Whites only for class president

Only whites can run for class president at Nettleton Middle School in Mississippi, reports Mixed and Happy, a site for racially mixed families.  The offices of eighth-grade vice president and school reporter, seventh-grade secretary treasurer and sixth-grade reporter are reserved for blacks. The school elects two homecoming kings and queens, one white and one black.

After reading the school handbook, Brandy wrote to the school board asking which offices are open to her mixed-race children.

“They told me that they “Go by the mother’s race b/c with minorities the father isn’t generally in the home.” They also told me that ” a city court order is the reason why it is this way.”

The school, which has a black principal, is 74 percent white and 26 percent black. I suspect the policy was written to ensure that blacks would win a share of class offices. And it will be dropped like a rock very quickly.

Once the policy went public, the superintendent put up a statement saying “the processes and procedures for student elections are under review.”

Update: As predicted, Nettleton has abandoned its policy of reserving student offices for blacks or whites on a rotating basis.

About Joanne


  1. teachjoep says:

    All I can say is, “Wow!” and this is 2010??? How could such a policy be written down, yet alone be published in a handbook and read (for how long?) without attracting public outrage?

  2. It sounds like a good place to experiment with proportional representation (one of very few places where I could actually recommend it). It’s a way to elect e.g. a racially-balanced student council without explicitly using race as a criterion.

    Single-seat offices by class president could be filled using a method like random dictator, where you place normal-looking ballots into a hat, and one is drawn at random to select the winner. The name of the method is somewhat misleading, in that “dictator” refers to the voter whose ballot was randomly selected, and not to the winning candidate. Again, not something I’d recommend for most real-world applications, but it does have the property of choosing a winner from each faction with a probability equal to that faction’s relative size.

  3. Sorry, my second paragraph should have started out, “Single-seat offices like class president…”

  4. There really should be two options available because this diversity experiment is a miserable failure (confirmed by Putnam).

    Those who wish to experience diversity should be allowed to do so.
    Those who wish to experience homogeneity should be allowed to do so.

    It’s really not that difficult.

    Forcing us to pretend we get along is sickening.

    You cannot strengthen the weak and weaken the strong without consequences.

    The USA was a wonderful place before diversity. Now you can’t even leave your house.

  5. The issue gets more complicated when you mix in their other race-based policy – regarding homecoming kings and queens. The policy requires both one black and one white couple as king/queen (I imagine they’d go insane if you suggested there could be an interracial couple!). It seems obvious that that policy is designed to ensure that no black couple can ever defeat a white couple for the position, but, given a 3:1 white/black ratio among the students and obviously deep-seated prejudice, it’s possible that no black couple would ever win. So the one white/one black policy actually serves as a kind of affirmative action, ensuring that there will always be a black homecoming king/queen, even if it also serves to entrench the racial division that prompts it.

    In that light, the proportional representation policy is a more complex issue.

  6. My first thought was Joanne was linking to The Onion again.

    When I first started teaching in my district, we had a School Site Council. Parents were elected by the community but three seats were by appointment “for the purpose of balance.”

    We’re no better than Mississippi. Just 30 years ahead of them.

  7. Wow! If the school wanted to ensure proportional representation, wouldn’t it be fairer to have an election for X number of white representatives and Y number of black ones? After the election, draw names out of a hat and allow each individual in turn to choose which position he/she wants from the available slots.

  8. Assuming that what the district is saying about the court order is true… this is exactly the problem with a lot of court decisions…. they make a grand statement that the district needs to ensure proportional representation, but they neglect to even consider how to make it happen.

    Ultimately, any implementation of the court decision is going to be unwieldy and cause problems. An election system that institutionally favors one class over another will always disenfranchise someone, no matter how good the intentions.

    Think about it… despite being the most democratic nation on the planet, our nation has no requirement for proportional racial representation in our government, and any attempts to implement one through the courts would be laughed at by the Supreme Court. A school, though, is an easy target for a low level city judge with an agenda.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    You must insure proportional representation. Unfortunately, there is no legal way to do it.
    So do it illegally–it’s illegal not to–until you get caught, in which case I never told you to do it.


    Your friendly federal judge.

  10. Walter_E_Wallis says:

    I see nothing wrong with proportional representation, just as long a they apply it also to team sports. My only question – should teams be gender as well as pigment proportional?

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    “with minorities, the father isn’t often in the home”
    True, but you’re not supposed to say it.

