Reconstruction era when blacks,as he describes it, were re-oppressed. And hethinks this is a dreadful moment where people arescapegoating, and whites feel that this is a veryimportant issue and they are getting angry.

Do you find the temperature going up in thiscountry on the issue generally of race?

Yes. I think that the temperature is going upwithout the store of information going up to meetit, so that you have people who are feeling veryangry without a lot of information to help channeltheir anger. I think what is happening is that a lotof Americans feel insecure, feel afraid, feel thatthey can’t depend on their government or theiremployer to provide them some of the things thatthey, in the past, depended on. They can’t be surethat they can pass on to their children the samequality of life that they now enjoy.

But I don’t believe that the correlation has beenmade, except in terms of political rhetoric,between the source of their anger ordisappointment and affirmative action.

Lani, you had talked a little bit about thetenseness in the in the dialogue, and we just weretouching on politics. And I was talking about myinterview with Jesse Jackson. And he indicatedthat he was of a frame of mind now that, unlesshe saw real evidence that the Clintonadministration was not going to back off, itsounded to me, at all on affirmative action, hewould consider strongly running a third-partyeffort against both parties. But it would hurt,obviously, the Democrats more than theRepublicans.

How would you come out in that?

I think that we need a real debate in this country,and that part of the problem with our presenttwo-party system is that we are denying theAmerican people a genuine conversation on someof these issues. It’s not that the politicians are ill-intentioned, but they are so consumed with apolitics of re-electability that we have lost thenotion of a politics of accountability.

I support the idea that everyone should have anopportunity to participate in the nationaldialogue. And sometimes the only way to get thatopportunity is to run for office. I wish that werenot the case, but if Jesse Jackson feels that theonly way he can get his viewpoint on the agendais to run for office, then I think that’s a positive.Because I don’t measure what’s good and badsimply based on who’s going to get elected andwho’s going to be defeated. I really see politics asan opportunity to have a genuine, democraticconversation.

We have heard– around Washington, at least,inside the Beltway– that this situation seems tobe tense enough that if, in fact, there is aconcerted effort to roll back affirmative action,that this could lead to turbulence and perhapseven violence in the black community.

Does that make sense to you? Is it boiling thathot?

Well, I think that there is a rage. Ellis Cose wrote abook last year called The Rage of a Privileged Class. And he was talking about the rage in black,middle-class, college-educated Americans. And Ithink that rage is at the boiling point. I think thatpeople have been afraid of talking about theirexperiences because they’re afraid, according toCose– I agree with him– of being punished twice,first for being black and second for being angry,so that that has kept their views under thesurface.

And many white Americans are simply unaware ofthe deep feelings of many blacks who are doingapparently very well, but are harboringtremendous feelings of resentment and of angerthat they’ve been given no opportunity tochannel. So that the real–

What is the basis for that resentment amongsuccessful blacks?

I think that there are a number of bases. And Ihaven’t studied it as thoroughly as Ellis Cose, but–

Just what you picked up.

I think the fact that they experiencediscrimination presently. It’s not something of thepast. They experience discrimination not as beingdenied the opportunity to go to the samebathroom or being denied the opportunity to goto a public accommodation, but they experienceit as micro-aggressions, as being treateddifferently, as being questioned, as havingdifferent expectations that are made of themcompared to some of their other peers. Of simplynot being–

What are some examples of that?

Oh, the stories he tells of blacks who are in suits. Ican tell you a story of a judge I clerked for, whowas at a conference wearing a suit and a tie inWilliamsburg, Virginia, and was asked by a whitegentleman to park his car for him. He gave himthe keys and said, could you please take care ofthis? Well, that may seem trivial because, after all,he wasn’t hosed by police, but it is a sense of notbeing considered equal and a sense of not beingaccepted.

Have you been discriminated against in your lifebecause of race?

Yes. But my approach is not to dwell– I guess I’min a privileged position, because I’ve had theopportunity to speak out, to write, to channelsome of my sense of unfairness. And I’ve also hadthe opportunity to work as an attorney on behalfof people that I think have been treated evenmore unfairly than I. And so it’s a very catharticexperience, so that it enables you to put a lot ofyour own experiences into perspective. But I don’tthink that everyone has been that fortunate.

Would the same thing apply to a– to use yourexample before– a well-dressed black man whowas passed by by a taxicab and doesn’t pick himup?

Well, that’s the classic example.

Yeah, I know. That’s why I brought it up.

That doesn’t happen to me. First of all, becauseI’m a female, and second of all, because I don’tlook typically black, so that it’s hard for me tospeak on something that happens to otherpeople. But it happens to my husband all thetime, and therefore, I have to go out and get thetaxi. Now, you may say that’s a small price to pay.

No, I’m not saying that’s a small thing. I think it’s avery big thing. But what happens when a blackcab driver passes by a potential black farebecause he, too, knows the crime statistics andsays, it’s five times disproportionate? How do youdeal with that? The black cab driver’s certainlynot a racist.

It’s not that the white cab driver is a racist. See,I’m trying to get away from the notion. We tend tothink of racism in the George-Wallace-standing-in-the-schoolhouse-door mode. And that’s not whatI think is the problem. I don’t think that peopleare consciously harboring bad feelings towardother people. I think that we are subconsciouslyharboring assumptions that affect a group ofpeople in a way that denies them the sameopportunity to compete.

