Creating a Level Playing Field: To Eliminate the Unfair Advantage

Article excerpt

As part of this Special Report, we asked black leaders Julian Bond, Kurt Schmoke, Glenn Loury, Ward Connerly, and Armstrong Williams to give their opinions on affirmative action. If readers have had an experience (good or bad) with affirmative action, please write to us and we will publish the letters in an upcoming issue. (Please keep text under 300 words.) Write to: Affirmative Action Editor, The World & I, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002

To Eliminate the Unfair Advantage

Affirmative action is based on the notion that the groups that have been monopolizing the best jobs or college admissions are not the only groups suited to them. Affirmative action is planning and acting to (1) end the absence from jobs and schools of the subordinated and left out and (2) eliminate the unfair advantage the favored groups enjoyed in the past and still enjoy today.

The white team and the black team are playing the last football game of the season. The white team owns the ball, the stadium, and the referees and has been allowed to field nine times as many players. For almost four quarters, the white team has cheated on every play, and now the score is white team 140, black team 3. There are 10 seconds left in the game. Suddenly, the white quarterback feels he must make amends for misdeeds committed before he joined the team. "How about it, boys," he says to his teammates. "From now on, let's play fair!"

True or false?

Income-based policies are a proper substitute for race-conscious policies. False! While providing aid to poor persons, such a program would leave race and gender discrimination intact.

Affirmative action helps only middle-class blacks who don't need it. False/Middle-class status is no barrier against discrimination. No research supports the notion that affirmative action in employment helps the best-educated most.

Better education for minorities, rather than affirmative action, is the solution to racial disparities. False! Gaps between black and white education and training must be eliminated, but even well-educated blacks are denied opportunity today. Substituting training for affirmative action delays improving opportunity for blacks until an indefinite future.

Affirmative action violates accepted standards of merit selection. False! Merit selection is neither widespread nor universally practiced; nepotism, geographic balance, athletic or other talent, and other "qualifications" are routinely applied when choosing college entrants. Using race as an additional qualification hardly seems a radical departure from an already lenient and flexible "merit" system.

Whites whose ancestors did not own slaves or who themselves are not prejudiced have not "profited" from past or current discrimination. False! Present-day whites, regardless of income, are all beneficiaries of skin privilege. Public policies--i.e., discriminatory mortgage banking--have worked to advantage whites and disadvantage blacks. Whites are first in line for hiring, promotion, and desirable job assignments. Blacks are generally excluded from the personal referral circles through which most jobs are obtained.

Julian Bond is chairman of the NAACP.

Toward Real Economic Opportunity by Kurt L. Schmoke

As we stand on the cusp of a new century, can we truly say that all Americans enjoy real economic opportunity?

The sad fact is that afar all our civil rights battles, we must still wage war on the business front to ensure that we remove the barriers to economic success in this country. That's why I am more committed than ever to maintaining programs that level the playing field for women and minorities in the economic arena.

And that's also why in Baltimore, we operate what I believe is one of the most effective Minority Business Enterprise/Women Business Enterprise programs in the nation. In 1996, 17 percent of the city's contracts went to minority-owned firms--to a total of $80 million. …