Read many of America’s greatest writers about race and legal equality, and you’ll find a similar theme: policies that divide Americans by race, or increase their perception of racial differences, spawn tribalism, separation, and hatred.
Frederick Douglass warned that policies fostering racial identity, rather than shared American values, sow “dangerous seeds of discontent and hatred.” Justice Thomas Cooley wrote that distinctions based on race would “assail the very foundations of [our] government.” Justice John Marshall Harlan said that nothing could “more certainly arouse race hate” and “a feeling of distrust between these races” than segregationist polices. And Justice Antonin Scalia, quoting Professor Alexander Bickel, called racially discriminatory policies “destructive of a democratic society.”
Scores of others, like Thomas Sowell, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Shelby Steele, have said the same.
The University of Michigan did not listen to them, and it is learning its lesson the hard way.
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As reported in The Michigan Review, one of the university’s student-run publications, the school launched a major Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiative in 2016 that made racial identity a key focus for all of the school’s programs and vastly increased the size of its DEI bureaucracy. At the same time, the school conducted Campus Climate Surveys of its students. Comparing those surveys to ones conducted in 2021 reveals some of the harmful effects of that initiative. Students are increasingly self-segregating. Although black and Hispanic enrollment rose slightly, students are increasingly avoiding students of other races, ethnicities, and political views. The Michigan Review reports:
The number of students who interacted with people of different political persuasions decreased by more than 11 percent, of different religious beliefs by over 9 percent, of a different national origin by 5 percent, and of different races by more than 3 percent.
Students are also increasingly unhappy.
By nearly every metric in the survey, students have become less happy since the beginning of DEI 1.0. They are less likely to believe that U-M has an institutional commitment to DEI and less likely to feel valued or that they belong on campus. The number of students who felt that they were treated fairly and equitably at Michigan fell by over 3 percent. Finally, the number of students satisfied with the campus climate overall fell by almost 11 percent.
The only thing that hasn’t changed, likely to the chagrin of the University’s DEI administrators, is students’ feelings about the racial climate on campus.
The school is about to launch a new DEI initiative, and this time it ought to pay some attention to the great minds quoted above.
Frederick Douglass offered advice in a 1867 speech called “The Composite Nation.” Much of his wisdom is directly applicable to modern universities. Let’s hope they take it.
Americans in 1867, Douglass said, “def[ied] all the ethnological and logical classifications. In races we range all the way from black to white, with intermediate shades which, as in the apocalyptic vision, no man can remember.” Then, as now, the country was “of all extremes, ends and opposites.”
What policy, he asked, should the nation adopt towards its many ethnic groups, which were only increasing?
The answer, he said, could not be racial separation: “Those races of men which have maintained the most separate and distinct existence … are a standing confirmation of the folly of isolation.” Besides, America had tried that already. It had previously chosen to be governed “by race pride, rather than by wisdom.” And that policy “filled the country with agitation and ill-feeling and brought the nation to the verge of ruin.”
This was entirely predictable. After all, prejudice “is an ancient feeling among men … peculiar to no particular race or nation.” But that is no reason to accept it, Douglass argued.
Instead, he urged Americans to embrace America’s founding principle, “that is the principle of absolute equality.” That principle transcends base and arbitrary classifications like skin color: “Man is man, the world over,” and we have much more in common than not.
Rather than adopt policies that separate us along racial lines, we ought to receive all others “as friends and give them a reason for loving our country and our institutions.” In fact, Douglass argued that we must adopt such a policy.
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A nation like ours, unique in the world for its diversity of color and creed, has only two paths before it. On the one hand, it can tolerate tribalism and, in that case, allow “the very soil of the national mind [to become] barren,” or, on the other, it can set aside tribes and unite a disparate people under a greater principle. It is worth remembering that these were the words of a former slave who had every reason to be resentful and to think that America’s founding principle was false. But he did not. Instead, he believed that root of the evil he suffered “was never our system or form of Government, or the principles underlying it; but the peculiar composition of our people, the relations existing between them and the compromising spirit which controlled the ruling power of the country.”
The principles were noble, the people were not. But if the people actually lived up to their principles, they could be.
Our nation, he said, “will be great, or it will be small, according to its own essential qualities.” So, we ought to adopt essential qualities greater than our small, divisive tribal loyalties.
The DEI administrators at the University of Michigan have chosen small tribes over greater uniting principles. No wonder its students are unhappy and self-segregating. Nothing at the University of Michigan inspires them to something greater than human nature’s petty tribal instinct.
The solution is not a new DEI plan, or more anti-racism initiatives, or segregated dormitories and graduation ceremonies. The solution is “the principle of absolute equality,” which is the only path away from human nature’s tendency toward petty prejudice.
This piece originally appeared in the Daily Wire