An Accuracy in Academia Address by Dinesh D’Souza
Delivered at AIA’s 1999 Conservative University at Georgetown
Racism is Not the Problem: Why Martin Luther King Got It Half Right
I feel funny being back here at Georgetown. I was
here a few years ago, actually debating the dean of the law school, a woman
named Judith Areen. At the time there was a controversy here at Georgetown
because a conservative student named Tim McGuire who was in the Georgetown
Law School and worked in the admissions office as an intern had stumbled
across all kinds of data showing gigantic racial preferences in Georgetown’s
admissions policy: huge differences in the LSAT scores of students of different
racial groups. He wrote an article about this. So, Dean Areen very pompously
denounced Tim McGuire and said, “Oh, no! We don’t practice any kind of
racial preferences here. We admit students based on their abilities, but
we don’t just look at grades and test scores, we look at ‘other factors’.”
So, in this debate, I said to her, “Well, Dean Areen, we’d like to have
a look at this list of ‘other factors’ because whatever these ‘factors’
are, it’s clear that no whites possess them. Whites never seem to get into
Georgetown Law School with these types of scores.”
What I’m getting at is that for a long time, this
reflected the deep level of evasion that has surrounded this whole race
debate. I confess that I’ve come to this debate as somewhat of an outsider.
I’m a first generation immigrant. I grew up in Bombay and came to this
country in the late ‘70s. For a year I stayed with American families, and
then I showed up as a student at Dartmouth. My first impression of America
was, “here is a place that is teaming with possibility and opportunity.”
Not just economic opportunity, because I was raised in a middle class family
and had a fairly comfortable life in India, but I think what struck me
as great about America and appealing about it is that it seemed to give
you the chance to write the script for your own life. If I lived in India,
I would be comfortable, but I would probably end up living one mile from
my house. I would probably marry somebody from my socioeconomic community.
I probably would become a medical doctor or an engineer. In other words,
my life would have taken a shape that could have been predicted and defined.
Here, I come to America; I start out in economics and business. I make
a radical U-turn; I go into liberal arts and political philosophy. I think
about becoming a professor. Mercifully, I don’t do that. I go into writing
and go to the Reagan White House. So, my life takes on a totally different
shape. I married a girl from Louisiana who grew up in California. So, it
is the mobility and possibility of American life, the sense that you are
the architect of your own destiny, which is the meaning of American freedom.
What I’m getting at is that immigrants come here
and their general impression is that America works. It has tremendous possibility.
Yet, we immigrants run into the leadership of domestic, indigenous minority
groups—the Jesse Jacksons of the world. What they say to you—in fact this
is kind of what Jesse Jackson was saying to me three days ago on Crossfire,
and we debated it the year before at Stanford University—was, “You’re wrong.
America doesn’t work. Racism, prejudice, inequality—institutional factors
will keep you down.” To which I said very directly, “Rev. Jackson, we live
in a big country and I’m sure you can find a lot of examples of racism,
but can you show me racism that is strong enough that it can prevent me,
or anybody else, from achieving the American dream. Show me racism so strong
that it is going to keep me out of graduate school, or keep me from starting
a business, or stop me from voting, or exercising my rights as a citizen.
Show me that kind of racism. Where is it?” He sort of cleared his throat,
hemmed and hawed, and fired off a few rhymes, and so on. He said, “I can’t
show you this kind of racism, but because it is not visible, doesn’t
mean it isn’t invisible. And because it is not overt, doesn’t
mean it isn’t covert.”
What is interesting to me about this debate is that
it involves non-white immigrants—most immigrants today come from Asia,
Africa, or Latin America—and involves the leadership of, in this case,
the African-American community, or one of its leaders. What’s interesting
is that this is not a debate that involves whites at all. It’s a debate
between immigrants and civil rights leaders about whether America works—or
doesn’t work. It’s kind of funny, but while I was waiting to debate Jesse
Jackson at Stanford, I told my wife, “I’m debating him for the first time.
Why don’t you come with me up to San Francisco, so I can take him on.”
She said, “No, no, you go alone.”
So I go up there and here comes Jackson like a prizefighter
and he’s surrounded by about 30 people. They all stand in line to shake
my hand and say, “Hello, I’m so-and-so and I work for Mr. Jackson,” and
“Hello, I’m so-and-so and I work for Mr. Jackson.” All of the while, I’m
thinking, well, Mr. Jackson doesn’t work.
So, here I am a student at Dartmouth and I’m getting
this feeling that my sense of America as a country with a lot of possibility.
