Class difference is not just a black- and-white issue, Prof.
Lani Guinier of Harvard Law School explained yesterday to an
audience of more than 3,000 at Hill Auditorium.

Amita Madan
EUGENE ROBERTSON/Daily
University President Mary Sue Coleman and Harvard law Prof. Lani Guinier at the 17th Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium yesterday at Hill Auditorium.

Guinier discussed the role of race and poverty as interdependent
variables in the fight for equality as the keynote speaker at the
17th Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium Memorial
Lecture.

“Race masks and it sustains deep flaws in the way our
society allocates opportunity and privilege to everyone,” she
said, pointing to standardized tests and “incarceration
instead of education” as examples of how social inequality is
not limited to minority groups, but affects the majority of
Americans across racial lines.

“In fact, it is those high-stakes aptitude tests, along
with many other ways in which we provide opportunities to those who
are already privileged, that has made higher education in this
country a ‘gift from the poor to the rich’,” she
said, using a phrase she said was coined by Anthony Carnavale,
vice-president of Educational Testing Service.

She added that this ‘gift’ is subsidized by
taxpayers and enjoyed by the most affluent, citing
Carnavale’s research based on a Century Foundation study.

The study found that among the 146 most selective colleges and
universities in the country, 74 percent of the students come from
the top 25 percent of the highest income bracket, while only 10
percent belong to the bottom half.

“It is no accident, therefore, that some of the more
wealthy suburbs of Detroit send 50 percent of the graduates from
their high schools to the University of Michigan, and yet Dearborn
High School, which is working-class blue collar white, sends 5
percent of its graduates to the University of Michigan,” she
said.

Guinier said there is a need to link class, gender and geography
to race in order to create a deeper fundamental understanding of
the relationship between race and social inequality.

“We are not going to solve the problem of racism in this
society if we don’t also solve the problems of poverty in
this society,” she said.

Guinier reviewed the legacy of the Brown v. Board of
Education
ruling, but also criticized the ruling itself.

Brown v. Board of Education in some ways is both
part of the solution but it is also part of the problem,” she
said, adding that the landmark decision, while providing for the
desegregation of public schools and inspiring a generation, only
focused on the effects of segregation on black students.

“The Supreme Court, under the influence of very
well-intentioned racial liberals, focused on segregation and the
way in which it damaged, the Court said, the hearts and minds of
Negro children,” Guinier said. “No doubt segregation
was evil. And no doubt segregation damaged the hearts and minds of
Negro children, but it also damaged the hearts and minds of white
children and Brown was silent on that fact.”

By ignoring the psychological effect of segregation on
working-class and poor whites, the Brown ruling facilitated the
backlash of many whites against desegregation, Guinier said.
Because working-class and poor whites believed segregation was to
their benefit, Guinier said, they viewed desegregation as an
impediment to their own success and most saw little reason to
mobilize with blacks around common economic interests.

 

Vickie Wellman, an Ann Arbor resident, attended the event with
her husband Ian MacGregor and her granddaughter Reena Hobrecht, age
4. Wellman said they attend every year to honor and commemorate Dr.
King. She said Guinier spoke clearly about class and power issues
that go beyond race, and empowered the audience to rethink how they
live in the world and what they teach their children.

“We want to share the load of the work and pass on the
torch,” Wellman said. “We’re leaving (our
granddaughter’s generation) a lot of work to do in this
country. We’d better give them some better tools than
mainstream television and newspapers — they’re going to
have a lot of fixing to do.”

Engineering senior James McGinnis said he has attended the MLK
Symposium for four years to raise his awareness and as part of his
commitment to the movement for equality.

He said he was impressed by Guinier’s comments and the
depth with which she addressed the topic.

“She actually spoke about issues deeper than what
affirmative action or civil rights might address, talking about the
way society is structured and that being the reason for the
inequality that exists today,” McGinnis said.

He said he learned more about the need for grass-roots work and
finding solutions instead of patches for current problems.

“It’s harder work but it has a much bigger long-term
impact and I feel that’s what she really spoke about
today.”

He added that the event was worth waking up for and hoped even
more people would attend in the future.

“We want this (Hill Auditorium) to be too small next
year,” he said.

 

Additional reporting provided by Sarah Roffman and Donn Matthew
Fresard, for the Daily.

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