Commentary Magazine


"Amistad," affirmitive action, etc.

"Amistad" To THE EDITOR: In "’Amistad’ and the Abuse of History" [Febru- ary] Gary Rosen goes too far. It is easy to dismiss his- torical films as bad histo- ry, and reviewers invariably condemn them for distort- ing and oversimplifying the past. Amistad makes a ready target. Why, one asks, does the film fabricate a black abolitionist when a real-life figure-a fugitive slave and Yale-educated minister named J.W.C. Penning- ton-was readily available? Why does the film show Martin Van Buren replac- ing the District Court judge, when no such incident took place? And why does the film place the phrase "make us free" in an adult’s mouth, when the actual words were written by an eleven-year- old Mende boy named Kale in a poignant and powerful letter to John Quincy Adams? Sometimes real life is more interesting than a screenwriter’s imaginings.

Nevertheless, despite some important distortions and omissions, Amistad does what films can do and his- tory texts cannot: it brings the past to life. In a society as contemptuous of the past as ours, it is a much greater feat to resurrect the truly "lost world" of antebellum America, to bring long-for- gotten historical figures back to life, and to remind viewers that this country carries a historical burden that does not disappear sim- ply because it is evaded and ignored. "A deft piece of movie-making… persua- sive in its evocation of peri- od ambience" (Mr. Rosen’s phrases) should not be dis- missed lightly.

The Amistad trial was a critical incident in Ameri- can history because it showed abolitionists new ways to fight against slav- ery: by dramatizing the il- legal means by which Af- ricans were enslaved and the federal government’s com- plicity in slavery. Steven Spielberg’s Amistad makes these essential points in dra- matic and moving fashion.

LESLEY S. HERRMANN Gilder Lehrman Institute ofAmerican History New York City STEVEN MINTZ University of Houston Houston, Texas To THE EDITOR: Gary Rosen raises many good points about how Amistad’s screenplay bowed to political correctness and bent the truth in doing so, but he overlooks a larger truth: neither I nor any of my white, well-educated friends, reasonably knowl- edgeable in the history of our country, had ever heard of the incident.

Although not as signifi- cant in our national history as the Dred Scott decision or the Missouri Compromise, the Amistad affair was no- table in several respects: it involved a foreign power and issues of national sov- ereignty; it was intertwined with congressional and pres- idential politics; and it was argued in front of the Supreme Court by an ex- President (surely rare in our history). But most impor- tant of all, it was an instance of a revolt by blacks against their enslavement, and should be as great a source of pride to black Americans as the tales of Jewish parti- sans who fought the Nazis in the forests of Eastern Eu- rope are to Jews.

The omission of any mention of the incident from most histories and textbooks lends credence to the claims of American blacks that important parts of their history have been overlooked.

ROBERT L. BLUMBERG LaJolla, California To THE EDITOR: Gary Rosen is right that Steven Spielberg’s Amistad is permeated by liberal ra- cial stereotypes of African- Americans. He seems to be unaware, however, that this ideology-far from being a sign of current multicultur- [5] v vCOMMENTARY JUNE 1998 al political correctness-has deep historical roots, going back to the antebellum pe- riod and even earlier. Mr.

Rosen ought to consult Wy- lie Sypher’s Guinea’s Captive Kings (1942), which begins with a chapter on the irre- pressible Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko; Or the Royal Slave (1688). Not only is Steven Spielberg’s Cinqu6 in this tradition of noir noble sav- agery, so, too, with a Chris- tianized inflection, is Har- riet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom.

Mr. Rosen’s belief that abolitionism was immune from 19th-century racial romanticization of blacks because it was a pristine offshoot of 18th-century natural-rights philosophy is as naive and unhistorical as any of Steven Spielberg’s notions.

HAROLD BRACKMAN San Diego, California To THE EDITOR: Despite the dramatic spectacle presented in the Spielberg film of ex-Presi- dent John Quincy Adams appearing before the U.S.

Supreme Court as an advo- cate for a group of black prisoners, the Amistad case itself is relatively unimpor- tant as a legal precedent, and it is not surprising that it was virtually ignored for many years. It is no landmark on the road to emancipation.

The legal issue as the Court saw it turned on a technicality or loophole keyed to the question of whether the prisoners were captured into slavery in Africa or were born into slavery in Cuba. The im- portance of the case rests not upon that technical loophole but upon what it reveals about legal strate- gy in cases involving high- ly-charged public issues.

Though he appeared as co-counsel only when the case finally reached the Su- preme Court, Adams is nev- ertheless portrayed in the film as the central legal figure. Actually, Roger Bald- win, later Connecticut’s gov- ernor and senator, was the legal strategist of the abo- litionists behind the Amistad case. But in the film he is caricatured and his role is minimized.

Baldwin’s argument was two-pronged, covering both the high ground about the institution of slavery itself and the technical point about the prisoners’ origin.

The brief is filled with ideas presaging the arguments made but rejected in the Dred Scott case years later; and its reliance on the con- stitutional illegitimacy of slavery, based on the prin- ciples of the American Rev- olution and particularly the Declaration of Indepen- dence, resonates in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Baldwin’s extraordinary argument was printed in full in the Supreme Court report of the case whereas Adams’s argument was omitted, for reasons made clear in the following note of the Court’s official re- porter, which was buried deep in the Supreme Court record of the case: It was the purpose of [this] reporter to insert the able and interesting argument of Mr. Adams for the African appellees; and pub- lication … has been post- poned in the hope of ob- taining it … It has not been received. As many of the points presented by Mr.