America is a country founded on thought. It is unique among the nations
of the world in that a bunch of guys sat down and said, “What kind of country
do we want to live in?” These are the Founders, getting together in Philadelphia.
They sort of invented America, a country without a past. So, in essence,
it’s a country based on ideas, based on thought. In some sense I felt that
all of these claims of inequality or prejudice—not that they weren’t true—weren’t
the whole truth. They didn’t really capture what America was really all
about. So, the Jesse Jacksons of the world were wrong about America as
it is and as we experience it. But, were they right about America as it
was? Their trump card always is: “The reason we know America doesn’t work,
the reason that there is a lot of racism—even though I can’t show it—is
that there used to be a lot of it. What about slavery? What about segregation?
What about Jim Crow?”
On those facts, they appear irrefutably right and
since they appear irrefutably right, conservatives have a job of saying,
“Well, yes, you’re right about that and you’re right about that and you’re
right about that, but there has been a change. Things were fine and actually
Martin Luther King was a very good guy because he opened the door of rights
and opportunity, but then we got to racial preferences and that was sort
of not a good idea.”
Then I began to think to myself, well if Martin Luther
King was right, and in some ways if you go back even further—you look at
the civil rights leaders going back to Frederick Douglas—civil rights leaders
seemed to be saying, “America is a great country, it’s a great club. We
just want to be members.” They were, in a sense, pro-American and were
demanding and asking for the right to be let in and they were asking to
be let in by appealing to the American ideal. Martin Luther King says,
“I have a promissory note.” You could say, “Well, what note? Who wrote
it?” What he is appealing to is the Declaration of Independence—the notion
that all men are created equal. He is appealing to a southern slave owner
and saying, “That guy told me that I have rights.” And he’s right about
This was the tradition of the early Civil Rights
Movement and then, later, there was a break from that and a sort of alienation
that set in. I was curious when I began my book, The End of Racism,
and even in some degree with Illiberal Education, to find out where
did this alienation come from? What is this sort of story that we hear
about slavery?—Alex Haley’s ten part series on Roots and so on—the Civil
Rights Movement as a glorious struggle against oppression.
There are many important scaffoldings holding this
story up. As I began to work on The End of Racism, I realized that
this ‘story’ itself is, in many important ways, false. Not that it is totally
false, but that it is a story that has an ideological rudder driving it
and there’s a lot of misinformation along the way. I’d like to give a couple
of examples of this because, I’ll tell you, when I graduated from college
there were four or five things that I picked up through the air that I
took as unquestioned truths. Let me cite a couple of them.
One is slavery is a uniquely western institution
whose scars continue to be felt in American society, today. Second, the
Civil War was fought largely over economic motives between the North and
the South and Lincoln, although he seemed to be against slavery, did say,
“If I could save the Union without freeing one slave, I would do it.” This
would imply that Lincoln’s primary motive in fighting the war was not to
free the slaves. I had heard that the Iroquois Indians had had an important
influence in framing the U.S. Constitution, a notion reflected in a number
of textbooks. I had heard that if affirmative action doesn’t work, then
why don’t we have reparations? After all, didn’t this country pay the Japanese
reparations only a few years ago for the internment of the Japanese during
World War II?
As I started to look into these things, I realized
that in important respects that all of the four or five statements that
I have just given to you are false. Let’s take them very briefly.
“Slavery is a uniquely Western institution.” The
idea here is that the genocidal maniac Columbus came here, overran the
peaceful Indians, and imposed horrible institutions like slavery. The truth
of the matter is that the American Indians had slavery, long before Columbus
got here. Slavery is a universal institution that existed in every culture
known to man. The Chinese, the Indians all had slavery. The Africans had
slavery. Slavery had no defenders because it had no critics. Nobody questioned
it. It was like the family. It was taken for granted. What is uniquely
Western is hardly slavery; it is the movement to overthrow slavery. That
is a uniquely Western idea, developed only in the west. It had to be exported
elsewhere, often by force.
Number two: the Civil War and Lincoln’s motive’s
in the war. Without getting deeply into this, the story is very simple.
If Lincoln was not fighting the war over slavery, he could have simply
said that the South can have slavery, the new territories can have slavery,
and there would be no war. What happened was that when the war broke out,
Lincoln was worried that some of the border states, such as Maryland and
Kentucky, which were on the Union side, would join the Confederacy if the
issue was framed about being solely a war about slavery. At that crucial
time in the war, Lincoln writes a letter to Horace Greeley, which is then
publicized. He says, “I’m fighting for the Union! That’s my reason for
fighting.” It’s a prudential argument by a statesman at a crucial stage
in the war to prevent the border states from going with the Confederacy,
and, thus, prolonging the war.
