Election shouldn’t change policy

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.”

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