Adams in the discussion of the case were not consid- ered by the Court essential to its decision, and were not taken notice of in the opinion of the Court, de- livered by Mr. Justice Sto- ry the necessary omission of the argument is submit- ted to with less regret.

Justice Story in a later, ex- officio private comment, as Gary Rosen points out in his article, characterized Adams’s argument as "ex- traordinary … for its pow- er, for its bitter sarcasm," but "dealing with topics far beyond the record and points of discussion." Thus, the Amistad case was won on a technicality, instead of lost on high prin- ciples. Litigants, pundits, and social idealists in cas- es involving charged public issues want to win on only the highest and purest ide- alistic grounds. The goal of skilled lawyers, on the oth- er hand, is to win on any ground-technical or sub- stantive. Winning is the cat- egorical imperative. Prog- ress is made through a series of small steps, a grand strat- egy Thurgood Marshall, for example, pursued a century later and used so success- fully in breaking down seg- regation. The social objec- tive follows as a result.

Was Baldwin, in winning the Amistad case on a tech- nical loophole, portending Marshall’s strategy? MAURICE ROSENFIELD Chicago, Illinois To THE EDITOR: In connection with Gary Rosen’s article, the follow- ing brief reference from The Growth of the American Republic by Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager, might be of in- terest: "The ‘ironic epilogue’ [to the Amistad case] is that Cinqu6, once back home, set himself up as a slave trader." EDITH J. MARTIN Scarsdale, New York To THE EDITOR: When my February COMMENTARY arrived, I turned straight to Gary Rosen’s article on Amistad.

It is a badly needed correc- tion of the sort of Spielber- gian dishonesty and liberal masochism that is offensive to the truth. Point by point, Mr. Rosen ticks off the mis- chievous fibs that spoil what, on its own, might gen- uinely have been a "helluva story." DANIEL M. CRABB El Centro, California To THE EDITOR: This is to congratulate Gary Rosen on his Amistad piece. These days, history is abused far too often. Our young people are suscepti- ble to the siren call of Hol- lywood "histories" in part because they rarely read se- rious material and then lat- er get scrambled versions in revisionist courses in col- lege. It is an ongoing battle, but Mr. Rosen is standing his ground well. Keep it up! NEIL TROOST Tampa, Florida GARY ROSEN writes: Lesley S. Herrmann and Steven Mintz have a curi- ous idea of what it means for a movie to "bring the past to life." Is persuasive "peri- od ambience" really all they demand? More fundamen- tal, I would think, is whether the events depicted actual- ly took place and are pre- sented in a historically plau- sible way. On both counts, Steven Spielberg’s Amistad fails, and for reasons that spring directly from the pre- vailing political orthodox- ies of Hollywood.

Of particular note, as I argued, is the movie’s self- conscious effort to exagger- ate the role played by blacks in the case and to denigrate [6]LETTERS FROM READERS the evangelical Christiani- ty of the white abolitionists who in fact secured the re- lease of the Amistad captives.

One of Mrs. Herrmann and Mr. Mintz’s points is espe- cially revealing in this re- gard: they are unbothered by the movie’s invention of the black abolitionist Theo- dore Joadson because, as they see it, he is just a stand- in for the real-life black abolitionist J.W.C. Pen- nington.

But the Reverend Pen- nington, unlike the fiction- alJoadson, played no part in the legal defense of the captives, and became deeply involved with them only af- ter he saw that they could help fulfill his plan for, as he put it, "carrying the Gos- pel to Africa," a continent whose inhabitants he de- scribed as "the heathen." In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in the case, Pennington joined other black ministers in founding the Union Missionary So- ciety, thus making it possi- ble for the freed Amistad captives to continue their instruction in Christianity and English upon returning to Africa. In this endeavor, I might add, Pennington was joined by the white abo- litionist Lewis Tappan, whom Spielberg’s Joadson repudiates as a racist. In sum, and contrary to the view of Mrs. Herrmann and Mr. Mintz, J.W.C. Pen- nington’s Christian fervor made him precisely the sort of person whom Spielberg intended to exclude from the racial and religious uni- verse of Amistad.

Mrs. Herrmann and Mr.

Mintz are willing to forgive such distortions because the film, they say, has brought to light a "critical" episode in our history. Robert L.

Blumberg agrees, noting that despite the obvious importance of the Amistad affair, even "reasonably knowledgeable" persons like himself had never before heard of it. But let us not get carried away. The reason that so few people previ- ously knew about Cinque and his hapless shipmates is that their ordeal, for all its drama, constitutes little more than a footnote in an- tebellum history.

As Maurice Rosenfield ably explains in his letter, the Supreme Court decid- ed the case on a technical- ity, setting no legal prece- dent of any consequence.

Moreover, since the cir- cumstances surrounding the Amistad affair were so ex- traordinary, it did not even give abolitionists "new ways to fight slavery," as Mrs.

Herrmann and Mr. Mintz grandly claim. In the end, its prime effect was to give a slight stir to the pot of North-South tensions.

The real interest of the Amistad affair lies not in its historical impact, which was slight, but in what it can tell us about resistance to slav- ery in the turbulent years leading up to the Civil War.

Most obviously, of course, the case shows that some Africans fought ferociously against their own enslave- ment; this is the side of the story at which Spielberg ex- cels. No less important, however, the Amistad affair allows us to see why some Americans devoted them- selves so single-mindedly to the anti-slavery cause. Their inspiration, as I discussed in my article, was a mix of two quintessentially American creeds: militant, reform- minded Protestantism, on the one hand, and the egal- itarian principles of the De- claration of Independence, on the other. In Amistad, to his discredit, Spielberg casts aspersions on the former and makes a politically-cor- rect hash of the latter.

