Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Our Racist State

Published: November 08. 2006 3:00AM
Detroit Free Press Editorial

Prop 2 Sends Divisive Message

The passage of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative on Tuesday leaves the state torn by hard and hardened feelings that will not be easily salved.

Although a ban on affirmative action might allow at least half the state to see Michigan as a place with a level playing field or some such cliche, enactment of MCRI paints the state as hostile to minorities.

Now that they've won, Proposal 2 supporters should not continue to pursue divisive challenges. When opponents raised concerns over the viability of gender-based health programs and domestic violence shelters that accommodate only women, MCRI leaders dismissed such arguments as red herrings. They must not now come back and challenge sensible programs.

Michigan's playing field, especially in education, remains woefully uneven. It will take a fortitude and an investment -- and it's not clear this state has the capacity for either -- to fix the ills that beset poor, largely African-American schools here and give those students an equal chance at success.

If the race-baiting that went on in some contested legislative districts around the state is any indication, Michigan's minorities have little reason to believe such help would be forthcoming. They will not recover easily from being again denied opportunities that had just barely come within reach.

If there is an upside, and it's mighty hard to find, at least one gender dispute might go away: Michigan's clearly disparate sports seasons for high school boys and girls. That case has wended up and down the federal court ladder, with rulings so far in favor of changing the girls' seasons to make them more comparable to the boys'. MCRI surely reinforces that.

But that's a detail. In the big picture, a ban on affirmative action sends an irreparably unfriendly message to minorities, as well as to the businesses Michigan needs to lure and that need to reach all audiences.

This is hardly progress.