Opinion: End race obsession of the political extremes

Leon Drolet

Michigan’s state housing authority is guilty of illegally using race and gender quotas, according to a Dec. 27 opinion by outgoing Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. The Michigan State Housing Authority (MISHDA) is a state agency charged with assisting citizens in acquiring housing through various loans and grants.

Term limited Attorney General Bill Schuette speaks with reporters on Dec. 17, 2018.

Schuette was asked to review MISHDA’s policies by State Rep. Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, after Hernandez received a letter from several prominent elected officials pointing out MISHDA’s use of race quotas. Schuette’s published opinion, which has the force of law, found MISHDA’s policies favored some contractors over others based on ethnicity and gender — a violation of the Michigan State Constitution.

MISHDA’s “affirmative action” policies are a product of the struggle to purge unequal treatment of citizens based on their gender or ethnicity from society. Some believe unequal treatment is better addressed by “leveling the playing field" through affirmative action programs that provide preferential treatment to minorities. Others believe such preference policies are counterproductive and government should be "color-blind," treating citizens without regard to race.

It seems the idea of a color-blind society has fallen out of favor with vocal elements of both the left and the extreme right. The left is immersed in identity politics, where people are evaluated substantially through the prism of race and gender. And a race-obsessed alt-right fringe basically agrees with them.

Those on the far ends of the political spectrum advocate race-based consciousness in society, and regard those who favor a color-blind society as naïve.

"Social justice warriors" focus on exposing “white privilege” and ignore many other forms of privilege that have little to do with race. A person can be privileged or disadvantaged in society based on attractiveness, IQ, economic status, height, physical fitness, etc. But identity politics isolates race as a person’s defining characteristic and, thus, race privilege as the defining social injustice.

Exposing and confronting racial privilege is a good thing. Yet such efforts are poisoned when weaponized through race shaming and judging peoples’ moral value based on their status as "victims" or "oppressors." Opinions are devalued if they are held by “straight, white men.” People can elevate their status by claiming Native American ancestry or being a sexual minority.

People who believe race, gender and sexuality should not be used to define individuals have been too quiet. Those who support de-emphasizing race and gender in civil society don’t even have a name for their perspective.

But they do have the law on their side, and perhaps a silent majority among citizens. Michigan’s constitution was amended by voters in 2006 to prohibit government programs from favoring any person over others based on race, gender or ethnicity. It is that constitutional provision that Michigan’s former attorney general cited as being violated by state officials at MISHDA.

Michigan’s Constitution states that the government “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.”

We would all be better off if we applied such a policy to every aspect of how we treat each other.

Leon Drolet is a Macomb County commissioner, former state legislator and former chairman of the 2006 Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.