Scrutiny of affirmative action is needed for its survival

Is this a sign of the end times? A self-proclaimed liberal is about to confront affirmative action. Contrary to what some might believe, I cannot think of a more important issue to speak about in my first column.

As a proud citizen of the most diverse and heterogeneous nation on the planet, I consider the call for racial equality to be an absolute priority.

I am pleased to be able to speak today about affirmative action, considering the constant criticism it has faced since its introduction into the public dialogue over 40 years ago.

I take great satisfaction as an American that my government understands the implications of the policies and decisions of its predecessors enough to continue to right the wrongs caused by their actions and promote justice throughout the United States to this day.

Fortunately, I can write to you today at a time when affirmative action policies are effective and still striving to promote equality among all Americans.

I am equally as proud to observe, read and hear about court rulings, referenda and executive decisions that limit or, in some cases, eliminate affirmative action policies.

Gasp! Yes, this liberal is proud to see affirmative action policies undergo severe scrutiny each year despite the still rampant racism, inequality and utter injustices plaguing our country. My sentiments spring from several reasons:

First, I hold a sturdy belief that our affirmative action policies have positively affected the lives of millions of minority Americans as well as countless non-minorities like myself.

Like many policies though, affirmative action is rightly a sort of living organism, subject to changes and adaptations. Let there be no mistaking it, affirmative action should not be practiced where it is no longer needed.

I believe there was a time when it was needed almost everywhere. However, just as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson predicted four decades ago, the diligent use of affirmative action to create a more balanced culture of justice and equality has caused it to no longer be necessary in some parts of our country.

The best example of such a scenario can be found in California. Our nation’s most populous state has not only adopted affirmative action laws but has also deeply embraced the entirely American concept of affirmative action to such an extent that its services are no longer necessary in the Golden State.

In 1996, the people of California – one of the most diverse political entities on the planet – voted to repeal all affirmative action policies within the state.

Is California 100 percent ethnically and racially equal? Of course not. Yet the success of its affirmative action laws until 1996 created an environment that sees more blacks, Latinos and other minorities in a wider variety of offices, leadership and other positions of influence.

Secondly, I support the increased scrutiny of affirmative action because like most long-range laws, affirmative action has been distorted over the years.

At times it has unfairly held back non-minorities while elevating unworthy minority Americans in what its opponents describe as “reverse discrimination.”

Two clarifications need to be made here. First, reverse discrimination has taken place, but only in the rare instances where unqualified individuals have received preference over highly qualified non-minorities.

The second clarification is that these infrequent examples, however unfortunate they may be, in no way offset the gross injustices that have plagued this country for over 228 years.

My conservative friends repeatedly attack affirmative action, citing that two wrongs do not make a right. I could not agree more. Affirmative action is a concept that is by now deeply rooted in American culture.

The uncommon – while admittedly real – occasions where Americans have been discriminated against because they were non-minorities should not convince anyone that the millions who have benefited from affirmative action, do not inherently justify its practice.

My final explanation supporting the skeptical examination of affirmative action stems from it being a controversial yet incredibly worthwhile issue.

Critics take pleasure in citing the Supreme Court decisions like Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), which invalidated that medical school’s admission plan.

Alan Bakke twice applied to the university medical school at Davis and was twice rejected. Sadly, his GPA and test scores exceeded those of any of the minorities admitted in the two years when Bakke’s applications were rejected.

I too love to cite this case, since the court rightly found in favor of Bakke, who was ultimately admitted, thereby minimizing white opposition to the goal of equality, while also voting 5-4 that race was permissible as one of several admissions criteria, subsequently extending gains for racial minorities through affirmative action.

It’s OK to be critical of affirmative action. In America, it is your duty to be skeptical of the government’s actions. This American is proud of affirmative action.

In the United States, we have a problem with equality and equal justice for all.

Rather than frivolously attack affirmative action policies that benefit Americans, conservatives should take solace in what Gordon Sinclair described as America putting its scandals “right in the store window for everyone to look at.”

Affirmative action is an example of an extraordinary country’s refusal to hide from its far from perfect past and forge ahead by promoting a culture of equality and justice that is truly for all.