La Shawn Barber

The people have spoken.

On November 4, 2008, 51 percent of Colorado voters defeated a measure that would have ended state and local government race- and sex-based discrimination and preferences in hiring, contracting, and admissions. Fifty-eight percent of Nebraska voters passed a similar measure, and 53 percent of the nation's voters chose Barack Obama over John McCain to be president of the United States.

The biracial Obama has risen through the political ranks very quickly. Does his win signal the end of government-sanctioned race preferences?  

Under a so-called equal opportunity policy, some government entities factor an applicant's race into hiring and admissions decisions in the name of skin deep-only diversity. No matter how well-intentioned, the very idea should be offensive to reasonable people. Being hired or admitted under a lower standard that inevitably results from such a practice is insulting to blacks.

Some believe Obama's win signals the end of race preferences. If America is "tolerant" and progressive enough to elect a black man as president, surely we can do away with race preferences. The American Civil Rights Institute's Ward Connerly told the San Francisco Chronicle that Obama's win "says to every black kid that you don't have to believe any longer that you can't accomplish anything…It decimates victimhood."

Others disagree. You've heard the rumblings and read the stories: Obama's win doesn't mean we should end race preferences. As columnist Ruben Navarrette wrote, "That kind of thinking starts with the epidemic of Americans patting themselves on the back for being enlightened enough to elect an African-American president."

On one point, Navarrette is correct. There are some whites patting themselves on the back for voting for Obama. But race preferences are not the cure for what ails us.

The problem with preferring one race over another for any reason is twofold. First, race preferences are unconstitutional (violation of the Equal Protection clause). Second, the educational and employment disadvantages preferences are supposed to eliminate aren't necessarily tied to a person's race. Individuals of all races face disadvantages.

Perhaps there's a compromise that will help the disadvantaged of all races and of both sexes without discriminating against people based on these factors: economic affirmative action. Obama has hinted that class is more important than race in the context of providing equal opportunity.

"I think that we should take into account white kids who have been disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty and shown themselves to have what it takes to succeed," he told ABC News.

During the campaign, Obama said that privileged children like his daughters didn't need race preferences. In an interview with The Politico, Ward Connerly sounded hopeful that Obama would support economic affirmative action and oppose race preferences.

"[Obama] is a very, very bright man who thinks through the nuances of issues and I cannot help [but to] believe he realizes the inherent flaw in race preferences. If you listen to him carefully, you cannot help but think he is really torn by this issue, and that he is leaning in the direction of socio-economic affirmative action instead of race preferences."

Class-based affirmative action would benefit people across color and gender lines and encourage what should have existed a long time ago: a colorblind government. I wouldn't wager on it, but I hope Obama's win will at least encourage people to seriously discuss ending government-sanctioned race preferences.


La Shawn Barber

Freelance writer La Shawn Barber blogs at the American Civil Rights Institute blog.


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