Affirmative Action Under Attack

Anti-affirmative action initiatives challenged

Come November, voters in five states may be electing more than a new president; they may be electing to end affirmative action as well. Nearly 129,000 signatures were delivered to Colorado authorities earlier this month in support of a voter initiative to end race-based policies that aim to correct inequities. Petitions are circulating in Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.

Ward Connerly, head of the American Civil Rights Coalition, is spearheading the November ballot initiatives to end affirmative action policies in public education, hiring, and contracting. He says he has raised “at least $1.5 million for his campaign’s civil rights initiative.”

Connerly, a conservative black Republican, is working to collect enough petition signatures in each of the remaining states by July 6 in order to get the initiative on the ballot for the November election. “I have been working 15 years to end affirmative action as we know,” says Connerly. “I do not think affirmative action should be based on racial preference as it is today. Black people are marginalized by affirmative action and burdened by the notion we cannot compete without someone giving us something.”

Connerly says the success of Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton shows that affirmative action is no longer necessary “to compensate for, ‘institutional racism and institutional sexism.’” He concedes that neither senator would have been admitted to his or her law school were it not for affirmative action. But he also points to “comments like those of Geraldine Ferraro, who despite all he has achieved, alludes to the notion that Sen. Obama is where he is because of affirmative action [and not merit].”

Civil rights groups and educators are mobilizing to defeat the anti-affirmative action ballot initiative. United for Equality and Affirmative Action Legal Defense Fund, an organization dedicated to integrating minority students into educational institutions, disputes the validity of the Colorado petition. “We have already found several fraudulent signatures on [it], and we feel the language used in the petition is deceptive,” says Shanta Driver, the organization’s national director. “In fact, we have interviewed several people who said they did not understand that the petition was anti-affirmative action.” But Connerly says, “The language is very clear and reasonable; people can understand the meaning of affirmative action in reading the petition.”

Connerly says he favors aggressive action on the part of employers and government to hire an inclusive workforce. “I agree with outreach to help young people of all colors who are disadvantaged. I agree with socio-economic affirmative action.” He adds that historically it has not been African Americans but white women who have benefited most from affirmative action, and now the Latino community is.

In 1996, California passed Proposition 209, designed to ban affirmative action programs benefiting women and minorities. In 1998, Washington state voters outlawed programs benefiting women and minorities in public education, health, and public employment. In 2006, Michigan voters adopted a similar law.

Affirmative action advocates point to the decreased minority enrollment in the California college system as evidence of the need for the programs.

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