  12. What about the <1% of Hispanic students? Do they get to run for office? Or, due to proportions, do they get to hold office for only a week out of the year?

  13. Crimson Wife: “Wow! If the school wanted to ensure proportional representation, wouldn’t it be fairer to have an election for X number of white representatives and Y number of black ones?”

    Not necessary. If you’re using proportional representation, then the number of representatives of each race will already tend to reflect the makeup of the population, whether by race, sex, etc…

    Richard Aubrey: “You must insure proportional representation. Unfortunately, there is no legal way to do it.”

    Funny, I thought several cities and school boards have been under court order to use proportional representation to elect their members. The usual method used to comply is called cumulative voting, where each voter gets a fixed number of votes and is free to allocate them among several favored candidates, or “spend” them all on a single candidate. Majority voters would tend to do the former, and minority voters the latter.

    The Illinois legislature used this system until fairly recently, with 3-member districts. In Democratic districts would generally elect two Democrats and one Republican. Republican-leaning districts would do the reverse.

    Proportional representation would be useless in single-seat districts, or to fill executive offices such as class president, which is why I suggested a method like random dictator to provide proportionality over time.

  14. Richard Aubrey says:

    You’re right about the funky voting. I guess it’s legal. Unfair as hell and reflects the bean counters’ insistence on results irrespective of the wishes of the people.
    If I were a lawyer, I could probably find something in conlaw against it, but since it’s designed to elect people who otherwise would not be electable, I guess ithe Constitution can take a hike.
    Not the first time.
    However, multiple votes are a relatively recent phenomenon. UMich was giving blacks 15 points out of 51, iirc, for admission. Maxing the ACT was something less than 15. Once caught, they quit.

  15. Joanne, nowhere in your article does it mention that the policy rotated the race requirements for the office.

  16. Cal-
    The rotation doesn’t matter… because in any of the years there will be people who will be unable to run for an office simply because of their race. Ultimately, the fault lies with the city court judge who forced the school into an impossible situation. The only solution that the school had that wouldn’t be prejudiced or so handicapped that it would fail would have been to disband the student council. You see similar cancellation of programs due to any government-mandated proportions for programs.

  17. The rotation doesn’t matter… because in any of the years there will be people who will be unable to run for an office simply because of their race.

    Uh, yeah, it does. The rotation shows it was an honest, if misguided, effort to give opportunity to everyone.

    Failure to mention the rotation makes it look like white supremacy. You do see the difference, I assume?

    The blog Joanne linked to didn’t mention the rotation. My guess is the writer was too dim to ask about it. But subsequent media coverage also left that little detail out.

  18. Richard, your “Unfair as hell and reflects the bean counters’ insistence on results irrespective of the wishes of the people” is simply an assertion masquerading as fact. What you call “multiple votes” is not remotely comparable to the handicapping scheme you describe for UMich.

    Cumulative voting can be described two ways: (1) you can say that each voter has, say, 3 votes and is free to use them all on a single candidate or to divide them among two or three different candidates. Or, equivalently, (2) you can say that each voter has a single vote and is free to cast it for a single candidate or to divide into fractional votes which can then be cast for different candidates.

    In a student body with roughly 75% whites and 25% blacks, electing a 4-seat council, and assuming voters all favor candidates of their own race, then the best strategy for blacks would be to rally around a single candidate, each casting their entire vote for that candidate. For whites the best strategy would be to rally around their three most popular candidates, with each voter casting 1/3 vote for each white candidate. For a 100-person student body, the result would be 25 votes for the black candidate, and (1/3 * 75) = 25 votes for each of the three white candidates. All this with nothing explicit about race in the voting process, merely the hypothetical assumption that the voters care more about race than anything else.

    If you’re still troubled by the ability to divide a single vote into fractions, you could (3) dispense with the fractional vote part entirely, and just give each voter one vote, with the four council slots going to the four highest vote-getters. Blacks could continue to vote as a above, but the best strategy for whites would now be to vote randomly for one of the three candidates (perhaps base on a roll of a die) so that each of the three receives approximately 1/3 of the total white vote. The results would be the same as (2).

    From definitions 2 and 3 above, it should be clear that cumulative voting is really consistent with one-person-one-vote. In contrast the more common non-proportional at large voting system (aka “winner-take-all”) used in many city council and school board elections really does use multiple votes– typically one for each seat to be filled. Whether that make it “funky” is, I suppose, a matter of taste.