The Iroquois Indians: I look into this little canard
and I discover that the only evidence for this [that Iroquois Indians shaped
the Constitution] is a letter from Benjamin Franklin. It turns out that
there was something called the “Iroquois League.” There were about ten
tribes. These Indian tribes were having fratricidal conflict and eventually
someone said, “Let’s form a league. Let’s meet two or three times a year.
Let’s sort out our differences.” It wasn’t a success; the Iroquois League
fell apart in a few years. Anyway, Benjamin Franklin, very dejected by
the argumentative nature of the Philadelphia convention and frustrated
by the inability of the people to come together in a union, writes an open
letter. He says, look, basically, if a bunch of barbaric Indians can get
together and have a league to sort out their differences, why can’t we
civilized white guys get together and pull together a constitution? This,
I kid you not, is the sole basis for arguing that the Iroquois League is
the hidden fount of wisdom behind the U.S. Constitution.
And finally: the reparations for the Japanese. Well,
I looked a little bit at those debates and they’re interesting debates.
It’s a legitimate question of whether or not if a country, even if a country
makes a mistake under conditions of war and interns the Japanese, should
reparations be paid to them? Putting that aside, the Congress decided that
we did make a mistake. We should pay reparations, but we are paying reparations
to the families that were, in fact, interned during the war. $15,000, I
believe, was the amount. But, I mean, you can’t go to the U.S. government
and go, “Hey, I’m Japanese. Where’s my $15,000?” No, you had to be in the
camps. So, the whole point was that the whole idea of reparations was aimed
at actual?as opposed to what I suppose you would call historical?victims.
This is a very important distinction. This distinction is also a part of
American history, although I won’t go into this.
So, here I am. I go from campus to campus to take
part in these debates and I began to float these counter-arguments and
so on. They generate a tremendous controversy, not because people disagree
with you, but because these issues go against their whole sense of not
only identity, but also their whole notion of moral virtue. Being a virtuous
person is being built into having certain types of attitudes.
I remember when I was talking about Illiberal
Education and The End of Racism, I’d go to a campus—and this
was Tufts just a few years ago—and it’s a room bigger than this, but I
come in to speak and there are a group of students in chains! They chained
themselves to their seats in the front row. Okay, it’s a free country.
But as I get up and come up to speak, these protesters begin to rattle
their chains. I’m a little perplexed by this, but what saves me is fortune.
Which is to say, the crowd in the room becomes too big, so they say, “Let’s
relocate to a new venue.” So, these poor kids are chained to their seats!
“Where’s the key!”
One reason I’m interested in these debates is also
that I’m in kind of a unique position in this debate—partly as an immigrant,
partly as a person of color. After one of my talks, a student comes up
to me and says, “You know, Dinesh, I agree with some of what you said—not
all, but some, but I’m a white guy. I could never say that. I’d be hounded
off the podium, I’d be excommunicated,” and so on. He’s right, you know.
One of the reasons that I have stayed in this debate, even though my writing
has migrated to other issues, is I feel like I have a kind of a weird “ethnic
immunity” in the race debate. I’m quite determined to use it in order to
raise the curtain on all of these taboo issues that can’t be talked about,
not because people have bad motives, but because the debate is rigged as
of now. One of the reasons I enjoy getting to campuses is raising these
questions in the right tone, in the right spirit and in the spirit of intellectual
discussion. So, the debate becomes widened and a lot more range of issues
becomes permissible to talk about.
I don’t really want to talk about the affirmative
action debate narrowly today, but I thought what I would try to do is to
get behind the debate a little bit and say a few words as to why this has
become such a big and bitter debate in America today.
The civil rights movement is one that was based upon
taking the idea of merit as opposed to the idea of nepotism. Nepotism simply
means favoritism—the boss who gives his lazy nephew a job instead of hiring
the most qualified guy is practicing nepotism. Nepotism has an old history
and is usually justified by the boss saying, “Well, my nephew does have
merit. He’s related to me.” But against this idea, which, as I said, is
very universal, the civil rights movement came up with the idea of, “no,
you should be judged as an individual, you should be judged on,” as King
says, “the content of your character.” Why not see, not who you are or
who you know, but what you can do? This becomes the operating slogan of
the civil rights movement: “Treat us as individuals, based on our merits.”
