Affirmative Action Debate: Discrimination Would Remain Illegal in Nation

This article is part of a debate between Major W. Cox and Thomas McPherson Jr. It originally appeared in the Montgomery Advertiser on July 16, 1995.

By Major W. Cox

Just as the affirmative action debate soared in the turbulence of partisan politics, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively struck down the mother of all affirmative action…race-based congressional districts.

It is ironic that Justice Clarence Thomas voted with the majority in the five to four decision. Ironic because many of Justice Thomas’ detractors during his confirmation process to the court went to great length explaining how he benefited from affirmative action. Branding the future United States Supreme Court Justice as a recipient of affirmative action was intended to stigmatize him, imply that he was unworthy to be a supreme court justice.

In this recent decision, “Miller vs. Johnson,” the U.S. Supreme Court declared Georgia’s redrawn 11th congressional district unconstitutional because the state legislature had drawn it for the specific purpose of electing a minority congress member.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority: “When the state assigns voters on the basis of race, it engages in the offensive and demeaning assumption that voters of a particular race, because of their race, think alike, share the same political interest, and will prefer the same candidates at the polls.”

Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Conner, Anthony Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined the majority. Dissenting from the ruling were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer and David Souter.

This decision does not necessarily discredit affirmative action as envisioned in 1965, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Then, he defended affirmative action by arguing that you could not expect people who had been “hobbled” by years of segregation to compete equally. He referred to official state-mandated segregation.

TODAY, RACIAL segregation is unlawful in every state. In 1995, the opportunity exists for everyone to live and work any place or at any profession they choose. No public doors anywhere are closed to anyone in this country because of his or her race.

Take a look at some of those persons, “hobbled by chains,” President Johnson referred to in his Howard University Commencement address thirty years ago. One was Douglas Wilder, he took off his chains of segregation and became Governor of Virginia. Another, Colin Powell refused to surrender to race-victimization, seized opportunity in the U.S. Army, and climbed to the Army’s highest rank. Still another, Carol Moseley Braun — with roots in Union Springs — removed her chains, and ran for and won a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois.

And then there is Clarence Thomas, who refused to be characterized as the benefactor of affirmative action. Today, he sits as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Clearly, race-conscious affirmative action was necessary. Without it, untold millions of Americans of African descent, women, and other minorities would remain hobbled by a tradition of white-male preferences. Resulting from affirmative action, today you find both African Americans and women as members of every class and category of Americans.

What about the so-called class of resentful white males? These Americans, as well as other Americans, are angry. They are angry about a slow-growth economy, corporate downsizing and reduced middle-class incomes. They are mad because they will be the first generation of their group to be economically worse off than their fathers. Their wives must work, while many of their mothers did not. Their fathers bought the family home on a blue collar income; they cannot. Their fathers had jobs with good medical benefits and comfortable retirements; those jobs are disappearing.

Yes, these folks are angry but this does not give them a right to discriminate. Instead of pandering to their racial resentment, congress needs to end affirmative action and enact legislation that criminalizes racial discrimination.

Thirty years ago when President Johnson’s administration undertook the task of righting the wrongs of years of racial discrimination, the issue was clear. We were two nations, one black and disadvantaged, the other white and privileged. Today, we are fast becoming one nation, due in large measure to affirmative action.

Today’s African American middle class is virtually indistinguishable from America’s traditional white middle class. They work at the same jobs, live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same schools, vacation at the same resorts, eat at the same restaurants, shop at the same stores and do all the other things that middle class Americans do.

The only difference that remains from the old “disadvantaged black America and the privileged white America” is skin color. Skin color, unfortunately, still creates inequities. Perhaps the time has come for discrimination on the basis of ones’ skin color to be considered a criminal act.

Paradoxically, as affirmative action brought about more racial integration of the work place, and competition for good jobs became tougher, our citizens became more race conscious. Integration in the eyes of many Americans produced black winners and white losers. Many white Americans see themselves as disadvantaged in a non-racial meritocracy.

These individuals are unprepared and unwilling to forego the advantages of their race. They want the same status in society that they believe their ancestors enjoyed. It is important that our political debate remind these dissatisfied individuals that their ancestors’ conduct toward minorities and women are unlawful in today’s equal opportunity society.

All African Americans are not satisfied with the changes brought by affirmative action. Affirmative action detractors say that banks, shops, and other mainstream commerce have abandoned their neighborhoods. Health care providers and city services are poor to nonexistent in their community.

They say affirmative action “raped” black communities of their economic base by employing the brightest and most talented at jobs outside “their” communities and leaving an unemployable underclass. They point to an unemployment rate among black citizens that is twice that of white citizens. Many feel that the police are at war with young black males, and show statistics to prove it. Nearly 50 percent of black males between the ages of 18 and 35 are in jail, on probation, or on parole.

Granted affirmative action did not help a significant number of poor blacks, many of whom fall prey to the political charlatans and criminal element that traditionally victimize the underclass. They are told they will never be full partners in America, they are different, and they need their own separate political and economic agenda. As a result, many have given up on integration and becoming full Americans. For these folks, who metaphorically remain in the rear of the bus, ‘separate but equal’ was the ‘good old days.’

Tragically, at the same time, some politicians mislead a class of lower-income white males. They tell these men who feel displaced by a changing global economy that integration, equal opportunity for women, and affirmative action, are preventing them from living the privileged life of their parents. What they should be telling these men instead, is that the days of white male privilege are gone. That America is a equal opportunity meritocracy. A place where a person is judged by individual ability and education instead of skin color.

Free lance writer Major Cox divides his time between Montgomery and Smut Eye in Bullock County.

Originally published: 16 July 1995, Montgomery Advertiser
Copyright – 1995 – Major W. Cox and The Montgomery Advertiser.

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