The Mix

Justice Dept. Attacks Fellowships for Minorities

Colorblind or Just Blind?
On paper, France is colorblind. Its census asks no question about race or ethnicity, and a 1978 law bans the collection of most race-based data. Theoretically, this means that race is a non-issue and therefore not a problem. Of course, the last two weeks of arson, arrests and curfews prove this color-blind theory to be at odds with reality.

The Bush administration has carried on the same type of color-blindness that has proved so stupid in France. In its attempt to stamp out affirmative action everywhere, Bush’s Department of Justice is now threatening to sue Southern Illinois University over its fellowship programs in the name of color-blindness. Just like the University of Michigan case, the Bush theory goes like this: Any program, no matter how small or what its context, that may discriminate against a white man is breaking the civil rights laws.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that:
…the U.S. Justice Department charged that three SIU programs that aim to increase minority enrollment in graduate school exclude whites, other minorities and males, in violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act.
"The University has engaged in a pattern or practice of intentional discrimination against whites, non-preferred minorities and males,'' says a Justice Department letter sent to the university last week and obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
The letter demands the university cease the fellowship programs, or the department's civil rights division will sue SIU by Nov. 18…
The Justice Department targeted three graduate programs: the Proactive Recruitment and Multicultural Professionals for Tomorrow fellowship, the Graduate Dean's fellowship and the Bridge to the Doctorate fellowship.
The first two are funded by the university, while the Bridge program -- which aims to increase the number of minorities in the sciences, math and engineering -- is funded by another federal agency, the National Science Foundation.
This is just another example of conservatives’ long-standing lip service to color-blindness. In 2001, conservatives backed California’s Racial Privacy Initiative (Prop. 54), which would have prohibited the state from "inquiring, profiling, or collecting" racial or ethnic data on all government forms, just like France’s 1978 law. Opponents of the initiative (mostly civil rights organizers) argued that it was an attempt to ignore the racial discrimination that persists in education, the criminal justice system, housing, etc. After all, if the data is not there to prove unequal outcomes, then the government doesn’t have to do anything to try to mitigate the causes of those outcomes.

It seems to me that Bush, the Justice Department and some neo-cons are not exactly colorblind – they are just blind to people of color.
Maria Luisa Tucker is a staff writer at AlterNet and associate editor of the Columbia Journal of American Studies.
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