Friday, November 14, 2008

Affirmative action and the election (by Suzie)

           In the general election, voters in Nebraska approved a constitutional amendment that bars public agencies from giving preferential treatment based on gender, race or ethnicity. (See this article for possible repercussions.) Colorado barely defeated a similar initiative.
           I favor affirmative action in general. But I think it’s a lost cause if liberals treat it like a dirty word. I wrote about this before, noting how Obama equated it with the conservative idea of “giving preference to minorities who are less qualified.”
           This Atlantic article suggests Obama’s election was
a stunning triumph for the early 1960s notion of colorblindness. Children’s Defense Fund president Marian Wright Edelman wrote in Politico that “… my fellow Americans are willing to do what Dr. King envisioned: vote for a President based on the content of his character rather than the color of his skin.” Edelman’s language is consistent with Obama’s strikingly colorblind campaign.
         Obama didn’t need to emphasize his race; so many others did it for him, with accusations of racism and counter-accusations of race-baiting, plus discussions about the importance of electing our first black president. Crowds chanting “race doesn’t matter” did not indicate colorblindness. Colorblindness will occur when people truly stop noticing race.
         In regard to college admissions, the Atlantic article suggests Obama may favor preferences based on income and wealth, rather than race. It makes the case that such programs could help blacks and Hispanics just as much as ones based on race and ethnicity.
          Like many discussions of affirmative action, the article doesn’t mention gender, perhaps because colleges admit plenty of women these days. But gender is still relevant in other areas, such as male-dominated fields. When debating affirmative action, we need to remind people that gender disparities may not occur for the same reasons or in the same way as disparities by race, color and ethnicity.
          ETA: We got started on this topic early. For more, go back to the comments on this thread.