If you are wondering how a new initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, which would assist at-risk African and Hispanic males, is constitutional, you are not alone. This is not a situation in which there has been any finding of any discrimination (which might trigger Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, which provides, “The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article”).
Roger Clegg, head of the Center for Equal Opportunity, thinks this is flat-out unconstitutional. He writes:
It is almost always unconstitutional for the government (and any private program that receives federal money) to discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity. There is no “compelling” interest to do so here. It may be that a disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos are at-risk, but many are not, and many whites, Asians, and others are. This is just another kind of “profiling.”
Nor will it do to say that there are other programs available for those being excluded here, as one White House official is quoted as saying. This is just another separate-but-equal argument.
He suspects this is just another bone to his base. (“President Obama has caved in to pressure from the left — the Congressional Black Caucus and others — to do something he was generally unwilling to do up to now: Endorse a federal program that is overtly limited to those of a particular color.”) In any event, it’s insipid to suggest one’s “brother” for whom you should look after is defined by skin color or ethnic background.
It’s odd, really, that we just got through celebration of the veto of Arizona’s anti-gay legislation that would have allowed business owners to refuse service on the basis of sexual orientation — if they could show they are acting upon a sincerely held religious belief. That was Wednesday. Now on Thursday the government itself wants to exclude at-risk boys who don’t meet the racial and ethnic requirements of the program. (If it was focused on only “straight” youth, would the left be up in arms?)
Now, it is refreshing that the administration has paused from its “war on women” rhetoric to take notice that it really has been men who were hurt more than women in the recession, have worse educational outcomes than women and seem to be more affected by the absence of a father in their lives.
The problem with hyping gender and racial differences is not simply the increased resentment and divisiveness it creates but also that it uses victimhood as a political weapon. Pretty soon words like “discrimination” lose meaning. It seems you are either for an inclusive society — devoted to diminishing racial, ethnic, religious and other distinctions — or you’re not.
Like the Arizona anti-gay law, no good can come from a program that divides up the population by these categories.