Are We There Yet? ; Racial Issues Still Linger Here

By Pearson, Janet | Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK), November 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

Are We There Yet? ; Racial Issues Still Linger Here


Pearson, Janet, Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK)


At our recent editorial board meeting with backers of State Question 759, which would ban government affirmative action programs in employment, education and contracting, there was lots of lively talk about leveling the playing field and moving beyond race, as might be expected.

What might not have been expected was that the chief spokesman against affirmative action was Ward Connerly, founder of the Sacramento-based American Civil Rights Institute and a well-known opponent of affirmative action - and an African-American.

A central point Connerly kept coming back to is that initiatives such as affirmative action treat minorities differently, as though they are somehow inadequate and in need of a helping hand to achieve success.

Being African-American, he obviously has the background and standing to take the stands he has taken.

But being a member of a couple of so-called "protected classes" myself - a 60ish female - I've also got a few bona fides. Connerly and I, and the other editorial board members, disagreed a lot over the extent of discrimination in Oklahoma, but we found ourselves in agreement that this is the pivotal question: Are we there yet?

To be more specific: Are we at the point where race, gender, national origin and so on are not significant factors in employment decisions? He seems to think so. But I would argue there's lots of evidence to the contrary.

Not that I've personally been the victim of much discrimination myself. Nor do I think that hiring quotas (which are already illegal) or other extreme measures aimed at achieving work-place diversity are the way to battle discrimination.

But on the other hand, programs that aim to reach out to minorities and to keep the spotlight on the importance of a diverse work force still seem to be a good idea, especially in light of the evidence.

What's the point?

SQ 759 would ban affirmative action programs in government employment, education and contracting decisions. The question defines affirmative action programs as those that "give preferred treatment based on race, color or gender." Preferred treatment "based on ethnicity or national origin" also would be prohibited.

The measure would allow such programs in three instances: when gender is a bona fide qualification; when existing court actions require them; when needed to keep or obtain federal funds.

The measure would apply to cities, counties, state agencies and subdivisions and school districts, but not to private employers.

A curious aspect of this effort is this: If passed, it apparently will have little, if any, impact (except perhaps to paint the state in a bad light). State officials interviewed by the World's Wayne Greene recently said they were unaware of any effects that the measure would have on their activities or programs.

What's more, backers of the measure say affirmative-action efforts still could be made to historically disadvantaged people even if the measure passes. Incoming Speaker of the House T. W. Shannon, who is Chickasaw Indian and African-American, and also a strong supporter of the measure, told Greene: "There are people who have terrible situations because of systemic generations of poverty. …

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