To the Editor:

It is unfortunate that Alexander Goot (“Affirmative Action: dangerously wrong,” 2/4) ignores the history of the 14th Amendment, which was the basis for Mr. Bakke’s affirmative action challenge in 1978 and is the legal foundation of Ms. Gratz’s challenge today. Goot states that in permitting the consideration of race in college admissions, Justice Powell’s Bakke opinion “amounted to a decision whereby racial discrimination was found to be acceptable.” The fact is, however, that the 14th Amendment itself was specifically intended to provide a legal basis for eradicating the badges and incidents of slavery. Nowhere in the text of the amendment is there a prohibition on the consideration of race — it speaks only of “equal protection of the laws.” Indeed, the same Congress that passed that amendment enacted some clearly race-conscious measures for the purpose of lifting black ex-slaves out of their sorry condition. That the same amendment is now being used to prevent a state from taking race into account at all is ironic at best.

Now, I would obviously agree that black Americans are, as a group, in nowhere near as pathetic a position as we (yes, I’m black) were in 1865. But the fact is that for 200 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow, equal opportunity in this country was systematically denied to people of African descent in this country, and indeed to pretty much anyone with a darker hue to their skin. It is clear that minorities have a responsibility to address the cultural problems that pervade their communities and hinder social mobility, but those who don’t acknowledge the role that legal segregation and overt government-sponsored racism played in creating those problems in the first place are simply kidding themselves. And when a state like Texas, California or Michigan tries to remedy the situation in as minimalist a fashion as possible, it’s a shame and a disappointment that some people earnestly cry “racism” and equate it to the state-sponsored segregationism of a bygone era.

Addisu Demissie ’01

February 4, 2003