Prof. Crenshaw on Tavis Smiley TV Show and NOW- PBS Talking About "Connerly’s Preference for Deception" and the struggle to keep affirmative action!
Prof. Crenshaw recently wrote an article for Ms. Magazine discussing the deception utilized by Ward Connerly’s equally misleadingly named organization, American Civil Rights Initiative. Following this publication, Prof. Kimberlé Crenshaw appeared with Kathy Spillar, Executive Director of Ms. Foundation, on the Tavis Smiley radio show in January to build up momentum against similar activity in the upcoming November elections on anti-affirmative action referendums in five states.
Since Prof. Crenshaw spent most of 2007 in Brazil, host Tavis Smiley began the show by asking Prof. Crenshaw to provide a comparative assessment of affirmative action’s contentious position in Brazil. Prof. Crenshaw established that affirmative action is relatively new in Brazil, having started only five years ago. In spite of Brazil’s heritage as a largely mixed race population, people of African descent live mostly in poverty and very few enter higher education or the business world. Ironically, despite this fear of “importing racial categories,” the opponents of affirmative action have imported the language of the US Civil Rights movement by stressing the need for “equality before the law.”
In the US, affirmative action opponent, Ward Connerly, has mastered the misinterpretation and appropriation of Martin Luther King’s words. As Prof. Crenshaw points out in the Ms. Magazine article, “Women and black people were denied the vote in the past; today they are deceived out of their votes.” By using the word, “preference,” African Americans signing for the ballot measure believed this law would end the “old boy” networks and Whites signing it believed they were ending quotas based on race. Significantly, the nonpartisan Harris Poll found that the phrase “affirmative action” actually evokes support from a large majority of Americans. Thus, Prof. Crenshaw argues, a simple turning of the phrase can mislead and deceive voters. Ultimately, Prof. Crenshaw harkens to what Martin Luther King intended with the Civil Rights movement, the need to enlighten and educate the public about existing racial discrimination and the necessity of taking legal measures through such policies as affirmative action.
In addition, Connerly’s argument during the California ballot elections stressed the failure of the public education system and the need to focus resources on improving them. Yet, as Prof. Crenshaw points out, Connerly did not pause after the ballot’s passage to focus his energy on improving the education system; but continued his campaign in two other states. As further proof of his disingenuousness, when Connerly finally returned to California, he pushed for a ballot measure to end government statistics based on race instead of directing his money and time on fixing the education system.
Another area of misinformation and misguided focus occurred amongst women voters. While women have been the main beneficiaries of affirmative action, Prof. Crenshaw points out that the ballot measures in California, Washington and Michigan divided the votes along racial lines. A majority of white women voted in support of Connerly’s ballot measures, while a large majority of women of color voted against it. Connerly’s campaign in Michigan help up the symbolic white women who were hurt by a quota system in the public education system, without acknowledging that a vast majority of white women gained accesses to higher education and into the business world through affirmative action. By targeting Ms. Magazine’s diverse audience interested in women’s issues, Prof. Crenshaw’s article makes it clear that the media needs to help inform women voters about the true aim of affirmative action, the “elimination of unwarranted obstacles faced by white women and people of color.”
As Prof. Crenshaw and Kathy Spillar acknowledged on the Tavis Smiley show, the media ultimately has a duty to fairly discuss affirmative action. In addition, the media failed to reveal Connerly’s deceptive tactics used in Michigan as well as his lucrative ties to contractors and large corporations that stand to gain with the withdrawal of affirmative action policies. For example, with affirmative action, minority and women contractors were guaranteed a percentage of the profitable government contracts normally given to companies already well connected and part of the “old boys” network. Now, even Connerly acknowledges, women and minority contractors are excluded from this “inside network” in California and in the other states where the measures have passed.
As the Ms. Magazine article and the discussion on the Tavis Smiley show revealed, a long road is ahead in the attempt to dispel the misinformation around affirmative action. Connerly’s deceptive tactics have worked in the past, and without the public airing or legal repercussions, will probably be used again. Prof. Crenshaw’s Ms. Magazine article and appearance on the Tavis Smiley show are just early efforts at increasing this much needed media coverage in the build up to the 2008 November elections.
As an outgrowth of both appearaces, Prof. Crenshaw and others presented their viewpoints on Connerly’s deceptive tactics during the August edition of NOW on PBS. During the show, Connerly himself defended his strategy to convince five more states to ban affirmative action. Racial justice in light of the Obama campaign was also part of that conversation. See the show "Attacking Affirmative Action" at http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/434/index.html .
You can find Prof. Crenshaw’s article, A Preference for Deception, here and in Ms. Magazine’s Winter 2008 Issue, on the newsstands now.
To listen to Prof. Crenshaw’s appearance on the Tavis Smiley Show click here.