September 2013 Bar Bulletin
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September 2013 Bar Bulletin

A New Framework: The Academic Race To Be Equal

By Robert W. Zierman


Equality is this month's topic. Especially in the area of "race," this is extremely difficult territory to tread without offense. Notwithstanding, this is an area that requires continued frank and robust discussion and it is therefore hoped that these comments are taken in the spirit in which they are offered. Moreover, if I hit the targeted goal, only those on both extremes of this issue will take umbrage.

Let's start with a thought experiment. Consider what the world would be like if there was no such thing as "race." Under such a condition, leaders of business and industry, nonprofits and professionals would have attained their stature solely as a result of some combination of ability, hard work and ... luck.

In fact, unless overridden by ability and, more, importantly hard work, luck is likely the single most important characteristic separating someone between a rough life and a prosperous one. Quite honestly, luck has a great deal to do with perhaps the three most important connections that shape a life: one's parents;1 one's choice of life partner (or not); and one's career.

Interestingly, none of us has any choice regarding who our parents are. This is left to fate. So, the proclamation in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal is true only if one is willing to view the whole matter as we hope a beneficent creator would.2

Here in the real world — at least as we mere mortals perceive it — there is incredible inequity. "Race," in and of itself, is really not nearly as critical as the factors of health, wealth and positive nurturing. That said, it is our collective misperceptions of "race" and the resulting racism that, in turn, has had such a negative, lingering impact on these last, most important qualities.

Unfortunately, "race" often has a negative, ratcheting effect on health, wealth and nurturing such that there is a systemic downshift from day one of existence for those not of "white" or "Asian" background. "Blacks," primarily, and "Hispanics," to a lesser degree, don't often have the financial resources to assure the same levels of health and nurture. As a result, individuals of these races are often given a short shrift that they either cannot or will not make up, as compared to others, as they pursue their lives.

Though not for everyone, most people do attempt to find a life partner. Now, whether they are successful at this endeavor again and the person they find are very much something on which luck acts. Eventually, however, luck starts leaving off and individual responsibility starts to take over.3

Finally, as to career choice, if one has had a chance to explore one's talents, as well as to discover where those talents might best be applied, one has the greatest opportunity to attract positive luck and keep negative luck in abeyance. Gaining an understanding of and developing one's skills, abilities and interests generally occurs in academia.

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