Michigan Voters Believe Racism and Gender Discrimination are Persistent

Yesterday, the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion–a non-profit organization provides diversity training and other services aimed at eliminating discrimination and racism–released the results of a recent telephone survey that the organization conducted on racial and gender discrimination. The survey, released to coincide with a diversity summit that the organization held in Lansing to discuss how to address discrimination in light of the passage of Proposal 2 and the end of affirmative action programs aimed at ending gender and race discrimination in Michigan, found that Michigan voters believe that discrimination is persistent and that it will be decades before racial equality is achieved.

Some of the key findings of the survey:

68 percent of white voters and 77 percent of African American voters say discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity continues.

Men and women both agree that gender discrimination continues to be an issue, with 58 percent of men and 70 percent of women saying discrimination exists at least some of the time.

When respondents were asked if people of color have equal educational and employment opportunities as whites, half of white voters said they thought there is equal opportunity and only 29 percent said African Americans have worse opportunities. Those results were reversed among African Americans, with only 34 percent saying they have equal opportunity, and 53 percent saying they have worse opportunities as whites.

Men were more likely to say women had equal or better opportunities than men in education and employment, with 63 percent of men saying women had equal opportunities and 9 percent of men saying women had better opportunities than men, and 25 percent saying women had worse opportunities. Of women surveyed, only 6 percent said their opportunities were better than men, 53 percent said they were equal, with 38 percent said they had worse opportunities than men.

Asked if they felt they had ever been discriminated against because of their race, 79 percent of African Americans said yes, compared to only 23 percent of white respondents. Asked if they had been discriminated against because of their gender, only 22 percent of men said yes, compared to 47 percent of women.

Only 14 percent of white voters and 5 percent of African Americans said we have racial equality today. Perhaps more disturbing, 29 percent of white and 29 percent of African Americans said we will “never” achieve racial equality. While 30 percent of white voters said they thought we would achieve equality in their lifetimes, 34 percent of African Americans said it might happen in the next 100 years.

Gender equality is also more a goal than a reality today, the survey found. Only 30 percent of men and 14 percent of women said that “we have it now,” while 22 percent of men and 24 percent of women said we will never achieve gender equality. But 38 percent of women said they expected society would achieve gender equity “in my lifetime,” along with 34 percent of women.

Both white and African American respondents said the quality of life for people of color had improved over the last decade, with 65 percent of whites and 58 percent of African Americans agreeing with that statement. Asked if the quality of life for women had improved, 67 percent of men and 69 percent of women agreed.

Study: Statewide Bias against Gays and Lesbians in Housing

A study by the Fair Housing Centers of Michigan has found widespread bias against the LGBT community in housing. The study, conducted by Fair Housing Centers in the Detroit, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids area between May and August 2006, used actors to pose as gay and mixed gender pairs who then inquired about rental housing and homes for sale, as well as financing options at apartment complexes, real estate firms, and mortgage lenders. Of the 120 tests conducted in 39 cities and suburban areas, there was discrimination based on sexual orientation in 27% of the cases.

In Michigan, it is not illegal to refuse to sell or rent a home or apartment to gays and lesbians. Michigan’s anti-discrimination law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, bars bias based on religion, race, and national origin, but does not include protections for the LGBT community. Around the state, municipalities have passed human rights ordinances to protect the LGBT community, but when it comes to housing discrimination, the ordinances have not made a significant impact according to the study. The study found that even in communities with human rights ordinances, discrimination still occurs 22% of the time. This is perhaps due to the fact that of the fourteen ordinances passed in the state, only Ann Arbor and Saginaw allow individuals to take legal actions against those discriminating against them. The Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) used the release of the report to call on lawmakers to add sexual orientation to the categories protected by the state’s civil rights act. Seventeen states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Urban League Issues Report on Affirmative Action and Proposal 2; Jesse Jackson to Visit Grand Rapids Tomorrow

Last month, the Urban League issued a report looking at the myths and realities of affirmative action policies and the impacts that the removal of affirmative action in Michigan will have on the state. As part of an effort to protect affirmative action and to organize against the anti-affirmative action Proposal 2 (Michigan Civil Rights Initiative), Jesse Jackson will speak at rally tomorrow in Grand Rapids.

Last month, the National Urban League, a community-based movement working to empowering African Americans to enter the economic and political mainstream, released a ten page report looking examining myths and facts of affirmative action policies and the impacts that the passage of Proposal 2 (the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI)) will have on the state of Michigan, as the proposal will amend the state constitution to outlaw affirmative action programs. The proposal, which was placed on the ballot by a systematic campaign of fraud, has been funded and organized primarily by Ward Connerly, a California businessman who has sponsored similar initiatives in California and Washington. As the report addresses, there has been a considerable amount of misinformation and misrepresentation in the debate over affirmative action. Rather than looking at what affirmative action really is—a set of policies and initiatives that redress past and present discrimination and promote diversity in college admissions, employment and the awarding of government contracts giving qualified individuals equal access and equal opportunity to contribute and participate in these areas (according to the Urban League report)—the debate has been shifted by Connerly and the supporters of Proposal 2 have shifted the debate towards one of “racial preferences,” “preferential treatment,” and “reverse discrimination.” This language ignores the realities of racism and sexism in the United States and in Michigan while cultivating the notion that the confusingly named Michigan Civil Rights Initiative will enhance civil rights.

