Do We Still Need Affirmative Action?


            With the success of Barack Obama’s presidential bid, many critics of preferential programs for minorities and women have argued that it is time to dismantle all affirmative action policies in the workplace and institutions of higher learning.  Recently, John McCain brought attention to the issue by stating that he supports a constitutional amendment in Arizona that would outlaw all affirmative action programs in his home state.

            Nebraska and Colorado, along with Arizona, are pushing anti-affirmative action initiatives for the November presidential election.  The initiative is already slated for the Colorado ballot, while Nebraska and Arizona officials are currently verifying petition signatures.

            Ward Connerly is funding the initiative in Arizona and said that the amendment would outlaw programs such as the Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise Program in Tucson, Ariz., which allows minority and women-owned businesses to bid more for city contracts and forces prime contractors to make an effort to hire them.

            “Those clearly would be outlawed.  Any standards that are applied to groups based on race.  Any jobs where there are different standards for admissions,” Connerly said.

            Despite the constant criticism of affirmative action and the success of African Americans such as Obama, there is still a racial disparity in this country, when it comes to employment and income, among Blacks and Whites.

            According to Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Household Data Annual Averages Report, White high school dropouts had a 6.5 percent unemployment rate while Blacks with a high school diploma had a 7.3 percent unemployment rate in 2007.  In addition, Blacks with an Associate’s degree had a 4.8 percent unemployment rate, while Whites with just a high school diploma had a 3.9 percent unemployment rate.

            Furthermore, Blacks with a Bachelor’s degree or more had a three percent unemployment rate in 2007, while their White counterparts with only two years of college had a 2.7 percent rate.  The Census Bureau reported that Blacks earn less money for every educational level than Whites with the same credentials.

            However, in Ebony magazine, radio talk show host Larry Elder says 80 percent of Blacks live above the poverty line, with the majority living a middle class or better lifestyle.  The unemployment rate for a married Black man equals that of a married White man.  In addition, Black females with a college degree make more money than their White female counterparts, Elder says.

            Elder goes on to say that African Americans have held CEO positions at such prestigious companies as Merrill Lynch, American Express and Time Warner, while African American-owned business are growing at a faster rate than White-owned companies.

            Nevertheless, critics have accused Connerly of duping Arizona citizens by referring to his position as a civil rights initiative that would outlaw discriminatory hiring practices and not as a measure that would end affirmative action.

            “If you put things in deceptive terms, like if you say ‘We’re trying to get civil rights protections for everybody,’ then, you know, people say ‘yes.’” Shanta Driver, lawyer for Detroit-based affirmative action coalition By Any Means Necessary, said.  “They don’t know these terms mean something completely different.”

Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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