Mar 092004
Authors: Chris Fry

Colorado has attracted attention lately as the nation tries to

figure out what’s with Rep. Marylin Musgrave, R-Colorado, and her

anti-gay marriage constitutional tampering. Because her issue is a

morally charged issue, lots of people see it as right or wrong.

Morally charged issues are great that way-you don’t have to really

know anything about them in order to know what’s right.

Recently, another Colorado legislative issue has surfaced, and

luckily for those who don’t like to do their homework, it seems

like a morality issue just begging for uninformed opinions.

Colorado Sen. Ed Jones, among others, is working with legislation

that would abolish affirmative action in Colorado. Jones hadn’t

even written the bill before mention of it had moral crusaders on

both sides of the assumed issue at each other’s throats.

For many, affirmative action is just as arguable as any other

morally charged issue. And that makes sense, right? I mean

affirmative action just makes it easier for blacks to get jobs or

university admission, right?

Let’s look at the facts. Affirmative action began as an

executive order – not a law passed by Congress. This

stereotypically democratic issue was actually first introduced by

no less a Republican than Richard Nixon. I should mention, however,

the likelihood that Nixon deviously intended affirmative action to

be a wedge between two primary democratic sources of support:

organized labor and the civil rights movement. Actually, Nixon

wasn’t the first to mention affirmative action. Kennedy was first,

and a little later Johnson talked about it to a bunch of rich kids

at Harvard. It was Nixon, however, who forwarded the all-important

Executive Order 11246, which “would not impose quotas, but would

require federal contractors to show ‘affirmative action’ to meet

the goals of increasing minority employment.”

And that’s it. There is no mention of making it easier for one

group or another. Actually, the order specifically states that no

discrimination should take place because of race, sex, et cetera.

Instead, the order’s written intent is to remove institutionalized

barriers to any discriminated-against group. Quotas? Where? Show


A couple of week’s worth of conversations about affirmative

action has revealed one very important thing: most people think

that affirmative action itself gives one group or another an

advantage. No matter what the stereotypes say, today’s legitimate

affirmative policies search for barriers not only to African

Americans, but also to all minorities, women and disabled people.

Here’s the way it works.

The executive order states organizations need to take

affirmative actions to root out institutionalized discriminatory

practices. Then the organizations, such as CSU, take a good long

reflective look and say, “Oh! There! That’s where we’re screwing

people over! Who would have known that over-emphasizing student

recruitment in high schools with predominantly

middle-to-upper-class white students would result in a higher than

regionally representational percentage of our students being

predominantly middle- to upper-class and white? Well … live and

learn,” and fix things.

Now here’s the problem: How the hell does an organization comply

with what affirmative action asks of it? Everyone likes the idea of

organizations working to become fairer, but where to start? Now

here’s the problem: everyone likes the idea of organizations

working to make themselves fairer, but where do you start? Is it

with members of the GLBT community? Women? Left-handed people who

find themselves taking tests in a classroom of right-handed desks?

Which groups deserve the attention and which come first? This

clerical nightmare only gets worse when we try to imagine the

oversight organization that would make sure everyone’s playing by

the rules.

This is just the surface of affirmative action’s implementation

complexities. From this view, maybe it’s not so ridiculous that

some organization administrators, desperate to conform to

affirmative action’s guidelines, felt the need to use quotas.

Maybe, but we should remember that though we can understand where

the ideas of quotas and preferential treatment came from, they have

never and will never be appropriate under affirmative action.

To the ridiculously oversimplified question of whether or not

affirmative action just makes various competitive processes easier

for African Americans, only those abusing affirmative action’s

intentions can answer yes or no. A better question would be, “Is

affirmative action the best policy for the promotion of equality?”

And to this, a morally based “yes” or “no” just won’t work. By

basing our opinions on media sound bites and letters to the editor,

we only fuel debates on imaginary issues. Please, have your big,

fat, vocal opinion; just know what you’re talking about first. And

know about it fast: Sen. Jones’ bill is already in motion.

Chris is a senior studying Sociology and Political Science. He

can be reached at

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