Earlier this week, on CNN’s Late Edition and CBS’s Face the Nation, Secretary of State Colin Powell proclaimed his support of the University of Michigan’s use of racial preferences to bolster minority enrollments in its undergraduate and law school programs. The University’s policies offer points to racial minority applicants and set goals for racial minority admissions.
“Race should be a factor among many other factors in determining the makeup of a student body of a university,” said Powell. “A university exists to educate the public, and, if there is any segment of the public that is not adequately represented, then the university as a university is not doing its chartered job for the public.”
Universities do not exist to educate the “public”–there is no such thing as a collective mind. Universities exist to educate individuals. Each individual differs in character, intelligence and experience, and each individual deserves to be evaluated accordingly. Yet by his statement, Powell does not see the public as a group of individuals, he sees them as racial proxies, representing whatever racial group they may belong to by virtue of their skin. This position is apparently Powell’s antidote to the racism of the past–a new racism of the present.
Yet there is no way around it: Powell’s position itself is racist. If racial prejudice is wrong, the same must be said for racial preference. Yet it is precisely the continued use of race as a means of judging an individual that Powell now openly supports, in defiance of President Bush. How much better does Powell’s position compare to the days when bona fide bigots served in the government?
And how is Secretary of State Powell to tell dictators like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe that their reliance on race as a means of judging the individual is inappropriate? Mugabe’s regime has sized the farms of white landowners to give to his black supporters. Mugabe obviously thinks race should be a factor in deciding who owns farms in Zimbabwe.
So what then is the difference then between Mugabe’s and Powell’s position on race? In principle, not much–both positions differ only in application. Both positions are expressions of racial collectivism. Both positions claim to use race as a means of redressing the racial injustice of the past. Mugabe may have an element of common criminal in him, but now who is going to speak to the fundamental philosophic errors that drive the racial policies of his regime? Perhaps if Mugabe limited his race policy to university admissions and cloaked it in the name of “diversity,” he wouldn’t be such a pariah.
Powell’s position on race in America diminishes the ability of America to communicate to the world (and to its own people) the only antidote to racism that has ever existed. That antidote is the principle of individual rights. The Center for the Advancement of Capitalism argued as much in their brief to the Supreme Court on the University of Michigan case: “Although the defendants argue that race-based admissions correct the past and present evils of racism, the only solution to the problem of racism is individualism. This principle is enshrined in the claim of the Declaration of Independence that ‘all men are created equal.’ This was not just a political statement, but a metaphysical claim: no one inherits any experiences.”
Yet it precisely the metaphysical essence of individual rights that Colin Powell misunderstands. Powell said he “wish[es] it was possible for everything to be race-neutral [i.e., non-racist] in this country, but I’m afraid we’re not yet at that point where things are race-neutral.”
We’d be at that point already if men like Powell actually understood the principle that makes America work. For that fact, leaders with brazenly wrong principles like those of Colin Powell must not serve in our government.