It’s Time to End Affirmative Action

April 28, 2022 Updated: May 2, 2022

Commentary

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard or read it a few thousand times: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Other than “freedom,” no single word describes more accurately than the word “equality” what it means to be an American.

For decades, our nation has struggled to extend the promise of equal rights and equal treatment to all Americans without regard to their skin color, ethnic background, or country of origin.

Our Constitution guarantees “equal protection” of the law, and our civil rights statutes codify that guarantee and specifically apply it to various sectors of American life, such as voting rights, employment, and college admissions.

As the era of what was known as “Jim Crow” was coming to an end, in the early 1960s, the nation turned its attention to the question of how best to integrate “Negroes” into the mainstream of American life.

Some argued in favor of what was commonly described as the “colorblind” approach, while others proposed a system of explicit race classification and race identification in public policy.

While the colorblind approach seemed more desirable in theory, that approach appeared to be infeasible and beyond attainment. Moreover, the colorblind approach ignored political realities, as most forcefully articulated by prominent individuals in the civil rights movement, notably Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The major proponent of the colorblind approach at the time was President John F. Kennedy (JFK), who famously said, “Race has no place in American life or law.”

With the assassination of America’s 35th president on Nov. 22, 1963, the nation quietly buried the lofty ideal of a colorblind America.

Among a host of other changes, the ascension of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to president of the United States ushered in a considerably more aggressive approach to the question of how best to handle the race issue.

On Sept. 24, 1965, Johnson signed Executive Order 11246. With this action, all federal contractors were required to take affirmative action to ensure that equal opportunity was provided in all aspects of their employment.

Instead of the JFK policy of universal nondiscrimination regarding immutable traits—“equal opportunity”—Johnson pursued a more quota-based form of affirmative action. While this aspect of affirmative action is commendable on its face, in the fullness of time, affirmative action came to be far more than a policy of aggressive action to ensure nondiscrimination and equal opportunity.

This policy of good intentions about equal opportunity has become the equivalent of the disease that it was prescribed to cure, as it measures matters according to outcomes.

With its focus on “firstisms,” the affirmative action mindset has come close to tarnishing the extraordinary accomplishments and qualifications of America’s “first black female” to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Absent raw politics, America quite likely would have celebrated its first black female justice (Janice Rogers Brown) and its first Hispanic male justice (Miguel Estrada) years ago. Such accomplishments are not only a reflection of the level of attainment of the targeted group, but also of societal readiness as well. And the people are far ahead of their politicians, who clamor for attention and credit where none is deserved.

Ten states, including some of America’s most progressive as well as some of our most conservative states, have enacted policies that require that all units of government “not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”

I’m proud to have played a significant role in this small bit of American history.

Notwithstanding our nation’s remarkable progress in such a relatively short period of time, the highest official in our nation ignored the simple command of equal treatment and engaged, in full public view, in an act of race and gender discrimination by announcing, essentially, that he would ignore all possible candidates for a vacancy on the Supreme Court and consider only black females.

Ignoring his assertion that “it’s about time,” the reality is that this was a major act of discrimination, in defiance of our creed about judging each other according to character and not skin color.

I wish not to prolong the debate about the appointment of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. She’s now our ninth justice, and we should all wish her well. It would be irresponsible, however, to allow this appointment to move from public view without noting that it represents a serious departure from our long-established and glorious ideal of equality for all.

As we have learned painfully, the use of race is like a cancer. Once started, it continues to grow. There’s seemingly no inoculation to prevent it from spreading throughout the body politic.

It’s now a tragic fact of American history that the society that has most succeeded, almost beyond measure, because of its dedication to the fundamental ideals of equality, individual rights, and respect for life and liberty is betraying the ideals upon which it was founded and is now floundering in what many view as a societal death spiral.

As one of my country’s citizens “of color,” I plead with our Supreme Court, which is scheduled to decide the future of affirmative action during its next session, to end its equivocation about the use of race. If the Constitution is colorblind, as you have said it is, then place us on the path that will free us from the shackles of race-based affirmative action and thereby enable us all to unite as one in pursuit of solutions to life’s challenges that have little, if anything, to do with race.

It’s difficult for affirmative action to exist absent the presumption of persistent discrimination—and that presumption is no longer valid.

Let us stabilize the ship of state and rebuild our country based on the knowledge of what we know will work; equality of opportunity, I submit—and history confirms—works best for the overwhelming majority of America’s people.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Ward Connerly is president of the American Civil Rights Institute.