Raced Based Affrimitve Action

What’s Wrong with Race-Based Affirmative Action?

      In 1996 a majority of Californians voted for Proposition 209, a measure prohibiting

preferences based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in

public employment, education, and contracting. Many observers were surprised

that a quarter of all minorities (nearly 40 percent of Asians) in one of

the most diverse states in the nation voted in favor of the proposition. Likewise,

27 percent of California voters who defined themselves as liberals voted

for 209, along with 31 percent of Democrats (“State Propositions. . .,” 1996).

      The complexity of the vote in California was not expressed in rhetoric

about it. Some of the most outspoken opponents of Proposition 209 saw the

outcome as a triumph of unmitigated racism. Speeches by Jesse Jackson, for

example, reflected the view that California Governor Pete Wilson could be

compared to George Wallace; that a vote for Proposition 209 was a vote for

“ethnic cleansing” (Jackson, 1997, p. 3A); and that Ward Connerly (a black

man who helped lead the campaign for the proposition) was a “house slave”

(Bearak, 1997, p. 6).

      The willingness of otherwise thoughtful and articulate figures like Jesse

Jackson to demonize opponents of affirmative action may explain why college

students are rarely willing to have open and candid discussions about issues

related to race. It is well established, for example, that substantial numbers of

college students have reservations about affirmative action, especially if it is

seen as “preferences” (“New Students. . .,” 1996, p. A33). Yet comparatively

few students will discuss their opinions and concerns openly; a fact noted by

Arthur Levine (1994, p. 185), who observed that “when we interviewed students

on college campuses . . . we found it easier to talk with them about intimate

details of their sex lives than . . . about race and gender differences.”...