Discrimination fight is not over

Despite Obama’s successes, affirmative action still necessary

By Kimberly S. Johnson
Denver Post

The very presence of Barack Obama’s name on the ballot may be a setback for civil rights advancement in Colorado.

Here’s why: On Nov. 4, Coloradans also are being asked to vote on Amendment 46, which seeks to end affirmative action programs for minorities and women. Some voters may make a leap in logic and assume that because a black man has a chance to become president, discrimination is thing of the past and affirmative action is no longer needed.

They’d be wrong, of course.

Obama is an intelligent, highly successful black man. He has reached echelons of success unattainable for many Americans, regardless of race.

But his rise is an exception, not a rule. His candidacy cannot possibly end the systemic discrimination reflected in state hiring, college admissions and contracting.

Obama has the opportunity to interview for a job on a national stage, whereas most minorities and women have one person or a small group making a hiring decision. If one or more members of the group hold prejudiced attitudes toward a certain racial group, that could be the deciding factor between a new opportunity and nothing, argues Tim Wise, author of “Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White” (RoutledgeFalmer, 2005).

“Unless you have something that requires people to seek out differences, they will do things the same old way,” he said. “Racism and inequality are still entrenched.”

The true goal of affirmative action, before it was twisted by conservatives and liberals, was to forge a path to end the disparity between the races due to slavery, Jim Crow and segregation.

Affirmative action does not intend for unqualified minorities and women to get “a helping hand,” but rather a “hand up” to a more level playing field. It’s not about quotas (which are illegal), or having the Rainbow Coalition in the office, classroom or boardroom. To put it plainly, it’s about not being overlooked because you’re qualified but happen to have a bit more melanin in your skin or have breasts.



Affirmative action ban initiative headed toward ballot

A campaign to ban most forms of affirmative action in Nebraska has enough petition signatures to reach the November ballot.

Doug Tietz, director of the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative, the group advocating the ban, said this morning that the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office had informed him that the petition had “more than enough” valid signatures after a county-by-county check of those signatures.

The initiative needed 112,152 valid signatures – equal to 10 percent of registered voters statewide – to be placed on the ballot. Signers must be registered Nebraska voters.

John Gale, Nebraska Secretary of State, announced the official number of valid signatures this afternoon. With all 93 counties completing the verification process, the initiative had 136,589 valid signatures of registered voters.

“We have it by a comfortable margin,” Tietz said this morning. “Nebraskans signed it, and now they want to vote on it, period.”

The Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative is seeking to change the state constitution to bar public agencies such as city governments and the University of Nebraska from considering applicants’ race or gender when enrolling students or hiring workers. Those practices are commonly known as affirmative action.

Nebraskans United, the group opposing the affirmative action ban, has alleged misconduct by the petition gatherers as they collected signatures through the spring and summer.

David Kramer, the group’s director, has distributed videos and photographs that appear to show petition gatherers leaving their petitions unattended or failing to read the petition’s complete “object statement” to people who sign it. Both practices would violate state law.

Kramer has said his group might file a lawsuit if it appears the Secretary of State and the county clerks didn’t address this alleged misconduct before they deemed the signatures valid.

“We’ll just have to wait and see how the (afternoon announcement) goes,” Kramer said.

A group headed by Ward Connerly, a California businessman and former University of California regent, is financially backing the Nebraska campaign to ban affirmative action. Connerly’s group has succeeded in passing similar constitutional amendments in California, Washington and Michigan in the past decade.

This year, Connerly’s ambitious campaign to ban affirmative action in five states – he dubbed this campaign “Super Tuesday for Equal Rights” – appears to be falling apart.

Arizona officials announced Thursday that Connerly’s group doesn’t have enough valid signa- tures to reach that state’s November ballot.

Campaigns in Missouri and Oklahoma also have ended prematurely because of a lack of petition signatures and aggressive court challenges by Connerly’s opponents.

