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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org