Harold Brackman is no doubt right to detect an el- ement of racial romanticism in the abolitionists; I never said otherwise. But he is mistaken to find in this a forerunner of Spielberg’s celebration of all things African. For the abolition- ists, "noir noble savagery" was a state of innocence, rendering blacks more per- fectly open to the truths of reason and revelation. Spiel- berg, by contrast, assigns equal value to the customs and beliefs of Africa; in the film, Cinque and his ances- tral spirits walk arm-in-arm with John Quincy Adams and the American founders.

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n llnn, n nr rirnn, # 1 WUILU U tNLHbY.COMMENTARY JUNE 998 In this mendacious retelling, the Amistad affair becomes a tale of multicultural col- laboration, and thus a pre- dictable reflection of the present rather than a mean- ingful window on the past.

Like many of the con- servative critics who wrote about the film, Edith J.

Martin believes she has found the surest sign of Spielberg’s political agenda: his suppression of the fact that Cinqu6 trafficked in slaves upon his return to Africa. Her source is Samuel Eliot Morison, who made this claim not only in the book she cites but also in his Oxford History of the Ameri- can People. "Ironic" though this epilogue may be, how- ever, there is simply no ev- idence to support it; Mori- son apparently relied on the unsubstantiated work of another historian.

In fact, we know regret- tably little about the Amis- tad captives after their home- coming. Though some re- mained for a time at the mission their escorts estab- lished in Sierra Leone, most hurried back to their kins- men. There is one notable exception: the young African woman formerly called Margru, who took the name Sarah Kinson. After a few years of missionary work, Kinson returned to the United States and enrolled at Oberlin College, consum- mating the wishes of those who, in their evangelical zeal, had worked to free her first from her chains and then from her ignorance.

My thanks to Daniel M.

Crabb and Neil Troost for their kind words.

Albert Shanker To THE EDITOR: I want to comment on Chester E. Finn, Jr.’s inde- cent use of the late Albert Shanker to malign the teacher-union movement that he virtually created and loved [Letters from Read- ers, March, on Mr. Finn’s review of The Teacher Unions by Myron Lieberman, No- vember 1997].

Al would undoubtedly be as unmoved by Mr. Finn’s saccharine "missing" of his counsel on education and foreign-policy issues as he was by Mr. Finn’s occasion- al support of his positions when he was alive. As a deeply principled man, Al was suspicious of so-called democrats whose support of democratic institutions and political participation was highly selective. As critical as he often was of the labor movement and public edu- cation, these were the two bedrock democratic institu- tions to which he devoted his career. His support for them was unshakable, while Mr. Finn’s is nonexistent.

Al was also wise to Mr.

Finn’s habit of pretending that Al’s fight against total- itarianism and isolationism, his positions on improving the quality of schools and teaching, and on teacher- union reform were merely his personal perspectives rather than the policies and active work of the American Federation of Teachers.

(What a feat that would have been! Al, like all AFT presidents, faced election every two years. Whom does Mr. Finn represent or answer to?) So let the record be dear: the AFT, under Al Shanker’s leadership and now mine, continues to be the leading activist for standards-based education reform and the professionalization of teach- ing in this nation. We also continue to be unabashed advocates of traditional trade-union concerns, such as decent salaries and work- ing conditions and due process for our members.

We continue to push for nontraditional, "break-the- mold" union practices, such as taking greater responsi- bility for ensuring that only first-rate teachers are hired and promoted and that in- competent teachers are helped or, failing that, re- moved. And let me remind Mr. Finn and others who are impatient with our progress, we do not run the schools; management does, and there is a dearth of smart partners on that side.

Mr. Finn is right on one score. We will continue to be obstacles to the radical reforms he seeks, such as vouchers, the destruction of workers’ rights, and an end to our rightful participation in the political process. If that makes us a "menace," so be it.

SANDRA FELDMAN President, American Federation of Teachers Washington, D.C.

CHESTER E. FINN, JR.

writes: Sandra Feldman is noth- ing if not feisty. Testy, even.

The odd thing about her ringing pronouncements concerning the AFT’s sin- gular role in American ed- ucation is that she is at pre- sent negotiating a merger with the National Educa- tion Association (NEA) in which the AFT will in- evitably be submerged.

Odds are good that within a year or two Sandra Feld- man will resurface as senior vice president of a single, vast national teachers’ union, one that will-at best-retain a smidgen of interest in the non-bread- and-butter issues to which the late Albert Shanker de- voted a lot of attention and to which he directed a goodly portion of the AFT’s resources.

Al fought quotas while the NEA imposed them. Al criticized bilingual educa- tion while the NEA pro- moted it. Al saw the dangers of multiculturalism to the assimilationist mission of the public schools while the NEA pushed for more of it.

Al supported teacher test- ing in California (and else- where) while the NEA fought it in court. Al insist- ed that student tests should have consequences (such as determining whether a per- son can get admitted to college) while the NEA joined the anti-testing cru- sade. What will the new NEA/AFT do on these and kindred issues? As with many larger- than-life figures, Shanker’s legacy will doubtless be the stuff of many arguments and countless efforts will be made to shape his place in history to various ends and interests. Will his ideas sur- vive the Feldman-led merg- er? Probably not.

