THE LAST WORD: Higher Education Careers and Affirmative Action

By Matthews, Frank L.; Cox, William E. | Black Issues in Higher Education, October 5, 1995 | Go to article overview

THE LAST WORD: Higher Education Careers and Affirmative Action


Matthews, Frank L., Cox, William E., Black Issues in Higher Education


THE LAST WORD: Higher Education Careers and Affirmative Action.

Americans, have always talked about equality. In fact, our founding fathers waxed eloquent about such principles in the Declaration of Independence some 219 years ago, but, unfortunately, this country has yet to live up to those stated ideals.

For a while in the 1960s, after much struggle and strife, it seemed as though America's moral conscience was beginning to prick her, and overtures were made to live up to a guiding manifesto stained with the blood of Crispus Attucks. With the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other legislation initiated by Lyndon Johnson to bring about "affirmative action" in the workplace, on college and university campuses and elsewhere, America's long suffering stepchildren -- descendants of slaves, people of color and women -- were beginning to gather around the table to share in the American pie.

Some of us did get a slice. But far too many of us have yet to taste even the crumbs. From the look of things, it may never happen. As tough-talking members of Congress and a largely conservative Supreme Court begin to chip away brick by brick at the structures to redress endemic racial discrimination, the message that is sounding to African Americans, Latinos, Asians, women and others is simple: "Let's return to the good old days."

It was not too long ago, during those "old days," when African Americans, as slaves, were penalized if caught attempting to read a book -- it was against the law. It was not too long ago when African Americans were denied entry to most institutions of higher learning. It was not too long ago when African Americans were not allowed in certain professions. But that does not seem to matter to lawmakers such as Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS), Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) and perennial affirmative-action basher, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), to name but a few.

This group -- all well-off white males -- rails against affirmative action, because, they say, we should have a "colorblind" society. Apparently somebody is blind. Because it was not too long ago....

This aversion to affirmation action is being strategized on a grand scale in the bowels of state capitols across the land, as in the case of the California Civil Rights Initiative, which will soon be offered on a statewide ballot as a proposal to do away with affirmative action in state programs and institutions of higher education.

Even the Supreme Court of the United States -- that august body Blacks and others look to when all else fails -- is whistling an anti-affirmative-action tune. In a 5-to-4 decision, just before wrapping up for the last session, the high court struck down a Georgia redistricting plan that increased Black representation in Congress. The ruling effectively put in place new judicial criteria for the way race can be used in drawing up legislative districts.

There are those who would like to forget that the reason we needed -- and still need -- affirmative action is because we've had so much "negative action" throughout American history. Too many Americans believe that affirmative action means giving jobs to "others" less qualified than themselves -- the incompetent and the undeserving. …

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