One of the problems has been, in the last 30 years
or so, the country has increasingly moved in that direction. This isn’t
to say that we have eradicated the idea of nepotism, but we have opposed
it with the idea of merit. So, if you look, for example, at campuses today,
you have admissions based upon ability. Now, remember, when I say “merit,”
it doesn’t necessarily mean just grades or test scores. Merit can be defined
differently. When I was a freshman at Dartmouth, we were told—and this
might be a huge lie, but we were nevertheless told this by other students—the
“Dartmouth Myth.” We were told, “Look, we are very different from Harvard.
Their idea of merit is sort a sickly, somewhat effeminate boy who reads
a lot, but can’t do anything else—can’t swim, can’t hike. He’s not well
rounded. Here at Dartmouth we look for the ‘Marlboro Man.’ This is the
all-around guy who has, maybe, a gentleman’s B+, but nevertheless knows
how to climb the Appalachian Mountains.” This was our inflated self-image.
My point is, here are two Ivy League schools, both
of them having different ideas of merit. One may be looking at grades and
test scores. MIT might say, “Okay, all we care about is how good you are
at math and science, and that’s it.” Harvard may say, “We look at your
SAT scores.” Dartmouth may say, “We look at you grades and test scores,
but we also care about your extracurricular talents.” My point is that
we conservatives aren’t trying to preach what merit is. We’re saying to
use merit however you want, just don’t include race.
This issue has gotten me into much unneeded controversy.
The other day, I was on a campus and almost had a group of students charge
the stage because someone stands up and says, “Why is it that you are critical
of affirmative action based on race, but you’re not critical of affirmative
action for athletes?” So, I said (and I guess I wasn’t thinking all that
well), “Because being a quarterback is a talent, but being black is an
accident.” You know what I mean. I had to look very hastily for the exit
at this point.
Here’s what I’m getting at: Our country is becoming
more meritocratic, but even as we have become more meritocratic, the racial
or ethnic inequalities in our society have remained the same and in some
cases have increased. This is also an irony of capitalism and we see it
in the larger currency of the culture. The technological revolution has
made America a more entrepreneurial and meritocratic society, but as a
result, you have huge differences in wealth. This is not because of differences
in inheritance, but because of differences in created wealth. My point
is that this result—which is that merit, like racism, creates inequality—has
been a big surprise to the Civil Rights Movement.
The Civil Rights Movement is not surprised that individuals
differ, but it is very surprised that groups do. Martin Luther King once
said, “If you treat us according to the content of our character, you will
see the riches of America widely dispersed between groups.” His assumption
was that if you have rights, you will have somewhat of a group equality
as a result. That has not happened. Look at campuses. We’ve had prop 209,
the colorblind initiative in California. One of the many reasons that that
was such a bitterly fought battle was that many scholars, from both sides
of the spectrum, knew that if you had a campus like Berkley, that was admitting
students on a colorblind, merit principle, what you’re going to see is
a campus predominantly made up of Asians and whites. The number of Hispanics
and blacks in such a campus would be small. This is not because there are
bigots in the admissions office. Rather, it’s because these merit standards,
however you apply them, are producing this racial result.
For years, this result was in denial. If you look
at textbooks that look at these problems, they will say things like, “Well
yeah, but you know the tests are biased. Look at the scholastic assessment
test. Doesn’t it measure cultural content? Doesn’t the cultural content
depend on where you grew up, where you went to school, who your parents
are, were there books at home,” and so on. Now, let us take for a moment,
the SAT. Most of you have taken the SAT. I took it many years ago and it
didn’t seem to me that it was devised by the Ku Klux Klan, but nevertheless,
let’s put aside the verbal section of the test which is conceivably biased
because it has synonyms, antonyms, and reading comprehension. So, fine,
ignore the verbal test—throw it out. Look only at the Math test. Typical
question: If an automobile can go 30 miles in an hour, how far can it go
in 40 minutes? I think that most of you will agree with me that equations
are not racially biased and Algebra is not rigged against Hispanics. The
point is that even on the Math test, you see, not the same, but bigger
racial gaps than on the verbal test.
