Affirmative Action Debate: Clegg vs. Shaw

WASHINGTON, D.C.

The debate over whether racial diversity can be a “compelling interest” to justify the use of race in public school admissions will come to an end this week when the U.S. Supreme Court rules in two cases on voluntary desegregation.

In anticipation of the decision, reporters on Tuesday were treated to a debate on the future of affirmative action between Theodore Shaw , president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., and Roger Clegg, president of and general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity. The event was part of  The National Press Club’s Newsmaker Series.

Shaw said the intent of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling cannot be fully realized without voluntary desegregation, which is what the schools involved in the Supreme Court case were attempting to do.

Shaw and Clegg were debating two cases: Parents involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District et al. and Meredith, Crystal v. Jefferson County Board of Education. Both of the cases deal with school districts voluntary attempts to integrated their schools to ensure racial balance by rejecting both White and minority students from their preferred schools when the groups were over-represented.

Clegg argued that despite evidence from social scientists about the benefits of racial diversity, the school districts were in effect discriminating against the rejected children. The children do not volunteer to be part of discrimination, Clegg said, and the Supreme Court should consider this in its ruling.

“It is hypocritical for a school to tell a child not to judge people based on their race but then tell them that the color of their skin determines whether they go to a certain school or not,” said Clegg.

However, Shaw said that the school districts’ actions are only innocuous attempts to create “an equal playing field for all,”  which was started with Brown but not yet achieved.

“If you want to desegregate America, start with public schools,” said Shaw.

“If you want to honor Brown then desegregate public schools.”

Clegg rejected the argument that affirmative action was needed to level the playing field. Clegg added that the disparities Blacks face have little to do with whether or not they go to all-Black schools or schools that aren’t diverse. The problems, he said, stem from poor decision-making, such as having children out of wedlock. Seven out of 10 Black children are born to single parents. Disparities exist when children grow up without fathers and that correlates with social issues such as drug abuse, violence. These problems cannot be tackled by the schools, he said.

– Margaret Kamara

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