That leaves Nebraska and Colorado as the only two states where the issue might reach the ballot box.

In Nebraska, supporters of the ban still might have to wend their way past a series of court challenges before November’s election.

A Lancaster County judge is reviewing a lawsuit alleging that the ballot language of the proposed constitutional amendment is misleading and confusing.

And Tietz said he wouldn’t be surprised if opponents of the affirmative action ban file another lawsuit seeking to invalidate more petition signatures and attempting to keep it off the ballot.

“It’s like we’re running the 100-meter hurdles, so there are a lot of hurdles to jump,” Tietz said. “But this hurdle we cleared today is big.”

• Contact the writer: 444-1064, matthew.hansen@owh.com


President Lyndon Johnson explained the rationale behind the contemporary use of affirmative action to achieve equal opportunity in a 1965 speech: “You do not take a person, who for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still believe that you have been completely fair.”

The debate over affirmative action carries enormous implications for the lives of women and people of color, since such programs have created opportunities too long denied them.

Critics of affirmative action sometimes disingenuously inject the issue of “quotas” into the public debate. Such divisive tactics have misled many to believe that affirmative action and “quotas” are the same thing – for example, that employers are required by law to hire fixed percentages of members of specific groups, regardless of their qualifications. Such claims are clearly erroneous: the Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that quotas are illegal and that properly-designed affirmative action programs simply create opportunities for qualified women and people of color.

While these programs do not guarantee success, they do allow factors such as race, ethnicity, or gender to be among those considered in evaluating qualified candidates.


DALLAS, Aug. 6 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — When Telamon Corporation, a certified Asian-American-owned business with headquarters in Carmel, Ind., was selected to participate in a business development course for diversity firms, Albert Chen did not envision the session leading to a prosperous relationship between his firm and a major telecommunications company.

Telamon was founded in 1984 and began doing business with AT&T in 1992, when AT&T selected the firm to participate in a Total Applied Quality Management course, which was designed to provide direction on how to grow business relationships and move organizations forward. Telamon was one of 40 diversity-owned companies that participated in the training.

Later, Telamon was the first minority supplier to be awarded a prime contract under AT&T’s breakthrough initiative to open up the core telecom network to full diversity supplier involvement. Since participating in this program, Telamon has supported numerous AT&T initiatives, including U- verse(SM) services, and has expanded its client roster to include other major corporations.

In addition to the MBE Program, AT&T’s Women Business Enterprise (WBE) Program — launched in 1980 — and its Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (DVBE) Program (1993) have enabled AT&T to provide the best products and services to its customers by expanding contracting opportunities for diverse businesses across its enterprise. AT&T has mentored several diversity suppliers to provide goods and services in areas of the company’s business that historically had low diversity participation. In doing so, AT&T has helped provide opportunities for diverse businesses in other industries, such as advertising and global contract manufacturing.

Another aspect of AT&T’s Supplier Diversity Programs that many diverse suppliers have benefited from is educational scholarships and programming. Since 2000, the AT&T Foundation has granted more than $935,000 to diversity- owned business owners to receive expert coaching from leading business schools, including the Anderson School of Management at UCLA, the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, the FastTrac Program at Georgia State University and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Vetco Supply in Denton, Texas, an outside plant distributor that is owned by a service-disabled veteran, has been doing business with AT&T since 1999. Troy Murphy, president and CEO of the company, used an AT&T Supplier Diversity Programs scholarship to attend the Management Development for Entrepreneurs (MDE) Program at UCLA, which he graduated from in 2006.

AT&T has produced numerous training workshops to ensure that diversity suppliers are positioned to win in the highly competitive global marketplace. Technology training, e-commerce seminars, “going global” workshops and quality certification training have all been offered to diversity suppliers by AT&T at no charge.

