Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Affirmative Action: Still Necessary or Totally Obsolete!??

Lifelong North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms quietly went to the Good Ole' Boy's Club in the sky this past weekend. While I'm always respectful of the departed, I have to admit I didn't really shed any tears for ole' Jesse. Growing up in the Tarheel state, I'm intimately familiar with his flavor of bigotry and stark racial politricks. He used the whole "Negroes are evil and not to be trusted" style of campaigning his forefathers like Ben Tillman and Strom Thurmond perfected to play on the hidden sentiments of many Southerners.

While Helms list of political sins is lengthy, perhaps no incident personifies this tactic more than his infamous "hands" anti-affirmative action ad employed to deep-six the Senatorial aspirations of his black opponent, Harvey Gantt back in 1990. You know it, you've seen it, but here it is just in case.

Yep, he went all the way there. And he did it because he knew it would work. And it did, as he barely squeaked by his African American opponent. You could argue that the subliminal undertones of this ad delivered the margin of victory.

And you wonder why I have no love for CNN's Alex Castellanos.[1]

18 years later, with ole' Jesse 6 feet under, I'm suddenly thinking about affirmative action yet again. While there's lots of talk about the war and the economy, one seldom discussed undertone of this year's Presidential campaign is the likelihood that as many as three Supreme Court judges could retire in the next term. Since those likely to retire lean somewhat liberal, it's a given that John McCain would replace these guys with staunch Conservatives, upsetting the relative judicial balance that currently exists. Abortion would be dealt with. Gay rights too. And somewhere on that checklist would certainly be the issue of affirmative action, which McCain (in a quite flipflop from his position as recently as 2000) would look to eliminate altogether.

I'm sure many anti-affirmative action proponents would tell you that Barack Obama's thus-far successful run for Prez would signal the fact that affirmative action is no longer needed. And on some level, they just might have a point.

But I beg to differ. For the average non-Rockstar Negro™ seeking a job, reality is that a need for structured government programs to ensure equality in hiring is still very necessary. Just google the term 'racial employment discrimination' if you need a refresher. It's not exactly 1960, but we haven't come as far as the Obama campaign might like you to think.

I'm not going to do too far off the deep end about my Day Job[2], but let's just say I know a thing or two about which I speak. To wit, I was an affirmative action hire. I have no problems putting this out there. There is no shame attached to this. No lasting stigma. Reality is, my school wasn't a huge recruiting target until some pressure was put on the company to start looking for minorities. I was hired in such a program, along with many others from my Negro College HBCU. And over time, each and every one of us has continued to ascend the corporate ladder. There was no weak link in the bunch. Everyone was fully qualified. Nobody was hired simply because they were black. We've all panned out, probably well beyond what anyone at this company could have imagined. We just needed a chance.

Affirmative action opened that door. Our personal competency kept us inside.

Again, I'm not trying to throw too much out there, but I think the need still exists, at least in subjective terms like employment. For more objective areas like education, particularly issues like admission, the area's a bit grayer. I will concede that much.

Either way, this is yet another reason why I'll vote for Obama. He acknowledges that his own children shouldn't benefit from affirmative action, by virtue of their socioeconomic status. Yet it shouldn't be done away with because of the issues of bias that still exist. I couldn't have said this better, although you might argue that I just did.

I'm sure Jesse wouldn't agree, but then again, what can he do about it now?

Question: Do you think affirmative action is still a necessary evil? Are there some things about AA that should perhaps be adjusted to fit the times?

Affirmative Action, Another Possible US Presidential Debate Topic? [Digital Journal]

Helms was ahead of campaign curve [Politico]

[1] He was the mastermind behind this ad, just in case you were wondering. Lee Atwater was smiling inside.

[2] Because I've got a mortgage and 529 plan to worry about.

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