Let me ask you this. We had a conversation onrace and affirmative action at the AmericanEnterprise Institute not long ago with JudgeRobert Bork and Professor Roger Wilkins, both ofwhom I know you know.

Now, Judge Bork said he would really like to doaway with affirmative action. He thinks that thereare enough anti-discriminatory protections thatyou don’t need it. But he made a very interestingpoint, which was, he said, if we can’t do away withaffirmative action in some fairly moderate toquick way, then we ought to retain it only forblacks, because blacks really do have a specialand tragic history– obviously, the slaveryexperience and so on. But he just said, women, itis not the same. It is different. Certainly now. Younow have women more likely to go to college thanmen, for one example.

How does that sit with you?

Well, it’s an argument that has innate appeal inthat many African-Americans do feel that theexperience of slavery and the experience of JimCrow is an experience that no one else hassuffered. And so the notion that at least thecountry is going to acknowledge in some formalway that experience is important in termsassuaging some of the anger and the bitternessthat we were discussing earlier that middle-class,not just poor blacks, feel.

But I disagree that the way in which you remedyunfairness is to simply take those who have beenmost unfairly treated and bring them in. I think ifwe have been unfair, then we have to become fair.And the way you measure fairness is the fact thateveryone has an equal shot at competing.

And I think for women, in particular, andespecially your example of women in academia,you have women graduating from college andgetting into law school and then not doing as wellin law school. They’re not being mentored. Theybring different needs or interests or values to thelaw school experience, and their skills and theirpotential are not being realized.

And as a result, you have men with the sameincoming credentials– same LSAT, sameundergraduate GPA, same rank in class– threetimes as likely to graduate in the top 10% of theclass as the women who come in with the samecredentials. And because the men are–

Haven’t you written that that’s because of theculture of the law schools, that they are male-oriented?

I think it’s not just that it’s male-oriented,whatever that means. It’s adversarial. It’shierarchical.

Male-oriented, right.

But what I’m saying is that it’s not about ensuringthat the same number of women are in the top ofa male-oriented hierarchy as are men. It’s aboutrethinking the hierarchy. It’s about rethinkingwhat we are trying to do in training lawyers.Because lawyers are not just adversarial litigators.They are public and private problem-solvers. Andevery problem does not require a fight in order toresolve it.

I’m reminded, I spoke at the Global Ministries ofthe United Methodist Church, and a man raisedhis hand and he said, what you’re talking aboutreminds me what my wife has been saying to mefor the last 30 years of our marriage. He says, youfight to win, and I fight to resolve. So that part ofwhat the experience of women is about is gettingus to rethink public dispute resolution, privatedispute resolution, to become better adapted to21st-century problems.

When affirmative action was first instituted in theUnited States, there was an argument about itthen in the 1960s and the early 1970s. The peoplewho were in favor of affirmative action said, don’tworry, it’s only a temporary remedy. Well, now aquarter of a century has gone by, roughly. It’sbeen about 25 years or 30 years, depending onhow you date it.

How long? When does “temporary” end?

Well, in some ways, affirmative action is a veryconservative remedy. It is a temporary,conservative remedy because it is accepting theconventional norms, the conventional admissionstandards, the conventional criteria, and saying,well, we’ll make exceptions for some people whohave been underutilized in the job market or inthe admissions pool.

So in my view, perhaps it’s time to reconsider theconservative nature of affirmative action. Maybewe need to go the next step and challenge theconventional norms. So it’s not about makingexceptions for other people, it’s aboutquestioning whether the assumption that theordinary course of business is itself fair, and wejust have to get more women and blacks andLatinos into that ordinary course of business.

But do we want to live in a society where thejudgments are made about people, whetherthey’re getting into school or going into a job orgetting aid for a small business or whatever it is,that says, you get some because you’re a woman,you get some because you’re a black, you getsome because you’re a Hispanic, you get somebecause you’re a Tongan, you get some becauseyou’re a Sri Lankan?

Is that our vision?

It seems to me that is so contradictory to theessential nature of what American life experiencehas been about. It has been about treatingindividuals fairly, not cutting up the pie forgroups. That’s what Lebanon did, they cut up thepie by groups.

Well, but you know what’s so interesting, I agreewith what you’re saying, except as it applies to thepast. I think that, in fact, America is not, in reality,in our past, about treating individuals fairly. Andthat’s the reason we need remedies.

Now, you may object to the particular remedies,and I’m happy to hear what your alternativeremedies are. I’m not committed to a particularremedy, especially one as affirmative action that Ithink is actually very conservative. But we have toaccept the fact that some remedy is necessary,because we have not treated people asindividuals. Blacks have not been treated asindividuals for the first 300 years of theirexperience on this continent. So that it is a vision,yes, but it is not a reality.

Thank you very much, Lani Guinier.

Thank you.

And thank you. For Think Tank, I’m Ben Wattenberg.

This has been a production of BJW, Incorporated,in association with New River Media, which aresolely responsible for its content. Think Tank hasbeen made possible by Amgen, a recipient of thePresidential National Medal of Technology.Amgen, unlocking the secrets of life throughcellular and molecular biology.

Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, the Randolph Foundation, and The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

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