Central to this argument among those supporting Proposal 2 is the idea that the playing field has been leveled and that affirmative action is no longer needed as the society is more or less equal. While a simple look around Grand Rapids should make this clear, the Urban League’s report provides a number of statistics to back up their claim that “the playing field remains far from level.” The report cites the fact that the median income of black households ($30,858) is 61% of whites, that Blacks experience poverty at three times the rates of whites (24.7% compared to 8.4%), that the black unemployment rate is more than twice that of whites (9.2% compared to 4.1%), and that women make only 76 cents for every dollar made by men. With regard to education, employment, and government, there have been major advances made, especially by women, although disparities persist. The report cites that since 1976 the minority population at degree-granting institutions has gone from 14.5% to 30.4% and that women have become the majority of students enrolled at degree-granting institutions. The percentage of whites employed in management, professional, and related occupations exceeds that of blacks by nearly 10 times, while the median annual earnings of full-time, full-year women workers with a bachelor’s degree is $42,172 compared to $60,020 for men. In contracts the situation is similar, with minority-owned businesses receiving fewer government contract dollars than would be expected given the availability of their businesses.

The report makes a number of predictions about how Proposal 2 will affect the state of Michigan. These include a decrease in the college enrollment of underrepresented students, reducing access to health care and leadership development in communities of color, diminishing access by minority and women owned to government contracts, reducing women and minority faculty in the state’s universities, eliminating outreach programs to minorities and women to increase attendance in college or recruit in other areas, and prohibit efforts to ensure adequate representation of women and minorities on boards and commissions. Far from being a set of potentialities, these predictions are based on precedent set by California’s Proposition 209. According to the report, a former admissions director at the University of California Berkley, the passage of Proposition 209 caused the enrollment of blacks, Latinos, and Native American to plummet at the Berkley and UCLA campuses. This year, the UCLA freshmen class of 4,800 had only 90 blacks while Berkeley’s had 108 out of 3,600. In business, the results have been similar, with contracts held by women and minority owned businesses decreasing by 51% overall and 61% among black business owners.

As part of the effort to increase awareness about the impacts of Proposal 2 on the state of Michigan, longtime civil rights activist Jesse Jackson will be speaking in Grand Rapids tomorrow (November 2nd). Jackson will speak at 4:00pm rally in the parking lot of the Divine Grace Church, located at 755 Fuller. Other speakers at the rally will include 75th District Michigan House candidate Robert Dean and Democratic Attorney General candidate Amos Williams. It is worth noting that the Republican candidate for Attorney General, Mike Cox, is one of the only elected officials and major party candidates to openly support Proposal 2.

Reproductive Rights is topic of discussion at Commission Hearing

In addition to the hearing on voter fraud and the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), the Michigan Civil Rights Commission also held a two hour hearing on reproductive rights in Michigan. At issue was the question of whether or not employers could legally exclude contraceptives from their health plans. Five women gave testimony on the subject and the Commission agreed to adopt a draft resolution that would consider such exclusion a form of discrimination.

On Monday, May 22 voter fraud wasn’t the only thing being discussed by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. At their 4pm hearing in Grand Rapids the issue of reproductive rights was also on the table. At issue was whether or not employers in Michigan could exclude contraceptives from their health care plans. Several people spoke in favor of inclusion of contraceptives in employer health care plans while noone from the public spoke against the inclusion of contraceptives in health care plans at the hearing.

Five different women gave testimony on this issue. First, Emily Malloy with the Michigan Women’s Commission spoke about how exclusion of contraceptives from an employer health care plan would be in violation of the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The other major point that Ms. Malloy made was that “if Viagra is included why not contraceptive drugs? This is an issue of equity, especially since contraceptives are extremely important as a preventative resource for women.” The only Commissioner to question this position was Commissioner Albert Calille. Calille, appointed by former Governor Engler, does litigation work for Ameritech. Calille stated that “Viagra is for either a disease or a dysfunctional disorder in men, but that contraceptive medicine was not.”

The next person to speak was Dr. Sharon Handy, someone with 22 years of medical practice. Dr. Handy said that coverage of contraceptives usually means oral contraceptives, which are “less than 5% of contraceptive uses for women.” She also stated that even with the healthiest of women anything can happen during a pregnancy and that the argument from Comm. Calille was inaccurate since all women are at risk during pregnancies, therefore contraceptives should be seen as essential in any health care plan for women.

Shelli Weisberg from the ACLU also spoke about how the federal regulations require companies with 15 or more employees must provide contraceptives in the health care plan. Weisberg then noted that in Michigan about 60% of women in Michigan work for employers who have less than 15 workers. She also pointed out that according to the National Business Group on Health that coverage that included contraceptives was more cost effective when weighed against unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. The Commission also heard from a mother who recently found out that her health care plan did not include contraceptives for her daughter and another women spoke about how more than half of her friends have contraceptives in their health care plans because they need it for hormonal imbalances and prolonged bleeding.

The Commission then discussed the matter amongst themselves and consulted legal counsel who was present at the meeting. It was stated that the Michigan Catholic Conference has come out against including contraceptives in an employer health care plan. The Commission noted that religious institutions might have the right to dictate such matters in their health care plans if it is a violation of their religious beliefs. The Commission then decided to agree to adopt a draft resolution which would consider the exclusion of contraceptives from an employer health care plan as discrimination, but that further discussion and investigation was needed before a final version of such a draft could be adopted.