Sandra Feldman thinks she knows what Al Shanker thought of me. But she can- not possibly know what I thought of him, which was, of course, what I said in the reply that prompted her comments. I liked him. I re- spected him. On many mat- ters I trusted him and took his advice to heart. I often disagreed with him, too. He once trounced me worse in a debate (on vouchers) than anyone before or since. But there were numerous do- mains in which we collabo- rated. At Al’s invitation, for [10]Announcing Commentary on the Internet.

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User-friendlv search engines heln vnio navigate the various sections of the website and check previous issues. Links to other sites provide a ringside seat at the war if ideas. And so that no one need miss a single article, or the pleasures of reading the old-fashioned way, an online subscription form makes it easier than ever to receive Commentary at home or at the office, or to have it delivered to a friend.

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I–_____COMMENTARY JUNE 998 example, I worked on a pro- ject called "education for democracy," drafting a statement of purpose and then carrying our message to (unionized) teachers in the newly free nations of Eastern Europe. We also worked together on nation- al standards and assessment.

We served together on var- ious task forces and panels, and participated in innu- merable seminars.

Sandra Feldman is not known for her interest in high standards and teacher testing, nor for her readi- ness to criticize the fads and trends that so distort Amer- ican education. Too bad, for those were Shanker’s hall- mark issues.

She may control her union-at least for a little while longer. But she does not own Al Shanker’s lega- cy. It is bigger than she is.

And a little piece of it be- longs to me.

Women in Japan To THE EDITOR: Women are, indeed, treated differently from men in Asia, as noted by Francis Fukuyama in his excellent article, "Asian Values and the Asian Crisis" [February].

This is a great source of strength in these societies and one that women them- selves, at least in Japan, have a high stake in preserving.

It is true that in Japan one does not find women in the halls of power in poli- tics or business. Japanese women, however, are su- preme in other, more im- portant areas: first, they control the money in most families, and second, they are responsible for rearing the children, including, of course, overseeing their ed- ucation. The husband is giv- en an allowance for his daily needs, and the wife handles all other expenses, including the all-important saving for the children’s ed- ucation and the parents’ old age. It cannot be stressed too much how important education is in Japan. I would say that it is the sin- gle most important goal of the family, since securing entrance to a good univer- sity will largely determine a child’s success in finding suitable employment; and for girls, in finding a suit- able mate.

Accordingly, this means that women are responsible for two closely related en- deavors upon which the foundations of Japanese so- ciety (any society) are built; and this in turn gives women in Japan an enormous amount of power and pres- tige. The idea of Western feminists that female fulfill- ment resides in working in traditionally male occupa- tions, and their almost com- plete lack of interest in chil- dren and child-rearing, have not taken hold in Japan. In opinion poll after opinion poll, women have made it abundantly clear that their main goal in life is to marry and have children.

What we find in Japan- ese society, therefore, is a clear delineation of the roles of men and women, with the latter’s role often supe- rior to that of the former.

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ILETTERS FROM READERS a high stake in preserving and maintaining the status quo and will, I believe, con- tinue to spare the country what Mr. Fukuyama calls "the social disruption that has attended economic change in the West." After all, drastic economic change has already come to Japan, and for a rather long time now.

CHET GOTTSCHALK Sagamihara City, Japan Affirmative Action To THE EDITOR: Debates over affirmative action in college and uni- versity admissions often overlook several important facts, and COMMENTARY’s symposium, "Is Affirmative Action on the Way Out? Should It Be?" [March], is no exception.

First, few who discuss Hopwood v. State of Texas, a case which, as Glenn C.

Loury puts it, "forbid[s] the practice of affirmative ac- tion in college admissions," seem to know about earlier litigation, the Adams cases, in which those states that had had de-jure-or legally- enforced-systems of seg- regation were obligated to formulate plans to eliminate the effects of that segrega- tion. The now-reviled dual- admissions program at the University of Texas law school that was outlawed in Hopwood was part of a court- approved agreement be- tween Texas and the feder- al government to correct past discrimination. That discrimination was neither subtle nor covert, nor all that far in the past. It was within the professional life- time of some current pro- fessors-1947-when the state opened Texas South- ern University law school rather than permit Herman Sweatt to attend the Uni- versity of Texas law school.

In fact, Dr. William S.

Livingston, senior vice pres- ident of the University of Texas in Austin, was a young faculty member then. He told a reporter some time ago that Sweatt’s exclusion barely caused a ripple of consciousness among the university faculty. Is it any wonder that many black and Hispanic Texans remain sus- picious of the university’s commitment to nondis- crimination? In any event, it is impor- tant to realize that the un- usual admissions procedures at the University of Texas law school would not have been instituted by any state that had not had a history of legally enforced segrega- tion. That circumstance did not convince the three- judge panel of the Fifth Cir- cuit Court that ruled in Hopwood, but many court observers believe it might have held sway with the court en banc.

Those who oppose the kind of affirmative action used by Texas as a remedy for past discrimination have an obligation, it seems to me, to propose an alterna- tive that will ensure that African-Americans and La- tinos are not shut out of the educational institutions that are key to developing mi- nority leaders.

Another issue rarely dis- cussed in affirmative-action debates is what the actual numbers are. Dr. Michael Nettles, a professor of edu- cation at the University of Michigan and one of the top researchers of the educa- tional experience of African- Americans, has found that of the nation’s 1,808 four- year colleges and universi- ties, only about 120 can be considered "serious affir- mative-action" institutions.

The rest accept most stu- dents who apply or have not had much growth in black and Latino enrollment.