Most large corporations have rigorous performance expectations for their suppliers, which may include a requirement to be certified to global quality standards and metrics. One of AT&T’s current workshops for diversity suppliers is an introductory seminar on the value of quality certification. Such certifications, like TL9000 and ISO 9000, not only improve operational efficiency but clearly communicate that a diverse supplier understands critical customer guidelines and has documented processes to meet those requirements. Because obtaining quality certification can be expensive for small, diverse firms, AT&T is working with BIZPHYX, a woman-owned quality consulting and training firm, to develop an online group approach to quality certification that lowers the cost of certification by 70 percent.

In the past four decades, AT&T has spent more than $43 billion with minority, women and disabled veteran businesses. In 2007, AT&T spent more than $5 billion with these diversity businesses, representing more than 12 percent of the company’s procurement base.

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Source: PRNewswire-FirstCall

Michael Sumner, PhD is a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. He recently conducted two studies, entitled Free to Compete? and A Vision Fulfilled?.

These studies focused on the impact of the anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 for small businesses owned by people of color and women in California’s transportation construction industry and include evidence-based recommendations.

Dr. Sumner used several methodologies, including Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) awards distributed by Caltrans, the survival rate of 1996 certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs), and surveys, focus groups, and interviews with surviving businesses. The analyses illustrated the largely negative effects that took place after the passage of Proposition 209, including reductions in awards to DBEs, a modest survival rate for certified DBEs, a decreased effectiveness of the DBE program, and an industry culture that continues to hinder equal opportunity.

Both studies are available at http://www.law.berkeley.edu/centers/csj/hcsj_research_originalresearchprojects.htm.

The Arizona Republic reports that:

“A flap between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama this week catapulted an Arizona ballot initiative into the national media spotlight, raising questions about whether affirmative action should be outlawed in McCain’s home state and how big a factor race will play in the fall presidential contest.”

Read the full story HERE.

During its public meeting on July 28, 2008 the majority of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (“USCCR”) voted positively on an action that, if successful, will greatly undermine state Department of Transportation Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (“DOT DBE”) programs. Specifically, the majority approved a letter to President Bush requesting that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in the Western States Paving Co. case be applied to all DOT DBE programs throughout the country. Read below to see what results this would present.


* The court agreed with the District Court that Washington State did not need to establish a compelling need for its DBE program, independent of the determinations that Congress made on a national basis.

* However, the court said that race conscious elements of a national program, to be narrowly tailored as applied, must be limited to those parts of the country where its race-based measures are demonstrably needed.

* Whether race-based measures are needed depends on the presence or absence of discrimination or its effects in a state’s transportation contracting industry.

* In addition, even when discrimination is present in a state, a program is narrowly tailored only if its application is limited to those specific groups that have actually suffered discrimination or its effects.

* The court concluded that Washington State DOT’s DBE program was not narrowly tailored because the evidence of discrimination supporting its application was inadequate. The court mentioned several ways in which the state’s evidence was insufficient:

+ Washington State DOT had not conducted statistical studies to establish the existence of discrimination in the highway contracting industry that were completed or valid.

+ Washington State DOT’s calculation of the capacity of DBEs to do work was flawed because it failed to take into account the effects of past race-conscious programs on current DBE participation

+ The disparity between DBE participation on contracts with and without affirmative action components did not provide any evidence of discrimination.

+ A small disparity between the proportion of DBE firms in the state and the percentage of funds awarded to DBEs in race-neutral contracts (2.7% in the case of Washington State DOT) was entitled to little weight as evidence of discrimination, because it did not account for other factors that may affect the relative capacity of DBEs to undertake contracting work.

+ This small statistical disparity is not enough, standing alone, to demonstrate the existence of discrimination. To demonstrate discrimination, a larger disparity would be needed.

+ Washington State DOT did not present any anecdotal evidence of discrimination.

+ The affidavits required by 49 CFR 26.67(a), in which DBEs certify that they are socially and economically disadvantaged, are not evidence of the presence of discrimination.

* Consequently, the court found that the Washington State DOT DBE program was unconstitutional as applied.