The Unjust Discrimination of Central Planning

by | Feb 9, 2003

Johnnie Cochran’s wife, Dale Mason Cochran, hit the jackpot as a member of a victim group in 1996, the year after O.J. was found not guilty of murder. Victimhood can be rewarding. Under a program designed to help companies owned by disadvantaged women or minorities, the New Orleans Aviation Board certified Mrs. Cochran’s company, Concourse […]

Johnnie Cochran’s wife, Dale Mason Cochran, hit the jackpot as a member of a victim group in 1996, the year after O.J. was found not guilty of murder. Victimhood can be rewarding.

Under a program designed to help companies owned by disadvantaged women or minorities, the New Orleans Aviation Board certified Mrs. Cochran’s company, Concourse Concessions, as a DBE, a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise. In 1996, the company landed a 10-year contract to lease space at the New Orleans International Airport for news and gift stores. Within four years, the DBE contract had delivered over $4 million in revenue to Concourse Concessions.

Reporting on how money set aside for disadvantaged businesses was being funneled to people who were far from socially and economically disadvantaged, staff writer Jeffrey Meitrodt at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans pointed to the finances at the Cochran household to show how elastic the definition of “underprivileged” had become in the process of awarding certificates of victimhood:

“Last year, when Johnnie Cochran was shopping for a personal jet, his finances were the subject of a feature story in The New York Times. Cochran, who typically earns at least $1 million per year, told The Times he was worth $5 million. That included homes in Los Angeles, a condominium in Manhattan and two apartment buildings in West Hollywood — but not the value of Cochran’s law firm. With a rapidly growing seven-figure income, Cochran’s net worth was expected to reach $25 million to $50 million within five years, his accountant reported.”

What’s wrong with all that is that it subordinates individuality to group membership. It says we can get past treating people as only members of a group by treating people as only members of a group. It says we can get past racial stereotypes by classifying all whites as advantaged and all blacks as disadvantaged. It says every woman is more underprivileged than every man. It says we’ll become more colorblind by becoming more color-conscious. It says we must racially discriminate in order to get past racial discrimination.

Operating not unlike the New Orleans Aviation Board, the admissions process at the University of Michigan awards 12 points on a 150-point scale to an applicant with a perfect 1,600 SAT score and 20 points to any applicant from an “under-represented” minority group. Johnnie Cochran’s kids, in other words, automatically get 20 points, even if dad has $50 million, just as mom got the “underprivileged” slot at the airport. In both cases, a white coming off some dilapidated porch in Appalachia is considered too overly-privileged to be eligible for the largesse.

Ruled unconstitutional (a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection) last year by a federal district judge, Michigan’s two-track racial preference system was later upheld in a 5-4 decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and is now before the Supreme Court.

As a footnote on how all this has become a divisive zero-sum game, Judge Daniel Boggs, dissenting in the aforementioned 5-4 decision, wrote that the “diversity” preferences at the Michigan Law School had much the same effect as the anti-Semitic Ivy League admissions policies in the 1930s, given that a “significant proportion” of the applicants who lose out at Michigan are Jewish.

“It’s a grave charge that Jewish quotas are making a comeback of sorts as a byproduct of ‘diversity’ preferences,” writes columnist John Leo. “The ‘Diversity’ people are committed to the rhetoric of ‘underrepresentation’: Every aggrieved group is entitled to the same proportion of university slots as its percentage of the population. But where will these slots come from? The so-called white ethnics are already ‘underrepresented.’ A few years ago, the head of the National Italian-American Foundation said Americans of Italian ancestry account for 8 percent or 9 percent of the American population and only 3 percent of Ivy League students. The slots can come only from the two groups that have dramatically exceeded expectations: Jews and Asian-Americans. Jews are only 2 percent of the population, but at Ivy League schools they account for 23 percent of students. In diversity-speak, a language with no word for merit, this means that Jews are ‘overrepresented’ and logically headed back toward quotas.”

The Bush administration, filing as an amicus curiae (or friend of the court), is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Michigan’s program. “Our Constitution,” explained President Bush in press conference, “makes it clear that people of all races must be treated equally under the law.”

Said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, reacting to the administration’s decision to file a brief, “Once again today, the administration has said as clearly by their actions as anyone can, they will continue to side with those opposed to civil rights.”

Singing from the same page, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi charged that President Bush wants to “roll back” the civil rights movement. “In our country,” she explained, “the beauty is in the mix,” i.e., the diversity.

True, the beauty is in the mix, but not if we’re forced to get there by way of double standards, guilt, divisiveness, victimhood, groupthink, stereotyping, scams, quotas and Mrs. Cochran getting the inside track at the airport.

Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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