In a strongly worded letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, sent first-class and via e-mail, the New York Civil Rights Coalition’s executive director, Michael Meyers, accuses Secretary Duncan of complicity with “identity politics” and of aiding President Obama’s retreat into racial separatism by means of establishing a “black desk” and “black doors” at the U.S. Department of Education.
Meyers told Secretary Duncan that separate standards for investigating and judging minority-centric programs is a death knell to equal enforcement of the civil rights laws and constitutes a “functional repeal of the Brown v. Board of Education mandate” for the government to foster equal treatment before the law. His August 16th letter to Secretary Arne Duncan was copied to Assistant Secretary of Education Russlynn Ali, who heads the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
Meyers’ letter accuses Duncan of going back on his March 2010 promise to “reinvigorate civil rights enforcement.” But rather than vigorously enforcing civil rights laws, Meyers’ letter blames the OCR for winking at “minority-centric”, race-based programs that “stereotype and oftentimes segregate non-whites,” and which, he added, “discriminates against whites.” The letter cites several examples of the Department of Education’s complicity with a “functional repeal” of Brown v. Board of Education’s focus on integration and equal treatment of individuals before the law without regard to their race. Meyers’ letter also charges that OCR’s Title VI (race discrimination) and Title IX (sex discrimination) enforcement against recipients of federal funding has been riddled with exceptions and “paternalism.” The examples he cited of “race and gender-specific” programming overlooked or coddled by OCR include:
* The City University of New York’s (CUNY) “Black Male Initiative” [similar collegiate programs are underway nationwide] that singles out Black and Hispanic males for “special” programs and separate treatment—including separate classes for black males;
* New York City’s “Young Male Initiative” which is “for black and Hispanic males only”, and which excludes from its benefits whites, Asians and women of all colors and ethnicity;
* The establishment of a “black desk” at the Department of Education pursuant to President Obama’s White House Initiative and Executive Order on “Educational Excellence for African Americans”; that initiative, according to President Obama, is intended to “complement” the U.S. Education Department’s efforts to enhance historically black colleges and universities. Meyers calls that “enhancement” and the “black desk” approach “racial separatism,” and he criticizes “separate and unequal standards and approaches” for educating African American students.
On the “separatist approach” for educating black students, Meyers’ letter schools Secretary Duncan:
“When this ethnic separatism is reinforced or done at the behest and with the blessing of governmental officials—we are witnessing the functional repeal of the Brown v. Board of Education mandate for the desegregation of our public schools. The President and you are moving in tandem,…toward fostering racial identity, reinforcing racial separatism, and pursuing a separate and unequal enforcement of our civil rights laws. Having separate desks or separate doors at [the Department of Education] for Blacks—and for Asians—and for Hispanics—is a deliberate course toward ethnic polarization and for making insupportable and toxic racial and ethnic distinctions and classifications in educational policy and programming.”
Michael Meyers’ open letter to Secretary Duncan also accuses OCR of “stalling” and of defeating principled and even-handed Title VI (race) and Title IX (sex) enforcement by caving in to pressures from elected officials and influential forces that support race-specific and single-sex programming. In this connection, he recounted to Secretary Duncan how the New York Civil Rights Coalition took to OCR in the year 1996 a formal complaint against the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in East Harlem—the first single-sex public school in New York City since the enactment of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. That complaint has languished at OCR for 16 years; “it was never decided by OCR.” Subsequently, in 2006, the New York Civil Rights Coalition complained to OCR about the City University of New York’s “Black Male Initiative”which allowed for separate treatment and differential programs and classes for black male students.
“OCR did not take any action on that urgent complaint…Some 6 years later, OCR has still not decided the complaint,” Meyers told Secretary Duncan.
On the City of New York’s “Young Men’s Initiative”, Meyers took sharp exception to OCR’s unwillingness to pick up the phone to itself query about a government-funded program that on its face appears racially and gender discriminatory. New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative according to the city’s officials, including Mayor Bloomberg, singles out black and Hispanic young males as “at risk” and therefore deserving of special governmental efforts. Meyers’ complaint disputes that such race and gender-based classifications are legal—and that the City of New York’s announcement and public information campaigns should have triggered an automatic inquiry and review by the U.S. Department of Education’s OCR which monitors and is supposed to combat discrimination against people on account of race and sex by the recipients—such as New York City—of federal funding.
Meyers in his August 16 letter to Secretary Duncan and in a previous letter to federal Justice department and OCR officials says that the City of New York’s “Young Men’s Initiative” was established without a scintilla of the kind of foundation and narrow tailoring that the city needs to establish a genuine affirmative action program—and that outright exclusion of people from participation and enjoyment of governmental benefits and programs based on skin color and gender is discrimination, not “affirmative action.”
Blasting OCR’s disinterest in his complaint about the Young Men’s Initiative for black and Hispanic males only, Meyers accuses the officials at the Education Department of “playing favorites”, and his letter to Secretary Duncan says:
“Neither the U.S. Justice Department nor [DOE’s] Office for Civil Rights is at all interested in probing this race-based and gender-specific discrimination.”
His letter continued:
“…It is not possible for there to be confidence in the rule of law among the citizenry in the circumstances when government plays favorites, based on race or political correctness or when it acts paternalistically and under the conditions of forever shifting, unprincipled administrative decision making at OCR.”
Meyers asked Secretary Duncan for a response to the delay of 16 years on the part of OCR to decide the group’s complaint against the Young Women’s Leadership Academy and of OCR’s inordinate delay—of six years—to complete its investigation into the “Black Male Initiative” at the City University of New York, and for the reasons OCR won’t act on its own to probe the City of New York’s discriminatory “Young Men’s Initiative.”