Has Affirmative Action run its course?

Now that an African-American has achieved the nomination for president by a major political party, are we ready to come to the conclusion that Affirmative Action (AA) has worked; therefore, it is no longer necessary?

In 1961, President Kennedy signed an executive order instructing federal contractors to take "affirmative action" to ensure against discrimination. Three years later, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act which prohibited race-based discrimination by large employers, public or private. In doing so he created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which became the driving force in AA policies.

Soon, the policy was expanded to include other minorities and women, mandating that they receive favored treatment in hiring and promotions. Since then there have been several Supreme Court rulings and presidential assertions about the use of quotas in hiring and in acceptance to educational institutions.  

Anyone who has been around for the last few decades has witnessed a sea change in attitudes by whites toward blacks. And, anyone aware of recent history knows that the days of "white only" and "colored only" water fountains, segregated schools and sitting in the back of the bus are ugly memories of hypocrisy for a country that proudly touted its freedom and the Constitution that guaranteed it. In addition, the women's movement has successfully changed attitudes in the marketplace and in the political arena.

Undoubtedly, the country needed a balancing of the scales if those disadvantaged groups were ever to be competitive with their more privileged counterparts. The question that many are now asking is; how much more evidence is needed to end a policy that uses discrimination to, ostensibly, end discrimination?   A few decades ago, the idea of a black man or a woman being seriously considered for president was unfathomable to most voters. After the recent tug of war between Senators Obama and Clinton, illustrating record turnouts for a Primary election, it seems evident that this generation is more enlightened than its predecessors.

Whether Obama is ultimately elected, one thing is certain, the number of whites who have cast their ballots for him proves that, for most voters, color is not a negative aspect of their decision. In fact, for many voters, both black and white, Obama's blackness may have been the most significant reason for their choice. Moreover, if he is elected, how could we continue to use a policy that appears to refute and disregard the progress made by blacks since 1961? Imagine having an African-American lead the most powerful nation on earth for the next 8 years, while some qualified whites are being denied promotions in favor of less qualified blacks.  

Furthermore, the very idea of continuing a policy which drives home the message that blacks can't make it in this country without racial quotas and preferences makes a mockery of, not only Obama's political success, but of every black person's efforts to reach personal goals without the stigma of having done so only because the government gave them an unfair advantage. To say that some prejudice still exists is to say that the sun still rises in the east. "Some" prejudice will always exist, but as long as it is relegated to a narrow-minded coterie of ignorant malcontents and not identified with the overwhelming majority of decent people, it shouldn't be used to justify what is merely another form of discrimination. If blacks are ever to be viewed as equals, the perception of them as needy must change. 

Inasmuch as the Senator has mesmerized a sizable portion of a nation with his eloquent oratory about "change," why not begin that change by proclaiming that AA had its intended effect and is now as much a relic of the past as those "Negroes need not apply" signs that stood in the windows of retail stores in the old South?  

Yet, many blacks are reluctant to relinquish the boost they get from AA because it cuts down on the competition, which is certainly an advantage that we'd all like to have. But when that advantage saddles them with the image that they are incapable of succeeding against whites, even though the playing field has been leveled, the myth of inferiority will persist.

Then the question will be, how many African-American presidents, senators, governors and billionaires will it take to cause a psychological shift among blacks toward less dependence on government? Obama's ascendancy makes it abundantly clear that Martin Luther King's "dream" has been realized. Perhaps it‘s time for Obama to say, "Ending Affirmative Action is a change we can believe in."

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.