The call to end affirmative action gained a new proponent this week -- and from an unlikely candidate. Gregory Rodriguez, a Los Angeles Times columnist and fellow at the progressive-leaning New America Foundation, wrote this week, "We need to find new, less divisive ways to fight inequality."
I couldn't agree more with Rodriguez's conclusion but not entirely with the analysis that leads him there. Rodriguez's opposition stems from his fear that white racial anxiety is rising and that affirmative action could lead to a destructive white backlash. "The combination of changing demographics and symbolic political victories on the part of nonwhites will inspire in whites a greater racial consciousness, a growing sense of beleagurement and louder calls to end affirmative or to be included in it," he writes.
Rodriguez's fears about white racial anxiety seem a bit overblown. Americans have shown themselves increasingly oblivious to racial considerations. Not only did Americans elect the first black president just two years ago, but this year, the GOP has nominated Hispanics for two U.S. Senate seats and two gubernatorial races. In addition, the Republican nominee for governor of South Carolina is an Indian-American female, who, if elected, would join Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal as the party's second major elected official of Indian ancestry.
Nonetheless, Rodriguez's point about changing demographics is an important one. As he correctly notes, affirmative action was initially intended to benefit a small minority, mainly African-Americans who had suffered more than a century of state-sponsored racial discrimination.
But the program expanded in rationale -- from making up for past discrimination to promoting diversity -- and in scope, to include Hispanic and Asian immigrants as well as blacks. It's hard to argue that newcomers should be entitled to affirmative action benefits, especially when they have no historical claim to have suffered past discrimination in this society. Since white women also benefit from many affirmative action programs, these preferences now apply to a majority of the population. Clearly, set-asides that apply to that many people, many of whom are not economically or educationally disadvantaged, are a mockery of the original intent of affirmative action.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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