Focus on Affirmative Action

The Great Demancipator

By Derrick Z. Jackson

Illustrator: Signe Willkinson

“It’s HIS fault”
-photo: Signe Willkinson. Reprinted with permission from the Washington Post Writers Group, 2003

As expected, President Bush restored affirmative action programs for white people. “Racial prejudice is a reality in America,” Bush declared in his landmark speech from the White House. “It hurts many of our citizens… America’s long experience with the segregation we have put behind us, and the racial discrimination we still struggle to overcome requires a special effort to make real the promise of equal opportunity for all.”

Bush’s effort is so special that this may very well be the first Martin Luther King Jr. birthday during which the loudest celebrations come not from black churches and integrated downtown breakfasts but from the hallways of segregated suburbia to the romantic enclaves of the Confederacy. Finally for them, this is the day to shout “We have overcome.” This is the day that a lot of God’s white people — Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics — are holding hands and singing in the words of their new spiritual, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last!”

A half-century ago the Civil Rights Movement began in earnest when a black woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat for a white passenger. Bush now says, through his actions, that the citizens most hurt by racial prejudice are white. He will throw the monumental weight of a White House brief behind white women who have sued all the way to Supreme Court to destroy the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program.

In standing with the white women, Bush blasted Michigan’s program, which awards bonus points to African-American, Native-American, and some Latino students in order to account for historical disadvantages. Bush called it a “quota system.” He said: “Students are being selected or rejected primarily on the color of their skin. The motivation for such an admissions policy may be very good, but its result is discrimination, and that discrimination is wrong.”

Bush lied. Yes, Michigan gives bonus points. But the school has no quotas. The school, even with affirmative action, is not yet close to racial parity. The state’s population is 14 percent African-American. The undergraduate college and the law school, the two targets of the lawsuit, are currently 8.4 percent and 6.7 percent African-American. The law school says that without affirmative action the percentage of African Americans and Latinos would drop to 4 percent each.

At best, affirmative action was keeping Michigan, one of the nation’s top public universities, from becoming lily white. Bush’s claim that students of color are being selected “primarily on the color of their skin” is as divisive as the explosive 1990 Jesse Helms ad that said, ”You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota.” By using the word “primarily,” Bush implies that illiterate applicants of color are trampling over white geniuses.

Lying is all Bush can do now that he has decided to make the White House the national headquarters of the NAACP — the National Association for the Advancement of Caucasian People. Contrary to his lofty words, this remains an America in need of remedial tools. Despite the progress that has been made, studies, particularly those from Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project, are showing that public schools are resegregating back to the levels of 30 years ago.

Bush decries bonus points for black people, but in the two years of his presidency he has said nothing about bonus points for white people. Just this week The Wall Street Journal did a feature on “legacy” admissions to colleges, which disproportionately benefit the children of alumni. The acceptance rate of children of alumni — alumni who are assumed to be more likely to give money to colleges where their children are accepted — towers over other applicants. The rate of acceptance of “legacies” is twice as high as it is for other students at Penn, three times as high at Princeton, and four times as high at Harvard.

Bush has said nothing about bonus points for white people in job interviews. Studies show over and over again that African Americans and Latinos with the same resume as white applicants are rejected far more often than white applicants. The silent bonus point system is so pernicious that a recent study by researchers at the University of Chicago and MIT found that job applicants in Chicago and Boston with “white-sounding” names received 50 percent more callbacks than “black-sounding” names.

Under the white bonus point system, too many people of color are rejected primarily on the color of their skin. By standing with three white women to take bonus points away from black and brown folks while white Americans continue to collect points for simply being white, the party of Lincoln has come a long way in civil rights. Lincoln was called the Great Emancipator. President Bush has become the Great Eraser.

Derrick Z. Jackson’s e-mail address is

©2003 by Globe Newspaper Co. Reprinted with Permission from the Boston Globe.


By Ellis Henican

“To those of you who received honors, awards, and distinctions, I say, well done. And to the C students, I say you too can be president of the United States.”

— George W. Bush,
Yale commencement address, 33 years after graduation.

He was a C student at Phillips Andover.

He got a not-so-stellar 1206 on his SATs — 566 verbal, 640 math. That was a full 180 points below the median score for the Yale University class of 1968.

But boola-boola for him!

In the fall of 1964, George W. Bush was welcomed inside Yale’s ivy-covered walls as a “legacy admittee.”

And why not?

The wisecracking Texas teen had something far more powerful than dumb ol’ test scores or silly grades. He had a father, George H. W. Bush, who was a rich and prominent Yale alum. And a grandfather, too. Prescott S. Bush, the aristocratic Connecticut senator, was even a Yale trustee.

A merit decision by a highly selective admissions committee? Not even close.

If this wasn’t affirmative action, nothing is.

Affirmative action for rich, white kids whose daddy and granddaddy also went to Yale.

And of course, this particular unleveled playing field denied a place to some higher-scoring, harder-working student who made a single, tragic mistake — not being born as well as the Bushes.

Tough luck for him or her.

But wait!

Wasn’t that just the kind of squeezed-out student that now-President Bush was supposedly speaking for when his Justice Department filed a brief with the Supreme Court challenging the affirmative action program at the University of Michigan?

First, Bush inaccurately derided the Michigan plan as “quotas.” Then he got all moralistic, saying that giving a leg up to black or Latino applicants is “divisive, unfair and impossible to square with the Constitution.” That kind of system, he complained, “unfairly rewards or penalizes prospective students.”

It’s unfair? Unfair like being ushered into the Ivy League by Poppy and Gramps? Unfair like getting into Yale with a 1206 and Cs? Unfair like having an entire educational career — and much of a professional life — delivered by rich-boy affirmative action?

And in W’s case, the special boosts didn’t begin or end with the admissions committee at Yale.

Had the future president’s name been, say, “Arbusto” instead of Bush, would he even have made it as far as Andover, the tony prep school that was also up to its crinkled nose in Bushes?

At Andover, Bush never got his name on the honor roll, even one term. The published record shows that on his very first essay assignment, the future president’s grade was zero.

“Disgraceful,” the teacher wrote in bright red ink.

With a prep-school record this sad, his college counselor suggested, maybe he ought consider applying to a safety school in case things didn’t work out at Yale. Bush chose the University of Texas. But he never had to fall back on Austin, the Bush name packed such a wallop at Yale.

And once classes started in New Haven, this third-generation Yalie continued not to impress academically.

Oh, his easy manner won him plenty of friends on campus. He was active in his fraternity, rising eventually to president. He made the cheerleading squad and the super-secret Skull and Bones society.

But there is little evidence he did much book cracking along the way.

Freshman year, his grades put him in the 21st percentile of his class, meaning four-fifths of his classmates did better than the Future Leader of the Free Wor l d.

And in the years that followed, young W never pulled his average above a C. His college transcript, in an eye-popping leak to The New Yorker magazine, showed a 73 in Introduction to the American Political System and a 71 in Introduction to International Relations, to cite two examples that could mean something in hindsight.

Now, none of this is any cause for shame. Lots of people do poorly in college and succeed grandly in life. And a crucial lesson was obviously learned. The playing field is never level, whatever people say. Just make sure the tilt is your way.

As it was for George W. Bush.

His own family-sponsored affirmative action plan kept pulling through.

Despite the Yale grades, he was accepted at the Harvard Business School. Despite repeated business failures, cronies of his father kept bailing him out.

His big-jackpot investment, the Texas Rangers baseball team, was pretty much a gift from pals of his dad.

And the rest, as they say in the Ivy League, is Bush family history.

You don’t think some black kid in Michigan would have a problem with that?

©2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.