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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Is There an "Anti-Affirmative Action Wave Washing over America"?

Is America ready for the end of "the affirmative action era"? According to this, the answer is no:

The end of affirmative action?, by Erin Aubry Kaplan, Commentary, LA Times: At least a dozen times in the last decade, I've read or heard that the United States is coming to the end of the affirmative action era. I don't believe it.

Americans are always making premature or wrongheaded pronouncements about the ends and beginnings of eras... The guy making this case most recently is former University of California Regent Ward Connerly. Connerly has made a career out of being the black man who opposes affirmative action no matter what, and after a dozen years, he's satisfied that his work is close to done.

Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in public education, hiring and contracts, was approved by California voters 10 years ago. Since then, the complexion of the UC student body has paled considerably. Measures modeled after 209 are passing in other parts of the country, including in Michigan earlier this month. On the federal level, the most conservative Supreme Court in modern history looks poised to limit or eliminate the federal mandate that created affirmative action.

Connerly is encouraged by all these good omens. He has said that he feels an "anti-affirmative action wave washing over America" and that he's following that wave to Oregon, Nevada and other states still in need of conversion. Spreading the gospel, apparently.

The gospel of what, exactly? What I find sad about this crusade, apart from the fact that its spiritual leader is a black man, is that it's so hellbent on destroying something meant to help folks but offers nothing helpful to take its place. It's a movement built on people in power gathering up all the marbles (which were mostly theirs to begin with) and going home. The best it can do is preach equality by doing nothing, a kind of free-market approach to solving deep-rooted racial problems. Such an approach only works for those controlling the free market. ...

The most troubling question raised by the potential end of the affirmative action era, however, is what kind of era we can expect next. For 40 years, affirmative action has been a modest political expression of a much bigger vision of America that emphasizes inclusion, and righting past wrongs where feasible, to make our social experiment into something truly great.

If Connerly is right, Americans are now admitting that this is too utopian for their tastes. Now they're ready to launch a new era in which it's perfectly OK to acknowledge that America doesn't really care about a level playing field, if it ever really did. Personally — and theoretically — I fear a future like that.

[For more on Proposition 209 and affirmative action, see Anti-bias law has backfired at Berkeley, by Robert J. Birgeneau, UC Berkeley Chancellor, March 2005.]

    Posted by on Wednesday, November 29, 2006 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Policy, Universities | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (23)

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