In 1985, those 120 selec- tive institutions had a com- bined freshman enrollment of 119,937, rising to 126,303 in 1995. Their com- bined black and Hispanic freshman enrollment went from 8,897 in 1985 to 15,181 in 1995, with most of the growth (4,351) being among Hispanics. Of those black and Hispanic students, only three out of ten may have Gramercy Park Hotel Your Private Oasis Just South of Midtown Manhattan Imagine.. You’re just minutes away from a trip to Europe! Whether you’re dining on one of Chef Robert’s 20 freshly prepared pastas ($12.50 – $19.50) or planning a wedding, (packages begin at just $57 per person), you’ll find our hotel to be an oasis of Olde World charm. With Soho, the Village, Madison Square Garden and Off-Broadway theaters in the neighborhood, make it your business to pleasure yourself in style.

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1-free: jl W J…r _J~LY i. ~3 ~ ~lL [13] ICOMMENTARY JUNE I998 benefited from affirmative action, in the sense of hav- ing somewhat lower grade- point averages and stan- dardized test scores than the median for white students.

This is hardly a picture of affirmative action run amok, with unqualified African-American and His- panic students crowding out more qualified white stu- dents. In fact, during this period the growth in total freshman enrollment more than exceeded the growth in enrollment among Afri- can-American and Hispan- ic students.

Those who believe in the transformative power of col- leges and universities to ed- ucate students, rather than just sort them, should make sure that the standards that count are not college and university entrance stan- dards but their exit stan- dards. Perhaps they could take to heart the example of little Xavier University. His- torically black, Xavier re- cruits its students from the streets of New Orleans, not known for the high quality of its public schools. Xavier’s incoming students, for the most part, do not have im- pressive SAT or ACT scores. And yet, because of high-quality instruction and counseling, Xavier manages to get every one of its pre- med students into medical school. Almost every Afri- can-American pharmacist in the nation is a graduate of Xavier.

What matters to those who consult a doctor or pharmacist who graduated from Xavier is not what his or her SAT score was-any more than it is important to know whether he or she walked at ten months or thirteen months. What mat- ters is how skilled and well- educated he or she is. That is what a good university should be in the business of guaranteeing-not its in- coming freshman SAT scores.

FRANK L. MATTHEWS Publisher, Black Issues in Higher Education Fairfax, Virginia To THE EDITOR: Given space, I would ad- dress a number of the argu- ments made against affir- mative action in the COM- MENTARY symposium, but for the purposes of this let- ter, I will content myself with only one: the argu- ment that those who have achieved good positions through affirmative action worry that people will think they have not earned their position. As Joseph Epstein writes: "I cannot gauge how cynical a young African- American academic be- comes when he knows that interest in him is not prin- cipally for his qualities as a scholar or a teacher but purely for his race." The er- ror here is the white man’s belief that the black man cares one whit what the white man thinks of him. If, under the auspices of affir- mative action, I, a black man, become a professor of philosophy at Harvard, I will never lose a second’s sleep worrying whether white people think I deserve the position.

The question is whether a man wants to achieve great things or whether he wants other people to perceive that he has achieved great things.

As for me, people may think what they like. I have found they tend to do so anyway, by my leave or not.

But if I am to argue in fa- vor of affirmative action, I should make very clear the type of affirmative action I think we need. We need a program that gives disad- vantaged men and women a chance-once they have decided they want that chance. This last point is so key that I think it worth- while to spell it out in my own case.

At any time in my life I could have decided not to take this route, to remain impassive to overtures made to me by teachers and friends. It was not until I got into college-and with my SAT scores, my acceptance was undoubtedly a result of affirmative action-that I decided it was time. I began, then, to compete with peo- ple much better prepared than I, people who had had calculus in high school, peo- ple whose parents had tu- tored them daily all through elementary school. But dis- advantaged as I had been, I was advantaged too, because I had decided I wanted the chance, and I was willing to work. I was willing to work morning, noon, and night.

I was willing to work on Friday and Saturday eve- nings. I was willing to sleep only when I had to, to spend every minute between classes reading, writing, working, always working.

And though it has only been two years since I first de- cided I would put forth the effort, since I first scored so poorly on my SAT scores that I did not legitimately deserve a place at the uni- versity, I have already caught up. But I needed two things: the chance and the desire. One would have done me no good without the other.

A disadvantaged person given the chance but with- out the desire will not suc- ceed; he will never have the fortitude required to catch up. So here is the affirma- tive action I believe in: uni- versities should take a num- ber of disadvantaged stu- dents, regardless of GPA’s and SAT’s, with the under- standing that the students have one or possibly two years to earn their spot le- gitimately. We (read: disad- vantaged students with the desire) can live up to the standards-make no mis- take about that. But we must be given the chance.

It has perhaps been said too often that racism is a disease in this country. One might then ask: is affirma- tive action the remedy? No, it is not. This is important to understand, especially for those who support it. Affir- mative action will never cure the disease; it may not even help it much. But it can help to alleviate some of the symptoms. The de- bate over affirmative action seems to have broken into two camps-those who es- pouse affirmative action only and would do nothing about the underlying dis- ease, and those who disdain affirmative action and would let this patient flail helplessly on the table, op- erating without administer- ing so much as an aspirin.

Maybe affirmative action is only an aspirin, something to dull the reality of what is really there. Perhaps this is what the more noble of its opponents have recognized.

But if that is the case, then let me tell you, brother, this is one patient who needs something for the pain.

