Well, this is certainly interesting — and embarrassing for Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, if the reporting is true (and thus far we have no reason to believe it isn’t). According to the Los Angeles Times, Kaiser
…has apologized for cussing out the head of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts over the phone in mid-September, in response to a demand to stop overlooking Latinos in the annual Kennedy Center Honors awards.
Felix Sanchez, chairman of the Washington-based group, had said last week that Kaiser swore and hung up after no more than three minutes when they spoke Sept. 14 — two days after the Kennedy Center had announced a roster of 2012 honorees that, for the 33rdyear out of 35, included no Latinos.
…Placido Domingo in 2000 and Chita Rivera in 2002 are the only Latinos who’ve been chosen, among more than 170 honorees since 1978.
In a letter dated Thursday, Kaiser apologized for “an unfortunate choice of words…. I deeply regret using them during our conversation.”
But whether or not the conversation happened, and whether or not Kaiser cussed out Sanchez, and whether or not the Kennedy Center Honors has what one might characterize as a “Latino problem” (as the research provided by the Los Angeles Times implies), the real question is whether great and cherished national awards like the Kennedy Center Honors needs to engage in affirmative action as part of its decision-making. After all, we’re not exactly reading about the head of the NAACP calling Kaiser on the carpet for the Kennedy Center Honors not saluting enough African Americans, right?
Where, we wonder, is the balance between the need to have great and cherished national awards determined by a process that is merit-based, free of political correctness, and great and cherished national awards whose process is influenced, and perhaps dominated, by a requirement to fill certain buckets and check certain boxes?
If you believe that the twin imperatives of merit and diversity are separate and distinct, that is. For in the real America, in the America we want, such things need not oppose one another. They are — they ought to be — fully complementary to one another.