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STANFORD -- The manipulation of such words as "equality" and "racism" has hindered the fight for economic and racial justice, John Bunzel, a senior research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, said Friday, April 19.
"We make a serious mistake if we think about the racial situation in the United States today in simple generalities," Bunzel told the Commonwealth Club of California's luncheon meeting at the Palace Hotel.
"Most Americans will support special aid programs directed at making resources roughly equal and the initial basis of competition fair," said Bunzel, former president of San Jose State University and a former member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
"What they do not support is racially preferential treatment for certain groups. They draw the line at doing away with fair and nondiscriminatory competition by predetermining the results."
Bunzel was especially critical of race-based preferences "that send the message that certain students, depending on their race, will be treated differently." He cited Penn State University, which, he said, "pays black students $550 for maintaining a C average, and $1,100 for anything above a C+ average. Assigning benefits because of one's race or color used to be called discrimination."
"We do students a terrible disservice if we allow them to believe that life offers different standards," he said.
The word "racism" has also been misused, Bunzel said, wielded "as a harsh accusation, as if verbal abuse were a substitute for thought and analysis, or used irresponsibly for playing racial politics."
Blaming the problem of the economic underclass on racism is a "crude oversimplification," he said.
"What affects our relationships as a people is defined far more by class than by race," Bunzel said. "The single most urgent and unfinished business of our democracy is economic injustice."
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