JACKSON L. WHITE Bloomington, Indiana To THE EDITOR: It has been my abiding belief that the attempted redress of slavery through racial preferences was the result of Congress’s lack of political fortitude to Day the price in dollars of [14] r Iof~i·· s:~ij::::O:gg v :, B e g.~#:::5b:·~ ,,gS':~~:~s:x:~s,,,,B m~:~~: iiiS::i: E :g:…:ff~~::B_!:: >.0*gi ‘gfSRR’g5 ::, S,:.,.S , S:B:f::o:> : :.: ::: R: : a :i:: ::,.,fgRLRRj:;..,:;.··:s .> So ALOE:P·:~:~:;::~~ :;:’I:::':::::x: .Si::: m~~~~~~i International Symposium August 23-26, 1998 On the campus of DOMINICAN UNIVERSITY River Forest, Illinois (near Chicago) This year marks the quincentenary of the death of Luis de Sant6ngel, the finance minister in the court of King Ferdinand. SantAngel was a man of Jewish ancestry who saved Columbus’s enterprise for Spain.

By convincing Queen Isabella to accept Columbus’s plan in 1492 and by underwriting a large part of the expenses with his own funds, SantAngel may be called America’s first financier. SANTANGEL 98 will explore the extraordinary contributions of the Jews and Conversos of Spain and of the Sephardim-the Jews exiled from Spain and Portugal and their descendants. Our program will include: * speakers from Spain, Israel and the U.S.

* a series of lectures and panel discussions * videoconferencing direct from Spain * simultaneous translation * screening of video documentaries * workshops on aspects of Sephardic culture * an exposition of photographs showing the Spain of SantAngel and Sephardic history and culture * on the final evening, a Sephardic supper and concert For further information, please contact: Kathleen E. LeMieux Miguel Angel Martin Coordinator Director SANTANGEL 98 Cervantes Institute Dominican University John Hancock Center 7900 W. Division Street 875 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 2940 River Forest, IL 60305 Chicago, IL 60611 (TEL) 708 – 524 – 6820 (TEL) 312 – 335 – 1996 (FAX) 708 – 366 – 5360 (FAX) 312 – 587 – 1992COMMENTARY JUNE 998 doing the right thing. In the face of a public tired of costly government welfare, angered by judicially-forced busing (which nearly de- stroyed our public-school system and from which it has yet to recover), and fear- ful over the growing na- tional debt, Congress did not have the political will to fund programs needed to provide disadvantaged blacks with the tools to compete in America. It seemed a much easier leg- islative choice to undo the effects of slavery by placing society’s burden on guiltless and relatively powerless individuals of other races who would be excluded from schools and jobs in fa- vor of blacks. But as we should have known (and many of us did know), this policy simply did not work.

It is therefore curious that, with the problems of slavery far from resolved some 135 years after its abo- lition, most of the respon- dents failed to discuss the issue raised by COMMEN- TARY’S last question, name- ly, what public policy should replace affirmative action? This is the question that must be addressed. The contributors to your sym- posium, and other right- thinking and capable peo- ple, should offer their skills to find and their voices to support a prompt and prop- er means of dealing with slavery’s ugly wake, what- ever may be the expenditure of treasure.

Once a conscious com- mitment is made to do what must be done, the task may be found to be less daunt- ing than it now appears. But the development of a poli- cy to replace racial prefer- ences is vital and urgent.

MARTIN T. GOLDBLUM Beverly Hills, California To THE EDITOR: By defining people sole- ly with reference to their racial or ethnic group, af- firmative action robs its ben- eficiaries of their individu- ality and relegates them to the status of mere fungible specimens of one group or another. The result is the re- inforcement of group iden- tification, which makes the already arduous task of de- molishing the walls that di- vide our increasingly Balka- nized society all the more difficult and thoroughly frustrates progress toward affirmative action’s professed ultimate goal, a society that rewards individuals on the basis of merit.

Because this kind of af- firmative action is predicat- ed upon the belief-held, despite their protests to the contrary, even by propo- nents of preferences-that all members of the favored group are inferior to mem- bers of other groups in their ability to compete for these benefits, preferences are in- trinsically racist. Preferences thus strengthen negative racial and ethnic stereotypes not only among those be- longing to groups affected adversely but also among those they benefit.

I believe, however, that employing preferences only in the process of recruiting workers, students, contrac- tors, and the like into the pool from which selections are then made on the basis of merit will eradicate these objectionable aspects of af- firmative action.

Aggressive recruiting tar- geted at members of racial and ethnic groups that his- torically have not been meaningfully represented among applicants for par- ticular jobs, educational placements, or contracts, even to the extent of pro- viding mentoring and train- ing services, disadvantages no one.

Granted, the employ- ment of preferences in the recruiting process may not be philosophically pure, but the salutary results that can be expected more than compensate for any acade- mic concern about intellec- tual consistency.

BARRY C. STEEL Towson, Maryland To THE EDITOR: Bravo to COMMENTARY for including in its sympo- sium such principled oppo- nents of affirmative action as Carl Cohen of the Uni- versity of Michigan and Lino A. Graglia of the Uni- versity of Texas, both of whom are to be commend- ed for courageously speak- ing out against a system that has irremediably corrupted the cause of merit in high- er education today.

Here at the University of California, Berkeley, the campaign against Prop- osition 209, the first anti- affirmative-action initiative on any state ballot, reached hysterical proportions. Short- ly before the election was held in November 1996, the editorial board of the stu- dent newspaper, the Daily Cal-hardly a right-wing journal-voted in favor of the initiative on the grounds that, yes, in fact, black and Latino students had been admitted for years into the university with vastly lower grades and SAT scores than their white and Asian coun- terparts. This decision ap- parently infuriated some in the anti-209, pro-preference camp, for the day the issue of the paper announcing it hit the streets, all 5,000 copies were stolen from the newsstands.

