We Still Need Affirmative Action …

“You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: ‘now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.’ You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair . . . This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity—not just legal equity but human ability—not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson, speaking to the graduating class at Harvard University, 04 June 1965

Affirmative Action: an action or policy favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination, especially in relation to employment or education.

A brief (I promise) bit of history:

On March 6, 1961 President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, which included a provision that government contractors “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” The intent of this executive order was to affirm the government’s commitment to equal opportunity for all qualified persons, and to take positive action to strengthen efforts to realize true equal opportunity for all. This executive order was superseded by Executive Order 11246 in 1965.

On September 24, 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, and national origin by those organizations receiving federal contracts and subcontracts. In 1967, President Johnson amended the order to include sex on the list of attributes. Executive Order 11246 also requires federal contractors to take affirmative action to promote the full realization of equal opportunity for women and minorities.

African-Americans, at the time of Order #11246, had been legally freed from slavery for a short 100 years, but they had still not been free in so many ways.  Segregation and Jim Crow laws kept them slaves to the white man for nearly another century, at least in some parts of the country.  And now, Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were doing something about it.  Many will say the government should not regulate such things, and I would agree, with a caveat:  the government should not need to regulate such things.  But when we are unwilling to treat all people equally, when we discriminate on the basis of skin colour (or religion, gender, gender identification, ethnicity or cultural values), then yes, it is right and just for the government to legislate equal opportunity for all.  And thus we have what came to be known as Affirmative Action.

Which brings us to August 2017, when the Justice Department is planning to take funds that are intended to investigate cases of ‘race-based discrimination’ and redirect those funds to investigate and sue colleges that have followed the law of Affirmative Action in admissions determinations.  The project was quickly understood to be targeting affirmative action policies that many on the right see as “discriminating” against white applicants — in particular, ones that might give black and Latino students an edge.

If discrimination against whites actually existed on any significant scale, one might make that argument, but the reality is that wealth, not race, is most often the factor that influences admissions decisions.  Discrimination, overall, remains in this, the 21st century, against blacks, Jews, Muslims, gays, and women.

If we, as a society, do not wish to live under laws that give preferential treatment to one group or another, then the solution is simple:  treat everyone … EVERYONE … as equals.  STOP condoning the killing of blacks by police officers for no reason other than they were black.  STOP perpetuating the myth that blacks are more likely to be criminals.  And STOP believing that people whose skin is darker than yours, are somehow inferior.

Most laws need to be revisited, reassessed and tweeked from time to time, and Affirmative Action is no exception.  Certainly there have been abuses of the law. No doubt there are improvements that can be made, but I certainly do NOT trust the Justice Department under Jeff Sessions to do so.  The bottom line is that if we do not wish laws that enforce equality in hiring, in college admissions, in houring preference, then We The People need to get off our high horses and realize that people are people, no matter the colour of their skin, what church – if any – they attend, what country they or their ancestors come from, or whatever other characteristics they may own.  Until we do that, the government must uphold the laws that enforce equality.  Don’t like the laws?  Then police thyself, friends.

We have seen a recent rise in bigotry of all forms, and white supremacy seems to be gaining a toehold when crimes against blacks, even by police officers, go unpunished.  We have seen states attempt to pass laws limiting opportunities for LGBT people.  The president of the nation has thrown his lot in with white supremacists.  As long as this type of organized and state-sanctioned discrimination exists, we will need laws to protect those being discriminated against.  It’s that simple.

NAACP: Travel To Missouri At Your Own Risk

You may have missed this story, for it was but a very short story … more of a blurb, really … in both The Washington Post and the New York Times, each of whom simply copied the Associated Press release, word for word.  I found the full story in the Kansas City Star along with links to verify and fill in the gaps.

The AP release:

NAACP Delegates Back Advisory Urging Caution in Missouri

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS AUG. 1, 2017, 12:21 P.M. E.D.T.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The head of the Missouri NAACP says the national organization is backing a travel advisory urging caution in Missouri over concerns about whether civil rights will be respected.

Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel says national delegates voted last week to adopt a travel advisory that the state chapter issued in June. Chapel says the national board will consider ratification in October.

The advisory cites a new state law making it more difficult to sue for housing or employment discrimination. The state NAACP says the measure could make it tougher to hold people accountable for harassment and discrimination.

Supporters argue the law will help reduce “frivolous lawsuits” in the state.

The advisory also cites a report showing black Missouri drivers last year were 75 percent more likely to be stopped than whites.

Chapel says he hopes recognition from the national organization will boost awareness.

I do not know on what page this story ran in either publication, but I had to dig to find it online.  Why?  Given that neither the Post nor the Times tend to be in the least bit racist, I can only guess that the reason this story did not make the cut was because it did not contain the name “Trump”.  If it had, it would have warranted 1,000+ words instead of a mere 143.

This is the first time in history that the NAACP has issued such a warning for an entire state.  The reason?  An increase in race-based incidents throughout the state, as well as recently passed legislation making it harder, if not impossible, for fired employees to prove racial discrimination.

From the national NAACP website:

BALTIMOREThe NAACP Travel Advisory for the state of Missouri, effective through August 28th, 2017, calls for African American travelers, visitors and Missourians to pay special attention and exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the state given the series of questionable, race-based incidents occurring statewide recently, and noted therein.

Nearly three years ago, racial bias in Missouri seized national headlines after Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., prompting widespread protests. More recently, however, there have been other disturbing incidents, such as death threats to black students at the University of Missouri in Columbia, black drivers being 75% more likely to be stopped and searched than white drivers.

Then there was Senate bill #43 signed in June that says a terminated employee must prove that racial bias was the sole reason for his or her termination, rather than simply a contributing factor.  Additionally, it removes protections for state employees — and limits punitive damages for victims of workplace discrimination. In April, the head of the Missouri NAACP tried to express his concerns about the measure at a hearing. As soon as he compared it to Jim Crow, the Republican committee chair ordered his microphone turned off. The bill was passed 98-30 and Governor Eric Greitens quickly signed it into law.

Then there are the murders.  The chart below showing a summary of homicides by age, race and gender this year as of August 1, tells the tale …

Missouri-stats.pngThe PDF showing the full chart can be found here.

The most high-profile case was that of Tory Sanders, a black man from Tennessee, traveling through Missouri who had the misfortune to run out of gas on May 5th. He walked to the nearest convenience store, was not clear where he was and tried to talk to the police officer who happened to be in the convenience store at the time. But instead of helping Mr. Sanders, the officer arrested him.  Accused of no crime, he was nonetheless jailed and subjected to pepper spray and the use of a stun gun at least three times by jail staff.  The details are sketchy and conflicting from one news source to another, but the bottom line is that by the end of the day, Mr. Sanders was dead.

The struggle for equality has been long and hard for African-Americans.  Brown v. Board of Education, the death of Emmett Till, the Montgomery bus boycott, the Little Rock Nine, Freedom Rides, voter registration fights, to name just a few.  Are we to return to the day when African-Americans must sit at the back of the bus, must use separate facilities?  Is that where we are heading?  Under Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it seems chillingly possible.

Just this week in the news the Attorney General’s office announced that the administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.  This is an abomination, and one which I will write more about at a later date.  Meanwhile, we have crimes against blacks on the rise, and a so-called Justice Department that is, at the very least, unconcerned, and at the worst, willing to roll back many of the rights African-Americans fought and died for over the last six decades.

Missouri’s state nickname is the “Show-Me State”.  I think it is high time someone “show” Missouri that African-Americans are people just like any others, deserving of fair treatment and respect.