Thirty years ago and Bakke

Thirty years ago I was at summer camp and Bakke was all the rage. For those of you under fifty, Bakke was a White man who had been denied admission to medical school. (see the Wiki entry under Bakke for details)

He noted in his complaint that 16 slots were allocated for special groups that competed with each other rather than the general population of applicants. Those slots were designated for persons with significant disabilities and Bakke felt he belonged in that group.

Whatever the acuity of Bakke’s opinion, the case came down to what was then (and still) called “race”. The affirmative action program was put in place to see to it that all communities in the U.S. had a chance for members of their communities to get an education, a medical education in this case.

Bakke and his ilk, OTOH, wanted to have everything based on test scores. Given the huge educational and cultural gaps between Whites and other groups in the country, the use of test scores would skew matriculation toward Whites and those minority groups with strong traditions of literacy and professionalism. The groups most disadvantaged in American society, African-Americans, Native-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans would be left out and their communities not served.

All this was founded on the fact that certain groups lived in isolated communities: Hispanics in the “barrio”, Native Americans on “the res”, and Blacks in the “ghetto”. Few Whites would take up their profession in those neighborhoods, so universities supported by the taxes of all the inhabitants of the U.S. had the task of providing professionals to those communities. That meant taking people out of those communities and educating them, regardless of their rank among all the applicants.

Moreover, few minorities would apply in comparison with the number of Whites (or, in California, Asians). Certain individuals might fall into those minority groups without the disadvantages e.g. Caribbean Blacks, upper-class Hispanics, and so forth. Therefore, the few African-Americans, Hispanics, or Native Americans who qualified based on test scores would most likely be statistically swamped by the large numbers of Whites applying.

Natually, many Whites and even minorities who did well on tests decided that they were getting cheated. Thus the huge support for Bakke. His loss in court did not resolve the problem; Whites continued to puff their chests out and proclaim “reverse discrimination”, citing minorities of almost craven levels of inadequacy getting promotions and jobs over Whites.

That’s my personal experience. Oh, the camp was one my wife and I were directing called Anytown. It was a human relations camp designed by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, so the campers’ sense of justice was raised to a high degree.

One White boy (the kids were all 16, about 120 of them) was extremely vocal in his support for Bakke and his condemnation of affirmative action. Many of the campers despised him. But he turned the tables on them; he joined the Black group for Culture Night. And it was HE, not the Black members, who delivered MLK’s “I Have A Dream Speech”. We had to get out mops to sop up the tears that night and it ended when a Black Muslim girl sang out the Azan, the Call To Prayer, as we gathered around the flag pole and gazed upwards at the stars.

As if that wasn’t enough emotion, that was the same week that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints declared a revelation that the inferior role of Blacks in the religion had been an error and all discrimination in the church was put at an end. The many Mormon kids in camp, always on the defensive, were ecstatic.

What a year. 1978.

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