This theft of the Daily Cal says a lot more about the attitude of the affirmative- action crowd than any de- bate ever could: in the minds of the supporters of racial and gender preferences, there should be no debate at all, since the other side is ob- viously wrong. Even more disgraceful were the nu- merous threats to the chief architects of the initiative, Thomas Wood and Glynn Custred, with the chairman of the campaign, Ward Connerly, coming in for a fair degree of outright phys- ical intimidation as well.

Such is the climate on our campuses today that those who would dare speak out against the odiousness of mandated preferences are subject not only to verbal censure but also to outright personal abuse, which both Messrs. Cohen and Graglia have endured at their uni- versities. It is odd indeed that the people who began the Free Speech Movement with such fanfare and pub- licity 35 years ago, and who are now firmly in control of our campuses, should do all they can to squelch any stir- ring of free speech when it comes from the opposition.

TIMOTHY SEAVEY Berkeley, Califbrnia To THE EDITOR: I have long since stopped trying to fathom how giv- ing special privileges to one group is not unconstitu- tional, but, alas, I am not alone. We all have our af- firmative-action stories.

Here is mine.

In 1987, then-Secretary of State George Shultz, while visiting the U.S. em- bassy in Oslo where I served as press attache, informed the staff that the foreign ser- vice would soon "represent all Americans," and that steps were being taken to [16] JTHE BENEFITS OF THE JOURNAL BEGIN IMMEDIATELY.

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1998 JC & C,, ,I AUu 1COME/3UATW -,__…—=…———__________ DTOMIMa-EsCOMMENTARY JUNE I998 bring that principle into re- ality.

Beginning in the Reagan administration and meeting little or no resistance there- after, what Shultz prophe- sized has come true with a vengeance. With the Bush administration doing little if anything to limit the scope of affirmative-action programs, and the current administration wedded to expanding them into all as- pects of the foreign service, preferences now include not only admission but assign- ments, promotions, and even awards.

There is, however, one aspect of these programs that should give people rea- son to reflect. The fact re- mains that never in the course of my foreign-ser- vice career, which spanned more than a quarter of a century, did I ever meet an officer who would admit that he or she was a recipi- ent of affirmative-action largesse. Most were strident in distancing themselves from such preferences.

That, in my judgment, says much more than the absurd rantings of the defenders of affirmative action.

VINCENT CHIARELLO Reston, Virginia To THE EDITOR: Affirmative action as it has operated for three dec- ades in the field of com- mercial buyer-seller rela- tions is a fraudulent burden on American business.

In the Nixon and Carter years I was corporate head of purchasing for a house- hold-name Fortune 500 company that had a well- deserved reputation for eth- ical operations. Because minority (largely black) leaders (many self-de- scribed) convinced corpo- rate America that purchas- ing offices were closed to minority businessmen at- tempting to sell goods and services, most companies in- stituted programs to buy from minorities and search for overlooked minority suppliers. Unfortunately, even with our continuing full-court press, we did not run up large purchasing bills with minority businesses.

We honestly could not.

Enter the politicians, who were unhappy that re- ality did not jibe with their preconceived notions of what was out there. I will never forget the day that top management came to me with the message that all federal marketing was dead in the water until a very prominent Congressman was satisfied with our num- bers for minority purchas- es. But, eventually, reality bit this Congressman and others-so a new require- ment was mandated: the quota, aided and abetted by the set-aside.

Thus the era of minori- ty "ownership" began. Sud- denly the hitherto invisible legions of suppliers materi- alized. "Ownership" was the operative word: as in, "I [the minority person] own 51 percent of the company." Ownership was almost al- ways accepted on its face.

Who was checking? Cer- tainly not the pols and bu- reaucrats and certainly not the boards of directors who were proud of their affir- mative-action programs.

MICHAEL W. CUNNINGHAM Darien, Connecticut To THE EDITOR: In his symposium con- tribution, Nathan Glazer perpetuates the myth that blacks need to be admitted to prestigious universities be- cause they are the tickets to power, wealth, and influence.

The falseness of this view is confirmed by looking at the alma maters of the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, the vast majority of whom did not receive their undergrad- uate degrees from Harvard, Yale, MIT, or Stanford. In- stead, they were graduated from the many fine state schools around the country, perhaps from schools Mr.

Glazer might not even have heard of.

As for the question of what affirmative action should be replaced with, the best answer is that provid- ed by Thomas Sowell, who responded to a similar ques- tion as follows: "Nobody asks a surgeon operating on a cancer patient what he is going to replace the malig- nant tumor or cancerous growth with. He simply re- moves it and hopes that the body’s natural mechanisms will begin the healing process." MARK G. CASTELINO Rutgers University Newark, New Jersey To THE EDITOR: If the purpose of affir- mative action is to give dis- advantaged minorities an "equal" chance at admission to colleges, its underlying justification must be that after four years of school, these minorities will catch up to their advantaged peers.

Unfortunately, this never seems to happen, since af- firmative action is still used for postgraduate admissions.