This has forced the scholars on the other side who
are serious—and most of them are—to admit that these tests are accurately
measuring…what? Not IQ, they’re not biological ability tests. They’re measuring
differences in academic preparation. We’re facing a reality about our society
that we should face compassionately, but firmly. That is that there are
big differences in performances between groups. In fact, if you want me
to be as blunt as possible about it, let me say that two groups, Asian-Americans
and Jews, are hugely over-represented. Asians are about 3% of the population,
and about 25-30% of elite California campuses. Jews are about 2-3% of the
population and about 20-25% of leading Ivy League schools. These groups
are over-represented by a factor of 8.
Then you have groups that are under-represented.
The affirmative action dilemma is that the activists say, “Let’s increase
the level of the under-represented groups.” Fine, but you can’t do that
without decreasing the levels of the over-represented groups. It’s an algebraic
impossibility. So, this has created the tension of the affirmative action
Sometimes when I talk about these differences in
performance, you may not believe me. You’ll say, “Oh, that’s the SAT. Okay,
fine. That’s one test.” Let me strengthen my point in this way. This points
to a disturbing reality in out society, even in times of prosperity. That
is if you take any measure of academic achievement or economic performance—let’s
take a reading test given to a 5 year-old. Let’s take the math section
of the SAT. Let’s take the law school test. Let’s take the GMAT. Let’s
take the firefighter’s test. Let’s take the civil service exam. Let’s take
the police service test. It doesn’t matter what test?you name the test?and
you give this test to a randomly selected group of 100 whites, blacks,
Hispanics, and Asian-Americans—of any age at any part of the country—I
will tell you in advance the result. Asian-Americans and whites will do
the best, Hispanics will fall in the middle, and African-Americans will
do the least well.
I have been in this race debate for some years, now—I’ve
debated Jesse Jackson, Henry Louis Gates, Cornel West, and the head of
the NAACP, Kweisi Mfume. All of these guys, and I assure you that there’s
not one guy in the country who has ever given me a single counter-example
that refutes the pattern described here. Many people run shrieking out
of the room and call me names, but the fact is that there is not one person
in this debate who has given me a counter-example.
What we have here is a pattern. While it’s conceivable
that this test or that test may be flawed, it’s a little ridiculous to
claim that every test in every part of the country—many of which are devised
for particular jobs—is biased. Now, a huge debate is hiding behind this
and the huge debate is over, “why?” Why, in a society where we all do kind
of believe that people are created equal, do you have these differences
between groups? What do you really do about them? I just want to address
this debate very briefly.
There are three positions in this debate. The first
position as to why merit seems to produce some ethnic inequality is The
Bell Curve, the infamous Charles Murray book. It says, “Look, there
might be some genetic differences between groups.” This view, which I am
loosely going to call the “genetic view,” has been opposed for a long time
by the “liberal view.” The liberal view is: the reason that you have these
group differences in academic performance is that society creates them.
Oppression, inequality, and racism artificially manufacture these differences,
which would otherwise not exist. The genetic view and the liberal view
have been fighting and they have been in a seesaw battle. One goes up,
the other goes down.
In the early part of the century, most people assumed
that there was some truth to the genetic view. This view came under attack
in the ‘50s and ‘60s when the liberals said that, “How can you say that
blacks are falling behind when you have all of this racism. Look at Jim
Crow, look at all of this state-sponsored racism.” This view was overwhelmingly
plausible, which is why the genetic view was beginning to sink.
Today, we have just the opposite: the liberal view
is beginning to sink. This has created a crisis of thought in American
academia. Now, why is the liberal view sinking? I’ll mention a single statistic
that dramatizes this. Look at the SAT. What I’m about to say is true of
the verbal and math sections, but lets just look at the math section. If
you look at data from the College Board—easily verifiable and uncontested
by anybody—you will find that Asian-Americans and whites coming from families
making less than $20,000 per year score higher on the math section of the
SAT—and the verbal, too—than African Americans coming from families making
over $70,000 per year. Think about this for a moment and remember that
the veracity of this is undisputed. Think about the effect of that on the
liberal view. The liberal view would say that society manufactures these
differences. For a long time they would say, “The test only measures socioeconomic
privilege.” This simple fact decimates that view, but it also calls into
question the broader view. How can racism do this? How can racism make
poor whites and poor Asians do better on a math test than upper-middle
class African Americans? Nobody has had the answer to this. Not one thoughtful
person has been able say how that could happen. So the liberal view, which
was once unquestioned, has now become outdated. It can not explain the
world we live in.
