ACRI Ballot Initiative (Missouri): Ward Connerly’s Socioeconomic Affirmative Action Will Fail; Institutional Racism Must Be Alleviated First

On October 18, Ward Connerly gave public lectures in Missouri, where a branch of his American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) is proposing an initiative to ban affirmative action in public education, public contracting, and public employment. [Note: Please check under the affirmative action category in the right column for my posts about ACRI’s ballot initiative proposal in Missouri.]

During an interview with the Associated Press, Connerly stated that he was in favor of socioeconomic affirmative action.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Connerly, who is black, called for an end to “race-based affirmative action” in favor of what he called “socio-economic affirmative action.”

‘We’re going through a transition in our country,’ he said. ‘We need to help those who need it rather than presuming that all black people or all minorities are in need of some special treatment.’

This belief in socioeconomic affirmative action is a good idea but it is not a viable substitute for the current affirmative action with a racial component. Why is this the case? First, the U.S. society is overwhelmingly White (see 2000 Census table below) and thus would be a majority of the poor persons which would be the target of socioeconomic affirmative action.

United States (population: 281,421,906 (2000 Census)

Race Percentage of population Number
White 75.1% 211,460,626
Black 12.3 34,658,190
Native American 0.9 2,475,956
Asian 3.6 10,242,998

An article from the American Psychological Association confirms my view.

The amorphous nature of affirmative action is in itself a subtle denial of society’s history of various kinds of oppression. So, too, are the recent efforts to substitute other sociodemographic attributes for race and culture in affirmative action policies. Socioeconomic class does not carry the same historical baggage as race and culture. It was racial classification, not socioeconomic status, that prevented Thurgood Marshall’s admission to the University of Maryland’s law school. Substituting socioeconomic class for race or culture, for example, ignores society’s history of differential oppression of people of color outside the cultural majority.

Second, race and gender based affirmative action and socioeconomic affirmative action are not mutually exclusive. Certainly programs to assist poor (and increasingly middle class) people can be created right now, without excluding race and gender based affirmative action. Indeed, such a move would be welcome.

Moreover, socioeconomic affirmative action in other contexts have not worked. For example, in the high school context, socioeconomic plans implemented to develop student bodies composed of all races have generally failed.

The wide ethnic diversity in San Francisco’s schools, which are about one-third Chinese, also introduces calculations among parents that make it easier to get income diversity without racial or ethnic diversity.

At Willie L. Brown Jr. College Preparatory Academy, a fourth- through sixth-grade school in the predominantly black neighborhood of Bayview, 75 percent of the students are black. Most are poor.

Tareyton D. Russ, the principal, said students from other neighborhoods did not seek to go there so the diversity index did not even apply. “Poor Chinese kids don’t want to go to school with poor black kids,” Mr. Russ said flatly.

Conversely, one white parent interviewed as she dropped her child off at summer school said some white parents avoided schools with a heavy Chinese concentration, like Lincoln, believing they would be too high-pressure for their children. She declined to be quoted by name.

It is interesting that ACRI is proposing its initiative in Missouri. In 1992, an ABC television network program, Primetime Live, used a hidden camera to record the treatment of two testers, one White male and one Black male in St. Louis, Missouri [Note: The program was titled, “True Colors.”]. Uniformly, the Black tester received the worst treatment. It did not appear so at the time he experienced it. All the people who discriminated against the Black tester were, for the most part, pleasant. Comparison of the videos from each tester, interacting with various social institutions, clearly revealed the discrimination against the Black tester.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that 2007 is significantly better for Blacks in U.S. society. As a result, ACRI’s ballot initiative proposal is extremely premature.

“It takes more than 30 or 40 years to remedy, or overcome, centuries of direct and indirect forms of discrimination,” said Shirley Wilcher, executive director of the American Association for Affirmative Action and a former Labor Department official under President Clinton.

Related Post Script

I do not believe it is accurate to consider Ward Connerly as a Black person. In an article, Connerly has described himself as 25% Black.

Connerly has stated he is one-quarter Black, three-eighths Irish, one-quarter French and one-eighth Choctaw.

The inference from his statement is that he is primarily White and Native American.

On the other hand, Senator Barack Obama, of mixed race heritage, considers himself to be Black.

Obama, who will speak in San Francisco tonight at a fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer, identifies as black. […]

He was president of the Harvard Law Review. He is the son of a Kenyan immigrant, his father, and a white Kansas native, his mother. […]