Proposition 209 passed in California nine years ago and banned all affirmative action programs from the state. Last night at the East Quad auditorium, director of Association for White Anti-Racist Education, Tim Wise, said the mistake made by those who campaigned against it was to only center on the drawbacks women would suffer from the prohibition of affirmative action in order to get their votes.
It was this strategy of drawing attention away from underrepresented minorities that ultimately brought the downfall of California’s affirmative action movement, Wise said. Michigan must not make the same mistake in its bid to defeat the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, he added.
In hopes of rallying support against MCRI, several student groups that support affirmative action invited Wise, who is also the director of the Association for White Anti-Racist Education, to speak on the future of MCRI and on the necessity of affirmative action.
Wise insisted that the focal point of affirmative action should be race and that focusing on that aspect was the only way to garner support from the public to stop MCRI.
Wise said the biggest mistake a defender of affirmative action can make in the fight against the MCRI is to run away from race and switch the focus to gender
“It strikes people as fundamentally dishonest,” Wise said.
University President Mary Sue Coleman has recently employed the same tactic when publicly opposing MCRI. At a women’s summit two weeks ago, Coleman cited a study done at the University that pointed out detrimental effects the ballot initiative would have on women.
Wise is the author of two books — “White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son” and “Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White” — and has spoken at over 350 college campuses about race and affirmative action. Last night’s speech was his third time speaking at the University.
“When I first saw him as a freshman he totally revolutionized the way I think about race and affirmative action,” said RC junior Ryan Bates, who is co-chair of the Peace and Justice Commission of the Michigan Student Assembly.
Last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on race-conscious admission policies was also a topic of discussion in Wise’s speech. He specifically singled out Jennifer Gratz, who sued the University after being rejected from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
“Her entire story of personal victimization is a lie,” Wise said. “That was an absolute fabrication.”
Wise said Gratz was upset because about 85 people from underrepresented minority groups were accepted to the University despite being less qualified than she. Wise also said that about 1,400 white people who were also less qualified were accepted to the University and about 2,000 white people who were more qualified were rejected.
“It’s like driving around your campus trying to find a parking spot and getting pissed at disabled parking,” Wise said. “That makes no damn sense.”
In a previous interview with The Michigan Daily, MCRI spokesman Chetly Zarko said that affirmative action was unacceptable.
“Attempting to correct societal discrimination with preferences is inappropriate. You end up increasing … the resentment,” he said. “To end societal discrimination, you have to end government preferences,” he added.
Wise said it is common for whites to have their viewpoints heard while the voices of minorities are muffled.
“White defenders of affirmative action have this sick power to be taken seriously when you say something,” Wise said. “It’s simply the aesthetic.”
Wise also said a person’s views on affirmative action depend on whether he believes that racial discrimination still exists. Wise used statistics and studies to assert that such discrimination does still exist.
“Racial preference is not new. Racial preference is woven in to the very fabric of our nation’s laws,” Wise said. He argued that people from minority groups are being punished for not having access to all the resources and opportunities that white people do, and that affirmative action was the only remedy.
“It’s about demanding similar standards,” Wise said.