Jewish World Review June 25, 2002 / 25 Sivan, 5763

La Shawn Barber

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So what if I gained from affirmative action — it's still wrong | "…We have seen the High Court of the country declare that discrimination based on race was repugnant to the Constitution, and therefore void." — President Lyndon Johnson, 1965

On Monday, June 23, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court disregarded the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and upheld the University of Michigan Law School's race preference policy.

By a vote of 5-4, the Court ruled that black applicants may be given an advantage over other students because of the color of their skin, to the shame of all who died fighting for equal justice under the law during the Civil Rights Movement.

As a black person, I'm embarrassed by the decision. My heart cries out to students who'll one day disentangle themselves from the liberal lie that they are inherently inferior to others and require lower standards, just as I did. I escaped the Democrats' plantation and never looked back.

Affirmative action didn't begin as racial quotas, but quickly became such. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making segregation in public facilities and discrimination in employment illegal. In a speech given to a graduating class at Howard University in 1965, Johnson acknowledged that after centuries of oppression, blacks needed more than just freedom to catch up with the rest of society. "You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair."

Johnson was correct, but added, "We seek…not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result." He unknowingly framed the underlying concept for racial quotas, planting the seeds for a system that would become tainted by the use of skin color in determining admissions and hiring. Sadly, the struggle for equality of opportunity has become an expectation for equality of result, an idea that still reverberates through the collective psyche of liberals who erroneously believe the two concepts are interchangeable.

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"Affirmative action" was first codified in a 1961 Executive Order by President Kennedy, instructing federal contractors to take "affirmative action to ensure that applicants are treated equally without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." A 1965 Executive Order signed by President Johnson required all federal contractors to take "affirmative action to expand job opportunities for minorities." In 1970, President Nixon unwittingly opened the door to racial quotas when he authorized the U.S. Department of Labor to set goals and timetables to correct the "underutilization" of blacks by federal contractors. Well-meaning whites took full advantage of correcting "underutilization."

Affirmative action's original intent was to "cast a wide net" to draw in blacks who otherwise wouldn't have had opportunity, a notion that made sense and carried with it the potential of equality of result. For the past 30 years, however, it has operated as an entitlement and set-aside program. Underqualifed blacks are admitted to universities under race preferences because they're black.

My black peers imply that I lack the authority to speak out against race preferences because I've benefited from them. Using the same reasoning, how many of us would let a child touch a hot stove so he could gain the same benefit we've gained in knowing that a hot stove shouldn't be touched?

Not only am I morally obligated to reject race preferences, I am compelled to caution its proponents to think critically. I plead with them to abandon the victim-entitlement mindset and function on a higher level, one free from emotionalism and illogic. To white liberals, blacks are a commodity, and if descendants of slaves won't free themselves from the mental chains of low expectations, they'll carry on a legacy of bondage.

Race preferences are damaging and demoralizing. Under such policies, blacks are treated not as responsible moral agents with accountability, but as objects of pity, shame and failure, incapable of human excellence. The Civil Rights dream turns into fool's gold.

White liberals' scheme for a racial utopia has failed, resulting in self-doubt, defensiveness and divisiveness in America. Just as a burn from a hot stove leaves a permanent mark on delicate skin, dehumanizing race preference policies leave a mark on the conscience. Five Supreme Court justices just made sure the wound continues to fester.

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JWR contributor La Shawn Barber is a Washington, DC-based writer. Comment by clicking here.


12/04/02: Jesse, it's time for a new hobby!

© 2003, La Shawn Barber