How many years of prefer- ential treatment will it take until minorities can compete in a system based solely on merit? If affirmative action can- not rectify disadvantage through education, then what is its purpose? LARRY BARNES New York City To THE EDITOR: Contrary to assertions by William J. Bennett (citing William Safire’s New Polit- ical Dictionary), John O’Sul- livan, and apparently every- one else who now addresses the issue, the term "affir- mative action" was official- ly used as early as 1935, in the National Labor Rela- tions Act (NLRA), to desig- nate the action the Nation- al Labor Relations Board may require of any "person" it found to have committed an "unfair labor practice." Affirmative action, accord- ing to the NLRA, included measures-like "reinstate- ment of employees, with or without back pay"-that would "effectuate policies of this Act." Following de- cisions by the California ap- pellate court and the U.S.

Supreme Court in 1939, the term was defined as "con- structive action, rather than mere negation." Observing the difference between the way the term was used close to or at its inception and how it is used today suggests that pro- ponents of race, ethnic, and gender preferences are using "Newspeak" to force opponents to acknowl- edge-by the mere act of discussion-that such pref- erences are not only con- structive (a dubious propo- sition at best) but required by law (a false proposition by any reasonable interpre- tation).

MERWYN R. MARKEL Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania To THE EDITOR: The question of affirma- tive action is not whether racial and gender prefer- ences are discriminatory, because any policy based on group affiliation is discrim- inatory on its face, but whe- ther or not the state, uni- [18]Investor’s Business Daily War m~~~~~~~~I Keeps You Up On All The Crucial Facts…

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IShip To: Residence LI Business IName Last First Address Apt./Ste. __ City State _ Zip __ Daytime Phone (__ Business Phone ( ) I I Company Title Mail to: Investor’s Business Daily, P.O. Box 66370, Los Angeles, CA 90066-0370 Subscribers within the last 4 months not eligible. This offer is good in the US.A. only. JBXD _____4.II – — – — — —– J ICOMMENTARY JUNE 1998 versity, government agency, etc. has any compelling in- terest in discriminating for or against any sector of the population. Opponents of affirmative action, and I would place myself among them, maintain that no compelling interest exists to justify this sort of discrimi- nation; advocates of prefer- ences claim that they are needed to remedy past dis- crimination and promote di- versity. Yet all this does is aggravate the situation: more discrimination as a so- lution for past discrimina- tion.

Moreover, the question of diversity clouds the affir- mative-action issue as a whole. Advocates of race and gender preferences turn di- versity into a one-dimen- sional concept based solely on skin color and gender.

This makes all thought and action dependent on race and gender and coerces conformity of opinion, not allowing for dissenting voic- es. Assessing people ac- cording to group affiliation, and giving preferences to some groups at the expense of others, only serves to re- inforce negative and preju- dicial stereotypes that affir- mative-action programs sought to dissolve.

We do not need to mend a policy based on the Or- wellian hypocrisy that the cure for discrimination is more discrimination, or an understanding of diversity that serves to enforce con- formity and stifle dissenting opinions with hysterical ac- cusations of racism and sex- ism. What is needed is a pol- icy that validates individual merit and achievement.

If we continue to imple- ment affirmative-action pro- grams that view opportuni- ty as a zero-sum game and grant access solely accord- ing to group affiliation, it will become increasingly dif- ficult to maintain any no- tion of democracy, equality, social cohesion, or just plain tolerance in the United States. Then all people will lose, regardless of race, re- ligion, and gender, and re- gardless of the best inten- tions and efforts of the advocates of affirmative-ac- tion preferences.

SCOTT GLOTZER William Paterson University Passaic, New Jersey To THE EDITOR: "Affirmative action," a phrase with "just about as much falsity as one could hope to pack into seventeen letters of the English al- phabet," in Joseph Epstein’s memorable words, has nev- er been the issue: racial preference is the issue. But information about how preferences operate in the real worlds of education, business, and government is extremely difficult and costly to obtain. It is also in- formation that many social scientists and others do not especially wish to obtain for fear of what they might find, as Norman Podhoretz perceptively states. Those who operate such programs are even less forthcoming, and, in my personal experi- ence, downright hostile to inquiries on this subject.

Yet the information gap is slowly closing. I am proud to have co-authored sever- al of the Center for Equal Opportunity’s studies on racial preferences that were cited by the center’s presi- dent, Linda Chavez, in her symposium contribution.

These studies provide in- formation heretofore hid- den from public view on how racial preferences op- erate in the real world. At the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, for example, we found that admission was denied to at least 500 white students a year with both test scores and grades bet- ter than those of the medi- an accepted black applicant.

This pattern is consistent for the three years for which we have data, and I see every reason to assume that it has existed for a much longer time.

These are specific, pal- pable acts of reverse dis- crimination, which is what affirmative action has mu- tated into. Individuals with lesser qualifications receive offers of admission, jobs, and contracts because of the color of their skin, or what Carl Cohen has called "naked racial preference." It is to be hoped that grow- ing public awareness of the immense damage caused by racial preferences will in the end lead to the abolition of racial-preference programs once and for all.

ROBERT LERNER Rockville, Maryland To THE EDITOR: The set of twenty state- ments on affirmative action is magnificent. Each writer presents his points concise- ly, and together they show the full range of arguments pro and con. I read the sym- posium carefully, twice, and came out agreeing with the cons. Although sympathiz- ing with the need to help blacks, I must reluctantly conclude that affirmative- action-cum-preference is not an acceptable strategy. It does some good, but neces- sarily does pervasive harm.

It gives practical help, but at the expense of eroding some of our most basic principles. All in all, the COMMENTARY symposium is a major contribution to the debate on affirmative action.

WILLIAM A. SHURCLIFF Cambridge, Massachusetts

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