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.

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Sep 30, 2008

DENVER (AP) ― Gov. Bill Ritter announced his opposition Monday to a ballot measure that would ban affirmative action in the awarding of state contracts, employment and admission to Colorado universities, calling it a California import that doesn’t fit Colorado.

Ritter said Amendment 46 would destroy years of progress in education, health care and work force development. Supporters say affirmative action based on race and gender is no longer needed.

Amendment 46 is similar to initiatives bankrolled by former University of California regent Ward Connerly and approved by voters in California, Washington and Michigan. A similar measure is on Nebraska’s ballot.

Ritter said that women earn $3 an hour less than men for equal work. African Americans earn 25 percent less than Caucasians, he said.

“In Colorado, African Americans, Latinos and American Indians make up 22 percent of all high school graduates but only 9 percent of freshmen at the University of Colorado-Boulder,” he said.

“Amendment 46 undercuts Colorado and destroys years of progress in education, in health care, in work force development, all efforts that are important to Colorado’s hard working families and family owned business,” Ritter said.

Amendment backers cried foul when Don Elliman, director of the governor’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, acknowledged that state time was used to organize an event featuring a researcher who studied the negative effects of California’s Proposition 209, which ended race and gender affirmative action in that state.

Elliman estimated that three to four hours of state time was spent on e-mails and RSVPs for the Sept. 22 event.

“It was an error both in substance and in style,” Elliman said. “I wish we hadn’t done it and now we have to figure out what to do to make it right.”

Ritter didn’t know about the development office’s work, Elliman said.

Elliman said his staff told those attending the event that the state did not endorse the views of Michael Sumner, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley who examined the negative effects of Proposition 209.

Elliman said his staff believed that disclaimer met the legal requirement against using state money to campaign for or against a ballot measure.

Colorado Civil Rights Initiative Executive Director Jessica Peck Corry, whose group supports Amendment 46, said it will pursue legal action.

“This isn’t just a benign educational effort. This is a scare tactic to mislead people into believing certain consequences will happen if our initiative passes,” said Corry.

State law requires all sides of an issue be presented whenever public money is used to discuss a ballot initiative.

Elliman said he would follow the advice of legal counsel on what to do next and that he wasn’t considering discipline for anybody on his staff.

“If anybody is saying discipline, I hope they start with me,” he said. “It’s my department.”

(© 2008 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)