EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON
New America Media
Editor's Note: In June, the US Supreme Court almost certainly will rule that the city of New Haven, Conn. discriminated against white firefighters on its promotional test. But that won’t end affirmative action because repeated polling of Americans has indicated that they favor it, argues NAM contributing writer Earl Ofari Hutchinson.
The U.S. Supreme Court will vote in June whether New Haven, Connecticut discriminated against white firefighters on its promotional test. It’s hardly the first time the Supreme Court has ruled on race related employment and education cases. In each instance the rulings have done much to fuel the notion that a majority of Americans oppose affirmative action.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In countless polls and surveys, a solid majority of Americans do vehemently oppose the use of quotas, preferences, set asides and what’s deceptively labeled “reverse discrimination.” They have also backed anti-affirmative action initiatives that have cannily and deceptively played on words to stir outrage and indignation that affirmative action subverts the cherished American values of equality, fair play, and reward for merit.
The same polls, however, show that when the pollsters avoid an all-or-none choice between affirmative action as it currently exists and no affirmative action whatsoever a majority of Americans support affirmative action at some level. Title VII of the civil rights law explicitly gives employers the right to ban tests that have a “disparate impact” on racial groups.
Sample polls that ask respondents if they favor programs "requiring businesses to hire a specific number or quota of minorities and women," are near-textbook examples of how wording can color public attitudes toward affirmative action. The majority always says no. But when asked, “Do you favor or oppose affirmative action programs for minorities and women for job hiring in the workplace?” -- a decisive majority says yes.
In 1996 anti-affirmative action crusader Ward Connerly cloaked his anti-affirmative action ballot initiative as the "California Civil Rights Initiative." Connerly also managed to win a few victories for his anti-affirmative action measures in some states. However, less well known is that Connerly also scotched plans to dump his anti-affirmative action initiatives on dozens of state ballots nationally. The resources, political sentiment, and public support to mount a big freewheeling all out national assault on affirmative action were just not there.
Congress has also repeatedly backed away from totally dismantling affirmative action programs, beginning a decade ago when lawmakers shelved anti-affirmative action legislation. President Bill Clinton followed suit. He drew much heat for his plan to modify some aspects of affirmative action programs, but eventually dropped his administration’s talk about further watering down affirmative action programs.
The anti-affirmative action crusade hasn’t fared any better in state legislatures. No state legislature even in the Deep South has pushed for an outright ban on all affirmative action programs.
The other pillar of the Supreme Court’s anti-affirmative argument – and it cropped up again in the New Haven case – is that qualified white males are getting kicked to the curb and are losing ground to unqualified blacks, minorities and women. That myth has been repeatedly debunked. According to census figures, if every unemployed black worker in the country were to displace a white worker, only a tiny fraction of whites would be affected. Furthermore, affirmative action pertains only to job-qualified applicants, so the actual percentage of affected whites would be minuscule. In New Haven, the number of firefighters allegedly affected was 20. The main sources of job loss among white workers have to do with factory relocations and labor contracting outside the United States, computerization and automation, and corporate downsizing.
During the presidential campaign, affirmative action was not an issue. John McCain and Barack Obama made only the barest mention of it. And that came only in response to when Connerly plopped his anti-affirmative action measure on ballots in three states, one of which was McCain’s home state of Arizona. McCain backed the Connerly measure. He insisted that he backed equal opportunity and opposed discrimination. Obama opposed the initiatives. Connerly quickly pounced on Obama for it, noting that he cut radio ads in 2006 that hammered his Michigan anti-affirmative action initiative. Obama unabashedly said that if the measure passed it would hurt women and minorities in getting jobs and in education. Connerly tried to use Obama’s opposition to his initiative as a foil. But it did not diminish voter support for Obama.
The Supreme Court almost certainly will rule in favor of the white firefighters in New Haven. But it won’t end affirmative action. And that’s still fine with most Americans.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on blogtalkradio.