Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Has Obama Killed Affirmative Action?

Jonathan Kaufman asks that question in the Wall Street Journal from last week.
The issue of affirmative action is likely to dog Sen. Obama on the campaign trail as he seeks to win over white blue-collar voters in battleground states like Michigan. For many of these voters, affirmative action has been divisive since the 1970s. Ward Connerly, a prominent affirmative-action opponent, is seeking to place anti-affirmative action referendums on the ballot in Arizona, Nebraska and Colorado. Voters would be asked to ban "preferential treatment" of women and minorities in state university admissions, the filling of state-funded jobs and awarding of state contracts.

White anger over affirmative action has diminished as the Supreme Court has systematically narrowed the scope of programs in colleges and the workplace. Still, the gap between black and white opinion remains wide.

More than half of blacks -- 57% -- say the country should make "every effort to improve the position of blacks and minorities, even if it means giving preferential treatment," according to a poll conducted last year by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan Washington think tank that studies social attitudes. Just 27% of whites agree with that view. The same poll shows that nearly half of whites -- 48% -- believe the U.S. has "gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country." Far fewer African Americans -- 27% -- agree.

Opinions about affirmative action vary depending on how researchers word their questions; support tends to grow, for example, when the question describes the programs in more detail. But the Gallup polling firm says that regardless of the wording, all of its surveys on affirmative action show blacks overwhelmingly support it, while whites tend to be much more divided.
Teh problem with affirmative action is that the program designed origianally to provide equal opportunity was somewhere along the line perverted into a short hand for equal outcomes and thus, the notion of quotas was born, either by crafty legal argument or by poor judicial reasoning, or both. That is where I think most whites came to have problem with affirmative action and as a consequence began to despise the program.

If couched in terms of giving everyone a fair and equal opportunity to succeed, then the idea gets less opposition. But when affirmative action came to be equated with government mandated quotas and equality of outcome, the concept began to rankle a fair number of people.

The biggest problem facing the country now that we have been held hostage to affirmative action as it had been bastardized is where do we draw the line? At what point in time does efforts by the government sufficiently compensated minorities for their years of oppression? Furthermore, how long will this country substitute race for other disparaties of opportunity? Finally, how "black" does one need to be to be considered a minority?

Obama, a man of mixed racial heritage is the first truly non-white to have a real chance to win the White House? Is that not evidence enough that we as a nation have indeed turned a corner? What about Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Clarence Thomas or Charlie Rangel? What about Robert Johnson? Oprah? What about all the black athletes in basketball, football and baseball (among other sports) that less than 60 years ago were forbidden to play in white leagues? How much further do blacks have to rise in this country for white America to demonstrate that they no longer have to suffer the slings and arrows of past history for black Americans to understand that success or failure lies in their own hands, not in the hands of others? Surely, having a black man in position to become leader of the free world is enough? Isn't it?

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