On Thursday morning, Lani Guinier spoke at the opening of the ''Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name 1894-1994''
Guinier Speaks To Kresge Crowd
By Sarah Y. Keightley
On Thursday morning, Lani Guinier spoke at the opening of the "Black
Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name 1894-1994" conference held
at MIT. Using humor and anecdotes to illustrate her points, she
captivated the audience that filled Kresge Auditorium.
Guinier studied at Radcliffe College, then went on to Yale Law
School, graduating in 1974. She is a civil rights attorney, and
spent seven years as a litigator for the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People. Since 1992 she has been a
professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
In April, Clinton nominated Guinier to be Assistant Attorney General
for Civil Rights. Because some of her scholarly work created much
controversy, he withdrew her nomination in June.
Guinier's speech focused on the unique role of black women in
academia, her withdrawn nomination for Assistant Attorney General
for Civil Rights, and her support for cumulative voting.
After her keynote address, she responded to questions from the
audience. These questions ranged from how she would have handled her
nomination differently to her opinion on specific legal issues to
dealing with stereotypes.
The audience was clearly moved by her speech. Many women said they
could relate perfectly to her experiences. Guinier received many
thank you's and several requests for hugs.
Guinier began her talk by speaking of her Yale Law School
experiences. One of her professors called the class "gentlemen."
"In his view, `gentlemen' was an asexual term," Guiner said. This
was evocative of the traditional values of men, she said.
She came to realize that she was a "minority within the minority" --
a black woman.
What W.E.B. DuBois had called a "two-ness, the double identity of
being black and an American," was now a "three-ness" for black
women, Guinier said. Women have to take on what Mari Matsuda calls
a "multiple consciousness," which is "a bifurcated thinking between
personal consciousness and the `gentleman's' consciousness that
dominates the status quo."
The withdrawn nomination
Guinier also spoke about her withdrawn nomination for Assistant
Attorney General. Her main complaint was that she never got a
chance to present herself and her ideas at a hearing. "The academy
had prepared me well for being outcast from the mainstream though
accepted within it."
"I could not express ideas attributed to me because I wasn't allowed
to speak for myself or explain myself," Guinier said.
The media took control of my image, she said. "The distortions were
so gross, even my mother could not recognize me."
Guinier said she doesn't advocate quotas, but "Quota Queen" was an
easy stereotype for her. "My real ideas were never allowed to
emerge," she said. And though Guinier could never speak for
herself, those who opposed her could speak out.
Still she assured the audience: "I did not get a hearing, but I did
not lose my voice for long."
The big controversy arose when Guinier's critics focused on one of
her law review articles that supported alternative electorate
procedures. Though people have the right to vote, that does not
necessarily mean anything, Guinier said. For situations when 51
percent of the voters enjoy 100 percent of the power, they are
excluding 49 percent of the voters, she said.
Guinier explained how groups can be excluded for participation, and
how she believes this goes against the idea of fair play in a
multi-racial democracy. As an 8-year-old Brownie, she resigned from
a "rigged" hat-making contest. Another Brownie, whose mother was a
hat maker and made her daughter's hat in front of everybody, won the
contest. This "stands as an example of rules that are patently
rigged or patently subverted," Guinier said.
"Yet sometimes, even when rules are perfectly fair in form, they
serve in practice to exclude particular groups from meaningful
participation," she said. "Some rules can seem just as unfair as
the milliner who makes the winning hat for her daughter."
The fairness of majority rule assumes shifting majorities -- losers
on one issue may be winners on another issue -- connected with the
value of cooperation, she said. But, "sometimes the majority is a
fixed group that seems to rule by ignoring the minority."
Quoting James Madison, Guinier said the "tyranny of the majority
requires safeguards to protect one part of society against the
injustice of the other part." Guinier's solution is cumulative
voting, allowing all voters to take turns and ensuring that
"majority rule does not become majority tyranny."
Minority shut out by majority
As an alternative to "winner-take-all" decision making, Guinier
supports the idea of cumulative voting. Under this system, even the
loser gets something, and the rule of taking turns results in a
positive sum solution, she said.
For example, last spring a private high school in Chicago had two
proms -- one mainly attended by white students and the other mainly
attended by black students. The controversy arose when the
all-white prom committee was choosing songs. Each student could
vote for three songs, and the songs with the most votes would be
played at the prom. It turned out that many of the black student's
songs were not chosen.
The black students felt shut out by the decision-making process
based on majority rule. Guinier quoted one student as saying: "With
us being in the minority, we're always out-voted. It's as if we
White students were hurt that their black peers were holding a
separate prom. They thought the black students were not playing by
the rules, namely the supposedly fair majority rule, Guinier said.
An alternative to the situation would be to give each student 10
votes to place on how ever many songs, reflecting the intensity of
their preferences. In this way, the black students could pool their
votes to hear some of their songs at the prom. So even if the
majority's favorite songs were played more often, the "songs that
the minority enjoyed would also show up on the roster."
Not a new idea
Cumulative voting is not a new idea, Guinier said. "Thirty states
require or permit corporations to use this system to elect their
boards of directors," and both Reagan and Bush supported it under
the Voting Rights Act, she added.
"Yes, I didn't get a hearing, nor as a female-gentleman law student
did I speak out, but as a result of conferences like this one ...
some of us are working to ensure that other voices are heard,"
Guinier advised the conference participants to "spark the debate
that we have so often been denied." She also urged the participants
not to speak with anger -- "We are survivors, not victims." Through
conversation, black women can share their insight and through
collaboration they can work to solve problems.
"Gifted with second sight, we can share our stories ... build
coalitions, develop a voice. ... We shall speak until all the
people gain a voice."
---- Copyright 1994 by The Tech. All rights reserved. This story was
published on Wednesday, January 19, 1994. Volume 113, Number 66
The story began on page 1 and jumped to page 13.
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