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Election shouldn’t change policy

Published: Sat, December 6, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

When Barack H. Obama is sworn in Jan. 20 as the nation’s first biracial president, will that historic event signal the end of affirmative action?

Affirmative action is a set of public policies and programs that have been used over the last four-plus decades to correct past discrimination, especially against black people.

Affirmative action has particularly been used to even the field in the building and trades professions, which have long kept out minorities and women.

From its inception, according to Infoplease.com, affirmative action was to “ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites.”

Opponents of affirmative action will argue that Obama’s election puts to rest the idea that blacks still need such special programs.

Further, they argue, affirmative action was intended to be only a temporary aid that was to end when there was a “level playing field” for all Americans.

Certainly, the election of a black man as president shows that field is now level.

Affirmative-action programs have been challenged the last few years in the courts. The argument is that set-aside programs in the 21st century are no longer necessary and may violate the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is our country’s equal-protection law.

I suspect those lawsuits may increase in the coming months by white employees who maintain the illegality or unfairness of affirmative action.

In a perfect world, affirmative-action policies would not be needed. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and race relations in America is still a hot-button issue.

There are black people in this country who also believe affirmative action has run its course. More blacks are now being hired based on their abilities, they argue, and the time has come to end the preferential treatment.

If American business and government had a better track record on hiring people based on their abilities and talents, I would join those calling for the death of affirmative action.

But I argue that affirmative action is the reason more blacks and women have been hired over the last 45 years, and without it, minority representation in all aspects of American business and governmental life would likely disappear.

Blacks are still underrepresented in most governmental departments in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties in Ohio and Lawrence and Mercer counties in Pennsylvania.

Several prominent businesses in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys have few blacks working there.

And, I suspect the skilled trades still don’t have as many black electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, painters, and tool and die makers as there probably should be.

Now if that is the case with affirmative-action programs still in place, what would happen if they are eliminated?

I say let affirmative action continue for a while longer. It hasn’t hurt America, and arguably has made our country better by allowing folks a chance to succeed, a basic right withheld to people because of their skin color.

I don’t believe the thrust of affirmative action was intended to establish a quota system, which I am against. It was about providing better access to opportunities long denied to blacks and other minorities.

The future president had this to say about affirmative action while on the road to the White House: “I have no way of knowing whether I was a beneficiary of affirmative action either in my admission to Harvard or my initial election to the [Harvard Law] Review. If I was, then I certainly am not ashamed of the fact, for I would argue that affirmative action is important precisely because those who benefit typically rise to the challenge when given an opportunity.”


146759144(1 comment)posted 7 years, 7 months ago

While I agree with your headline, I am not sure how reliable the website is that you cite to in your editorial, it would have been much more informative if you had gone to the American Association for Affirmative Action website (http://www.affirmativeaction.org/abou...) to include as part of your discussion.

AAAA is a non-profit organization which mission is to educate and bring about awareness of affirmative action and diversity. I, as well as, many other equal opportunity officers are members of this organization.

While, you are accurate about the inception of affirmative action, which was put in place to right the wrongs of past discrimination, the United States Supreme Court has ruled on numerous cases, that "quotas" or any type of "set-aside" is unconstitutional. (a.k.a "preferences")

Affirmative action includes not only minorities (particular Blacks as you suggest in your article) but also women, veterans, and the disabled population. Its purpose is to provide equal access and equity for minorities and women in employment, education and economic opportunity. I approach my job with the notion that affirmative action includes a strategic plan and outreach to bring about inclusion within a given workforce.

The legislative basis for any affirmative action plan and/or program is Executive Order 11246, as amended, section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974. These laws together protect minorities, women, members of religious and ethnic groups, and individuals with disabilities and have been powerful initiatives in the quest for a more inclusive society.

I appreciate your article because I am a strong believer that awareness and education is the key. While I do believe that President-elect Barack Obama's accomplishment is indeed historical and a step in the right direction, it does not in of itself (as you state in your editorial)that all laws of equal opportunity should be written off the books.

We continue the fight for equality and justice for all. I am elated to see in my lifetime that my two boys and daughter can aspire to be anything they want to be, including the President of the United States; and it is equally as pleasing to witness the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as noted in his "I Have a Dream" speech become much more than words but a glimpse of reality.

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."...

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Yulanda McCarty-Harris, Esq.
Director, Equal Opportunity and Diversity
Youngstown State University

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