- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2000

The headline announced the latest disaster: "State Justices Deal New Setback to Affirmative Action."

In California, voters passed Proposition 209, a ballot initiative to end race- and gender-based preferences in the areas of government contracting, hiring, and admissions into state colleges and universities. Last week, the California Supreme Court applied 209 and unanimously struck down the so-called "outreach" program of San Jose. The city required contractors to demonstrate an attempt to recruit and use female- and minority-owned subcontractors.

Justice Janice Rogers Brown, an appointee by a Republican governor, wrote, "A participation goal differs from a quota or set-aside only in degree. By whatever label, it remains 'a line drawn on the basis of race and ethnic status' as well as sex." For what it's worth, Justice Brown is black. Like Clarence Thomas, she, too, received no support from the black bar. And a State Bar Association committee determined her "unqualified," despite possessing more experience than former California Chief Justice Rose Byrd, appointed by Jerry Brown. For that matter, she possesses more experience than did U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren, the former California governor. No State Bar committee found either Justices Byrd or Warren unqualified. But we digress.

Don't affirmative action proponents get it? The fat lady is singing. The moral, constitutional and tactical argument for affirmative action remains bankrupt. Discrimination to fight discrimination remains discrimination.

Slavery ended nearly 150 years ago. This wrong cannot be righted. All a state can be is just in its own time.

Affirmative action makes this statement: Because your ancestors experienced slavery, you deserve compensation. But whose ancestors didn't experience discrimination or abusive treatment?

Doesn't this historical unfairness justify programs like affirmative action? No. As Booker T. Washington said, in 1901, a mere 35 years after emancipation, "When a Negro girl learns to cook, to wash dishes, to sew, to write a book, or a Negro boy learns to groom horses, or to grow sweet potatoes, or to produce butter, or to build a house, or to be able to practice medicine, as well or better than some one else, they will be rewarded regardless of race or color. In the long run, the world is going to have the best, and any difference in race, religion, or previous history will not long keep the world from what it wants."

Just how bad is it for blacks in America? While parents complain about underperforming inner city schools, Asian kids attending these same schools outperform whites on standardized tests. Many Asian families send their children to "cram" schools, where they get additional education, after school and on weekends. Midtown Los Angeles Korean newspapers publish not only the colleges Korean high school grads plan to attend, but their SAT scores as well.

Johnnie Cochran tells us, "Race plays a part of everything in America." Yet, through his hard work and talent, he became one of the nation's most prominent defense attorneys. Former California Speaker Willie Brown, a black man who held this powerful position for 15 years, once defended affirmative action by telling white newspaper writers, "You owe me." Yet, this son of a sharecropper, through talent, hard work and ambition, wielded power for some 15 years as perhaps California's most powerful political leader.

How bad is it? A Time/CNN poll found that, among black teens, 89 percent found little or no racism in their own lives. If things are so bad, why does the white suicide rate exceed that of blacks? Why, according to a study by the American Association of University Women, do black boys register higher on self-esteem tests than do white boys? Why, according to an article in Psychology Today, do black girls show more confidence in their bodies than do white girls, a group obsessed by the impossible-to-emulate Barbie doll physique?

In 1963, the black monthly magazine Ebony asked prominent blacks to offer advice to young people. Union leader A. Philip Randolph, who founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, offered this: "Negro youth must offer the future the same things that white youth offer, and they must have the faith that there is no basic racial difference in potential for achievement moral, intellectual or spiritual. The future holds great opportunity for those who are prepared to meet and face the challenge of this age of science, technology and industrialism, and social, economic and political change."

Funny, Mr. Randolph failed to mention affirmative action.

So, to the condescending, but well-intentioned, affirmative-action-supporting whites, know this: Drop the guilt. For you have about as much in common with a Southern, 1950s segregationist as Colin Powell has with Al Sharpton. It is now the year 2000. Let's move on.

Larry Elder is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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