The election of President Barack Obama is heralded by many as a triumphant leap into a new post-racial America, in which the scars of centuries-old racial wounds have healed and equal opportunity flourishes. But the truth is, we still have a long way to go.
It’s 2009 and race still matters. Race affects the type of education you receive, the type of neighborhood in which you live, the likelihood that you or someone you know will be incarcerated, and even the extent to which your community is being affected by the current economic crisis.
As ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Reginald Shuford notes in his law review article, “Why Affirmative Action Remains Essential in the Age of Obama” (PDF), black men without criminal records are no more likely than white men with criminal records to get a job. Another study illustrates that job applicants with “black-sounding” names are less likely to get a favorable response to their resumes than those with “white-sounding” names.
Some people, however, would like us to believe that racial discrimination no longer exists. California millionaire Ward Connerly and his crony Timothy Asher have been on the forefront of trying to ban equal opportunity across the country. In 2008, Connerly targeted Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma for anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives, losing everywhere but Nebraska. Having a reputation for using fraudulent tactics, the dynamically deceptive duo is at it again in Missouri. After previously failing twice in the state, Asher last month began a third drive to qualify an anti-affirmative action initiative for the ballot, prompting the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program to file a lawsuit challenging its legitimacy.
Contrary to what these anti-equal opportunity proponents purport, affirmative action programs do not give a “free pass” to unqualified candidates and they do not amount to “reverse” discrimination against white people. Equal opportunity programs give employers and universities a right to take candidates’ backgrounds into consideration. These programs recognize and strive to correct the barriers that continue to block the paths of many Americans, including women, Native Americans, Arab Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans. Equal opportunity programs aim to provide equal access to the American dream, which is something that all Americans should champion, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
We can cling to the hope that one day equal opportunity programs will not be necessary, but we must admit, that day is not today.