Wednesday, August 04, 2004

"The Point" Goes Back in Time

The Counterpoint can almost hear the strains of Nirvana in the background. It’s like it’s 1993 all over again!

At least that’s the feeling after seeing the latest “Point,” Apparently there’s nothing going on in the world (like a presidential campaign, a war, false terror alerts, etc.), so Mark Hyman and company have revisited the issue of Lani Guinier.

As is customary, Hyman doesn’t refer his viewers to any speech, article, or other primary source for his commentary (if he did, viewers would find out how much he’s twisted the facts to make his “point.”). The Couterpoint’s best guess, however, is that Hyman was inspired by this piece in the New York Times, which describes the remarks of Lani Guinier and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at a recent gathering of African American Harvard graduates.

According to Hyman, Guinier (he doesn’t mention Gates, for reasons that will become clear) believes the “wrong” blacks are being admitted to Harvard (and other institutions of higher learning) and that racial purity should be a criteria for admitting African Americans.

Would it surprise you to learn this isn’t quite what Professors Guinier and Gates said?

Actually, both Guinier and Gates pointed out that a high percentage of black students at Harvard are in fact foreign born, often from Caribbean countries or Africa itself. They suggest that if the goal of Affirmative Action is to help those who have suffered because of the legacy of slavery in the United States, simply measuring the number of dark-skinned people one has on campus isn’t an accurate barometer of progress. Neither professor advocated some sort of test to determine how “pure” one’s African-American background was. Rather, they simply suggested this issue needs to be considered when we talk about how and why Affirmative Action programs are enacted.

In the case of Guinier, she argues that more aggressive recruiting needs to be done to bring those often overlooked into the fold of Harvard University, but she makes a point of saying such practices should aim as much at the recruitment of poor whites as native-born and economically disadvantaged blacks.

But it’s not enough for Hyman to simply misrepresent Guinier’s statements. He makes a point of reminding his viewers that Guinier was a Clinton nominee for attorney general until controversy over her legal writings forced her to be withdrawn from consideration. With Clinton connections (of the sort that Gates doesn’t have), you can bank on Hyman adding personal insult to the intellectual injury done to the facts.

First, Hyman refers to Guinier as “The Quota Queen,” an epithet coined by conservative opponents after her nomination, which is both factually inaccurate and carries its own subtly racist message (see this article from Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting for more on this).

He also makes the ridiculous claim that Guinier is ignorant of the history of the slave trade because she seems to not be aware that blacks from the Caribbean were also slaves. Yes, I’m sure Guinier and Gates, two of the most prominent African American scholars in the country, have a lot to learn from the likes of Mark Hyman on the history of slave trade, but The Counterpoint guesses they probably at least are aware of this basic fact. Remember, Mark, they’re talking about the purpose of Affirmative Action in AMERICA, as a policy to help AMERICANS who have suffered discrimination because of the laws and practices in AMERICAN history.

Lastly, but most disturbingly, Hyman throws in an intellectually dishonest and ethically reprehensible comparison between the views of Guinier and those of Adolf Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan. This is, in a word, despicable. As noted above, Guinier never advocates any test of racial purity when it comes to admissions. Moreover, her views (whether one finds them compelling or not) are based on the goal of inclusion and equality, not hatred and persecution. Just when you think Hyman can’t stoop any lower in his attacks, he manages to do it.

Affirmative Action and the use of race in college admissions is a complex topic with a range of opinions that are held by intellectually honest people. There are valid arguments to be made on virtually every side. As Guinier and Gates have noted, the topic has levels of complexity that haven’t even been deeply thought about yet.

But complexity and subtlety aren’t what “The Point” is about. As is all too typical, Hyman takes an important and multi-faceted issue, and uses it as a platform for blowhard propaganda and cheap-shot personal attacks.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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