Eleven years ago, California passed a law that banned racial preference by state government. Now, a similar measure is being considered in Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, and Oklahoma. The announcement was not met with much controversy, perhaps a sign that the nation has decided it is time to move on from affirmative action.
Affirmative action was a top priority in the 1990s, and led to some policies that didn’t seem to be in line with judging a person by the content of their character.
Three examples illustrate some of the problems with the trends affirmative action brought about:
Those California laws were vetoed, but the controversy sparked by those laws began a movement that nudged policy back toward the intent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which barred preferential treatment.
- Companies faced government lawsuits for failing to hire minority workers in proportions that precisely mirrored the racial makeup of the labor pool.
- The EEOC announced that employers could be held liable even for failing to hire ex-convicts in numbers the government deemed appropriate, based on the argument that more African Americans and Hispanics had been convicted, and thus refusing to hire could lead to racial disparities.
- In California, the legislature twice passed laws that said that college graduating classes had to reflect California’s overall racial makeup, in essence guaranteeing college degrees.
Though many African Americans still support affirmative action, many have become uncomfortable with the downside of racial preference—the assumption of inferiority that comes along with it. Even the language used to promote race preference can be demeaning, as in “we need more women on this board,” or “we need black employees here.” This type of speech seems to lump people into faceless, interchangeable groups.
President Clinton made a famous speech on affirmative action, in which he promised to “mend it, not end it.” The mending process began in California is spreading to other states.