Recently, the Trump administration directed the Justice Department’s civil rights division to investigate affirmative action policies that discriminate against White applicants. (The Justice Department is also looking into complaints by Asian Americans.)
But this partisan shift of priorities should be expected. Under Democratic administrations the DOJ’s civil rights division directs its attention to systemic discrimination against minorities and Republican administrations’ attempt to do right by their constituencies by investigating claims of “reverse discrimination” against Whites.
The flip flop of department direction and staffing has been going on for decades.
But affirmative action supporters were dismayed by President Trump’s actions because just last year in Fisher v. University of Texas, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the university’s race-conscious admissions program. (Abagail Noel Fisher claimed the school discriminated against her because she was White.) Affirmative action supporters viewed the Supreme Court’s ruling as a landmark decision that secured “race as a factor” in college admissions for another generation.
But the phrase “for another generation” five decades after affirmative action was created can no longer be overlooked. The phrase “for another generation” is a time frame. It’s also a reminder that the policy was a temporary course of action for a targeted generation.
The initial goal of affirmative action was to assist the first generation of Blacks after the landmark civil rights bill because that generation suffered from the lingering effects of legal segregation. (That was institutional racism. How the term is used today seems like an attempt to maintain the permanence of temporary policies.)
In 1969 the Nixon administration established what was called racial goals and timetables, but the policy began to morph into something unintended.
As early as 1981 President Ronald Reagan said, “We have made great strides in the civil rights field, but some things might not be as useful as they once were or may be distorted in practice, such as affirmative action programs becoming quota systems, and I’m old enough to remember in the past quota systems existed in the United States for the purpose of discrimination, and I don’t want to see that happen again.”
The first President Bush, President Clinton, and the second President Bush all attempted to fix excessive abuses of affirmative action during their tenures but they never addressed the timetable.
Nor did they address the fundamental question: Should this policy be phased out before the 21st century? And if it’s not, what will be the ramifications?
Three years into the 21st century the Supreme Court endorsed holistic admission programs and said it was permissible to consider race as one of many factors to achieve “educational diversity.” Then Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote the majority opinion in that case, said she expected that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary.
So at the beginning of the 21st century, this temporary policy was projected to extend for another quarter of a century, and last year the Supreme Court’s Texas ruling reset the timetable for yet another generation.
Weeks before the Trump administration decided to take on affirmative action, professor Glenn Loury prophetically stated that the problem with affirmative action isn’t that Whites are discriminated against by a policy that favors non-Whites. It’s institutionalizing, as a permanent way of doing business, the use of a special dispensation for African Americans in the 21st century. This is declaring there is no prospect that African Americans will ever be genuinely equal citizens by locking in favoritism due to a morally problematic past.
But what’s more problematic is that American leadership has been so morally compromised that it’s left to the Trump Administration to determine whether or not second-generation millennials will be affirmative action babies, which no one five decades ago would have imagined.
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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