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The Potency of Affirmative Action

Rachel Garver,
Racial Justice Program
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July 8, 2009

In an interview with the Associated Press on July 2, President Obama commented on affirmative action. He said, “I’ve always believed that affirmative action was less of an issue, or should be less than an issue, than it’s been made out to be in news reports. It’s not, it hasn’t been as potent a force for racial progress as advocates would claim, and it hasn’t been as bad on white students seeking admissions or seeking a job as its critics has been.”

Dennis Parker, Director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, offers his view on President Obama’s comments and on the importance of equal opportunity programs, such as affirmative action in this podcast:

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Dennis says:

I was disappointed by the comments that he made in the interview. First, because I think it understates the value of affirmative action in the past, and secondly, because I think it leaves out of the equation existing current discrimination.

In reaction to President Obama’s suggestion that affirmative action has not been a strong force in the struggle for racial equality, Dennis says:

When you’re talking about how potent [affirmative action has] been, in fact, much of the rise of the black middle class over the past 20 or 30 years is the result of affirmative action.

Dennis goes on to draw attention to Colin Powell’s support of affirmative action because of the important role it played in offering him opportunities that would have otherwise been closed to him.

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