Affirmative Action is The Real Economic Stimulus Package

February 18, 2003
Why have 68 companies filed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of the University of Michigan cases now before the Supreme Court?Becauseaffirmative action works and has built better consumers, employees andsuppliers. By taking the step to file briefs, they are strongly demonstratingthat affirmative action is economically important--vital--to their future.

How? Over the last 10 years, black household income has risen at almost twicethat of white households, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth atthe University of Georgia. Overall, households of color increased total consumerspending by more than 7 percent over the last decade. It was the strongestgrowth segment of the economy.

Affirmative action also has given us leaders such as Colin Powell, whodirectly attributes his success to having access because of affirmative action.In roughly 40 years, white people no longer will be the majority in thiscountry; right now there are less than two white people for every person ofcolor for Americans under 40, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Bigbusinesses want to shape their own destiny by ensuring that our future citizenshave access to education.

Why do we still need affirmative action? The answer is harsh: Racistlegislation existed until just 40 years ago, which denied access to highereducation. There is a huge gap in access and, therefore, achievement. The courtdecision that ended education segregation only occurred in 1954. The presidentof the United States had to force Alabama to open its university to two blackstudents in 1963. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965ended legal disenfranchisement. Black Americans regularly and routinely werekept ignorant by law.

It’s hard to imagine for most Americans who do not know their history--andtough to remember for those old enough to have seen it. Court action certainlywas necessary, but it didn't address generations of people whose hopes anddreams were smashed--and the subsequent effect on those families. Affirmativeaction does.

Does affirmative action mean that white children will be the subjects ofdiscrimination? So far, we don’t see that happening. Roger Clegg, vicepresident and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity--the grouprepresenting the white plaintiffs in the University of Michigan cases--contrastsacceptance ratios between blacks and whites at the University of Michigan toillustrate how white applicants stand a much higher chance of rejection.

That’s fine if the two groups had the same number of applicants. As apercentage relative to their respective population percentages in our country,they are off by a factor of 10. In the case of the law school, there were 900qualified white applicants and only 35 qualified black applicants. Comparingratios between disparate quantities is disingenuous, divisive, and misleading.In this case, it can even be considered racist. If the percentages of black andwhite applicants were representative of their populations in this country, thenyou would not need affirmative action.

The current arguments about "the playing field being level" or "everyonehas a chance now" are a dead end. If you compare the dramatic rise in blackhousehold income and note the huge gaps that still exist in household income,there can be only one conclusion. Affirmative action has put us on the righttrack, but we have not arrived at equity for all Americans. Opportunity-basedselection is a fine idea--but it has proven to be inadequate for people of colorin California and Texas.

Race-based decision-making is an American tradition. Now that it's a positiveone--and we're only at the beginning of proactively providing access--this isthe time to continue it, not end it. It's in our best interest--all of ustogether.

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