So, in this debate, a group of us—Tom Sowell, I,
and a few others—what we’re saying is that you might consider a third view
which is not the genetic view and not the liberal view. This is the view
that explains group differences by pointing to differences of culture,
and by culture I simply mean behavior. These differences are observable
in everyday life. They can be measured by social science. They can be directly
correlated with academic achievement and economic performance. Just to
say a word about that debate. A sociologist named Dornbush from Stanford
was puzzled by a claim in The Bell Curve that said Asian-Americans
are genetically smarter in math—they have “higher visual/spatial abilities.”
There was sort of a weird, Darwinian argument which posited that they originally
came from the cold Alps and had to spot a white hare running across the
ice, and so on—I’ll put that aside. So this sociologist, Dornbush, says,
“Let me check. Let me do a comparative study with a wide span of kids and
let’s see.” He does this study and he concludes that there is a very mysterious
reason for why Asian-American students do a lot better in math. That is
that the Asian-American students study a lot harder. He said that the Asian-American
students spent, on average, 10-12 hours per week studying and doing homework.
For white students: 7-8 hours. For Hispanics and blacks: a little bit less.
Now you might be saying, “Now, why do the Asian students
study harder?” I’ll say that an important reason for this is family structure.
If you have a two-parent family, you have more time to devote to supervising
your child’s discipline, their study habits, and so on. If you’re in a
single-parent family, it’s more difficult. What is the illegitimacy rate
in the Asian-American community? It’s about 1%. In the African-American
community, it’s about 70%. This is a big difference.
My point is that here we are, arguing in a serious
way about a big problem in America and I know I’m not 100% right about
these issues, but you can’t debate them. People go wild. They go nuts.
They want to restrain you from arguing with them, even in a pleasant, factual,
empirical tone. This is what’s wrong with the race debate. It is not that
any group, including African-Americans, cannot greatly improve their situation.
I was on Crossfire three days ago. The NAACP is having
its convention, and one of their great concerns is not that blacks are
not benefiting as greatly as they should from this tremendous technology
boom. It is not that there are not enough entrepreneurial businesses created
by African-Americans. It is not how to train people to take advantage of
the want ad signs booming across the classified pages in every newspaper.
It is that there are not enough blacks on evening TV dramas.
Here we are on this serious national show, debating
this idiot issue. This is in an era coming out of the ‘80s where you had
Bill Cosby, the iconic figure of television in the ‘80s. We’re living in
a very multicultural pop culture in which Oprah Winfrey has influence,
in which the most popular star with crossover appeal is Will Smith. Why
are we talking about this?
My point is that this is the evasion of the race
debate. The NAACP passed a resolution to sue gun manufacturers. I’m not
exactly a gun fiend myself, but the point is what they’re evading is one
of the problems that is a terrible problem: inner city crime. A lot of
it is black-on-black crime, but it’s hard to talk about it because it doesn’t
fit the story. I mentioned earlier about the “civil rights drama.” It’s
a full drama. It has villains, Bull Connor. It has heroes, Sojourner Truth.
So, it is a black and white narrative against which the world is seen.
Once you understand this, you can understand how the world is read through
this lens. South Africa was big issue in the ‘80s. Why? Because you had
apartheid. You might have a lot of problems in the rest of Africa—relocations,
forced famines, mass killings of people. That’s not an issue. Why? Because
it lacks this moral melodrama.
What I’m getting at is that here we are looking at
this issue. I think it is an issue we should approach sympathetically because
it is an issue on which people feel deeply about. It is an issue in which
in this country you don’t want people left behind. Yet, it is the temperature
of this debate that creates the antagonism. I think that what we need to
do is to find creative ways to approach these issues, to open up these
taboos, to make a wider range of view legitimate and respectable.
I’ll conclude with something Franz Fanon, a black
liberation writer, once said and contrast it with something Lincoln once
said. Fanon says, “Ultimately it is the dream of every victim to exchange
places with his oppressor.” What he means to say is that, “you’ve done
it to me and isn’t it justice that I do it to you.” In some ways we don’t
want to downplay the truth in that, and, yet, I want to Fanon with Lincoln.
Lincoln says, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.”
What Lincoln is saying is that he rejects the principle of a master and
slave. This, in capsule form, is what the affirmative action debate is
all about. This conservative view is standing on the Lincolnian notion
of rejecting discrimination in either direction, and this gives us the
I’ll conclude with something King said: “Ultimately,
every man must write with his own hand the charter of his own Emancipation
Proclamation.” What he means is that in a free society, we have a right
to be treated equally under the law. We do have that right, but we do not
have any more rights than this. What we make of our freedom, how we use
our rights, the kind of script that we use of our own lives, is ultimately
up to us.