(submitted in response to the Plain Dealer's December 15, 2002 editorials)


Letters to the Editor

The Plain Dealer

1801 Superior Ave.

Cleveland, OH 44114


December 15, 2002


Dear Editor,


Three sections in the Forum section of the December 15, 2002 Plain Dealer underscore a troubling reality in our country.  Dick Feagler’s commentary on Senator Trent Lott’s comments at Sen. Strom Thurmond’s birthday celebration, Elizabeth Sullivan’s analysis of the perception of the US in the world, and the letters of three Saint Ignatius students arguing against using race in admissions criteria demonstrate our inability, or worse, unwillingness to confront prejudice.


I have heard many people express dismay over Sen. Lott’s praise of Thurmond’s presidential campaign because they thought we were beyond racial tensions.  Others have admitted surprise, shock, and even anger that other countries do not share our government’s enthusiasm to remove Saddam Hussein from power “especially,” they say, “after all we have done for them.  How can they hate us?”


Perhaps it is because I am Black and I teach world languages at Saint Ignatius High School (also my alma mater) that I am particularly struck by these attitudes.  Race, religion, and culture matter a great deal in the United States.  The refusal to even acknowledge much less address inequality is our greatest failing.  By refusing to see the problem, we can lull ourselves into believing there is no problem.  Blindness is bliss.  Even worse, we are encouraged to dismiss past discrimination as “unfortunate episodes” and eventually forget them altogether.


The college admissions process is more art than science.  There is and never has been a single yardstick by which all students are measured.  Our school systems are locally run.  We do not have a uniform state or national system of schools.  Courses, books, curricula, standards, and grading scales vary not only from state to state, but from school to school and even teacher to teacher.  Applicants with such diverse educational formations must nonetheless be compared and these comparisons will by definition be subjective.  After all, the goal is to predict how well each applicant will perform in a particular institution over a four year period.  Lacking the aid of “Minority Report” Pre-Cog clairvoyants, this process will be imperfect.  Ironically, the process’s fairness rests in this imperfection.


Why do those who denounce affirmative action programs for accepting “unqualified” minority students fall silent over the far more common admissions preferences given to legacies or applicants who are not applying for financial aid?  Why is it less discriminatory to consider applicants to be “qualified” simply because their parents attended the same institution or can afford to pay full tuition?  Ultimately, these arguments are not complaints against an unfair advantage, but selfish attempts to preserve existing advantages, our own “edge.”  In spite of it all, colleges do a very good job of predicting which applicants will flourish on their campuses.  So good a job in fact, that those most “unqualified” affirmative action candidates outperform their “qualified” counterparts by earning better grades and by getting graduate degrees at a higher rate.  Colleges must remain free to “see” something others may miss.


The myth of a color-blind, faith-blind, or culture-blind society is simplistic, dangerous, and insulting.  Our insistence on this myth leads us to talk about “tolerance” instead of “respect” which is the cause of so much distrust and anger towards US policies and citizens throughout the world.  Discomfort, delays, inclement weather, and other unpleasantries should be “tolerated,” but never people.  People all over the world by necessity learn about the United States but US citizens rarely see the need to return the favor.


The fact that I am Black is as important a part of who I am as where I was born, educated, and where I have traveled and worked.  Attempts to negate its relevance are attempts to negate my very being.  Few in the “majority” seem to understand that real equality can only be achieved when those of us in the “minority” are no longer considered successes in spite of who we are, but rather because of who we are—just like “everyone else.”  A society that strives for this sight must be our true goal.


Milton Alan Turner