  19. Richard, you presume to know a lot about me. I never said we NEED proportional representation in those bodies, merely that it’s possible without racial quotas or some absurd rule designating offices open only to certain races, both of which you seemed to think inevitable.

    The well-known voting systems I described don’t say anything about race in their rules or definitions. If the students of one race believe they would be best represented by a candidate of another, they are free to vote that way. Or if there are other issues they consider more important than race, likewise. Besides, I did include the phrase, “assuming voters all favor candidates of their own race,” so that premise was hardly unspoken.

    I certainly don’t advocate proportional representation for Congressional elections, although I know of people who do for reasons unrelated to race (they generally want to see more 3rd-party representation). Anyway, Rangel and Jefferson were elected under the current system, so I don’t know what your dislike for those people has to do with this topic. The article was concerned with student body elections, not with Congress. So relax.

    Presumably these elections are for the purpose of providing some sort of educational experience to the students voting or running for office. The requirements of such an election aren’t necessarily the same as for electing qualified officials to high office. If they want realism, they should try to ensure that all nominees are unqualified and unpopular.

  20. Cal –
    Considering that I spent a good amount of time blaming the courts, and not the actual school, I’d say that we are reading the situation similarly. The school was forced to come up with a ridiculous system because, well, that was the only choice that would satisfy the courts.

    As for white supremacy… none of the three class president positions are available to blacks. I wouldn’t be surprised if next year the incoming class would have had to elect a black class president, but at least for now, you have to be white to be elected president.

  21. Richard Aubrey says:

    Your premise is unspoken…that we NEED to see the requisite proportion of various groups represented in places their pictures can be taken, such as the student body or city council.
    We don’t.
    The best strategy for blacks would be to vote for the person who will do them the most good. That requires thinking about whether guys like Rangel and Cold Cash Jefferson are doing their constituents the most good by stealing. Whether Kwame IKilpatrick did the citizens of Detroit any good, or Monica Conyers. Or the Detroit school board.
    Problem is, the black thieves campaign against honest blacks by callling them Uncle Toms, or implying they’re in league with the (white) suburbs. Even being white by proxy is a campaign issue.
    And so, views like yours fit right in.

    Try to get your head around this: A politician can do well for his consituents even if he’s not their color. Big deal, I know. Take your time.

  22. Super, can you read? The positions were ALWAYS rotated. It’s not a change they’re making next year. It was ALWAYS the case.


    A policy intended to achieve racial equality at a north Mississippi school has long meant that only white kids can run for some class offices one year, black kids the next

    Sunk in yet?

    Thus, the original blog post and the egregious abc news article were flatly wrong. You apparently still don’t understand, despite your assurances to the contrary, because this here:
    , but at least for now, you have to be white to be elected president.

    is untrue. This particular year, you had to be white. Last year, you had to be black.

  23. Richard Aubrey says:

    Proportional voting doesn’t need to be arranged by group membership. But what would be another reason?
    As Lani Guinier has proposed, the reason for proportional voting is based solely on group representation. Since, as has not been mentioned, proportional voting is only in place or proposed where the groups represented among the winners do not match the bean counters’ expectations.

  24. Cal-
    Since they have broken down the class positions by year… I’m assuming that next year the only black president will be in the incoming 6th grade class. This probably allows the elected students to run again following years and be elected if they are successful.
    If we go along with the proportions, then after a black class president is elected for 6th grade next year, the next three class will have white presidents, and so on.
    Do I think this is some sort of plot to scapegoat white southerners as de facto KKK members? Most of the commentary I’ve seen has focused on the basic stupidity of the system, and not any evil racist intent.
    And yes, for this school year, you do have to be white to be class president. That’s now. Like I said. And you agreed. But you say you don’t. Do the short sentences help it sink in?

  25. “Bean counters’ expectations.”

    Apparently the term “bean counter” is means anyone not belonging to a plurality group. Or is it an oblique reference to minorities’ eating habits?

    Besides, legislative districts are another form of group representation. Should we do away with geographic districts and have one big at-large election? If all elected members belong to the same group/party/faction, what’s the point of a representative body? You might as well turn it into a one-person office.

    Then again, a single nationwide election to fill offices such as Speaker of the House and other key chairmanships might not be a bad idea. A person with that much power isn’t really representing a single district anyway.


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