What next out of California? The birthplace of the anti-tax
movement in the '70s, the anti-smoking movement in the '80s and the
anti-immigrant movement in the '90s, California may be well on its
way to bringing us an anti-affirmative action movement.
Since white males, the group whose supremacy affirmative action
is designed to counterbalance, were the most significant "swing"
voters in November's conservative sweep, the time may be ripe for
affirmative action, which always is under attack, to come under
As an African-American male who supports affirmative action
goals, although not hard quotas, I welcome the debate. Affirmative
action was never intended to be permanent. A policy striking at the
nation's oldest pain, the problems of race and sex, cries out
desperately for periodic review.
Thirty years have passed since President Lyndon B. Johnson
signed the first affirmative action executive order. That's a
generation and a half. We have learned a lot since then, but
unfortunately not enough to say that affirmative action is no
A couple of observations consistently come through. One is
that affirmative action is a messy system of rough justice.
However, no one has come up with a better way to remedy the
injustices of the past or to ensure enforcement of civil rights
laws in the future.
The other is that to equate affirmative action with "reverse
discrimination" is to rewrite history.
As Johnson said three decades ago, the long history of
oppression and humiliation leaves some groups of people
significantly less able to compete. To simply say, "OK, from now on
you're equal" would simply freeze inequities in place. "You don't
starve somebody for a month, break both legs, put him at the
starting line and say, `May the best man win,"' he said.
The proposed "California Civil Rights Initiative" would bar the
state or any state agencies or contractors from using race, sex,
color, ethnicity or national origin "as a criterion for
discrimination against or preferential treatment" for public
employment, education or contracts.
Nice and neat as that sounds, it begs the issue's most nagging
questions. Even so, the proposal's backers favor continued use of
racial and gender statistics to "keep track" of hiring and
contracting, says Glenn Custred, a California State University
anthropology professor and co-author of the initiative. …