By John L. Horton
Last year (July 2, 2014), we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the “1964 Civil Rights Act.” This year (August 6, 2015), we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the “1965 Voting Rights Act.” Intermingled and intertwined within these Acts are key features of the Affirmative Action laws. This leads me to ponder: Is Affirmative Action still necessary?
As a 74- year-old African-American male, I am deeply troubled by those who want to end and not amend the policy of affirmative action. For whatever reason(s), affirmative action seems to be a divisive issue in today’s society.
Affirmative action was initiated in 1965 by then President Lyndon Baines Johnson as a means “to level the playing field” and give an (equal) opportunity to those minorities, Blacks, Latinos, and women, so they could gain access to the economic marketplace and political arena.
Affirmative action was never meant to favor Blacks and others over whites or anyone else. Affirmative action was meant to be inclusive and to take full advantage of all America’s people.
Today, as in 1965, there is a glass ceiling and invisible barrier which prevents many qualified affirmative action participants from fully enjoying the fruits of their labors and skills. For example, I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the 1940’s and 1950’s when African-Americans were not allowed to become policemen, firemen, lawyers, judges, doctors, nurses, teachers, counselors, secretaries, contractors, journalists, managers, supervisors, and entrepreneurs for the public at large, regardless of their skills and qualifications.
In short, affirmative action has been a means of facilitation for certain previously disadvantaged groups of people to get a “fair” and “legal” opportunity to be included in the overall fabric of American life. In effect, affirmative action has somewhat enabled all Americans to utilize their skills, talents, expertise and knowledge to gain access to the employment, entrepreneurial, educational and political arenas.
For instance, affirmative action laws, regulations and policies have mandated, advanced and benefited most Americans: voting rights, racial discrimination, employment laws, women’s rights, welfare laws, housing laws, health care laws, gay rights, spousal abuse, birth control, food stamps, and the list goes on.
Basically, these so-called “affirmative action” laws, regulations and policies have made (our) America a more fair, just and moral society. All in all, “We the People” have become a more “Perfect Union” and improved the “Common Good” for all of America’s peoples. In essence, we have answered to our “Better Angels.” Yes, we have!
Those who disagree with its precepts blame affirmative action for many of society’s shortcomings. The so-called “angry white male” is among these factions. Some of these angry white males and privileged others are losing their standards of living, and they, wrongly, blame affirmative action and other similar policies. These angry white males should understand that their decreasing earning power is due in large part to the world marketplace, plutocratic greed, and changing technology of the new millennium.
As a result of this and other phenomena, corporate earnings are up, wages are down, jobs are being exported to foreign (cheaper) markets, thereby causing economic pain and a feeling of inward alienation. Moreover, the recent Wall Street scandals, bank bailouts and financial bankruptcies have taken a heavy toll on the middle class and other Americans who are not usually affected by “tough economic times.” Now, for the very first time, the angry white male population and certain privileged others are hurting along with the rest of American society.
While some have demonized and stereotyped affirmative action, they have yet to come up with a positive and meaningful alternative that would include America’s “melting pot” of people. To remain the world’s leader and continue to be the economic forerunner, we must include all Americans with their diverse talents and skills. In short, we need a positive, beneficial and inclusive remedy for our affirmative action dilemma. We must not use affirmative action as a means to further divide and enrage Americans along racial, political and economic lines.
In closing, I strongly agree that the old affirmative action policy is not all perfect and complete. It has significant imperfections that need to be mended. Among other things, loopholes need to be closed so that only those who truly need affirmative action would benefit from it.
Simply put, not all minorities and affected others should benefit from affirmative action because of their race or gender. These kinds of important issues can be ameliorated – and they should be.
However, you don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. And, I agree with those who say, “Affirmative action should be amended – not ended.” Hopefully, America will continue to strive towards the overall “Common Good” and more “Perfect Union.”
John L. Horton is a resident of Norfolk and a frequent contributor to this newspaper.