Diversity Survives (Barely), But Affirmative Action is Long Dead

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

Diversity” has been given a tentative reprieve by the U.S. Supreme Court, but affirmative action died 35 years ago. “The journey from affirmative action to ‘diversity’ has largely negated African American history as a legal basis for redress. What’s left is the notion that it would really be nice if schools and workplaces looked like the country as a whole” – but you can’t make it happen.


Diversity Survives (Barely); Affirmative Action is Long Dead

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

Once the specificity of the Black American grievance was abandoned, affirmative action became a general catch-all of various historical wrongs: ‘diversity.’”

Let us no longer speak of affirmative action as an operative legal doctrine in the United States. This week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling was about “diversity” in education, not affirmative action, which was politically vitiated by its own proponents in the early Seventies and dealt a deathblow by the Bakke decision of 1978, when the High Court outlawed “quotas” for racial minorities. From that point on, public institutions were effectively forbidden from pursuing measurable “results” through programs of inclusion of previously excluded classes of persons – the last gasp of affirmative action as articulated by both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson.

The current court, in mean-spirited tones, reluctantly affirmed the barebones principle of the 2003 University of Michigan Law School decision (Grutter vs. Bollinger), that public educational institutions can claim a “compelling interest” in fostering “diversity” on campus. However, the Court clearly views the whole enterprise as sordid and suspect, putting the onus on colleges to prove that there exist no “workable race neutral” alternatives available to them.

Thus, for the time being and under the strictest “scrutiny” of openly hostile arbiters, the vague concept of “diversity” as a good thing for public institutions to cultivate, has been given a backhanded “reprieve,” as New York Times editorialists put it.

The Court clearly views the whole enterprise as sordid and suspect, putting the onus on colleges to prove that there exist no ‘workable race neutral’ alternatives available to them.”

It is noteworthy that the Times editorial employs the term “affirmative action” in its headline, while an analysis of the decision by Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, does not use the term, an implicit recognition that affirmative action is no longer a live issue. Indeed, “diversity” is not even a ghost of what Dr. King defined, in his 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait, as “compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro” – an idea that he heartily endorsed. “For it is obvious,” Dr. King wrote, “that if a man is entering the starting line in a race 300 years after another man, he first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.”

Even in these “civil rights” years, Dr. King pushed for a Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged that would convey similar preferences for Negroes as enjoyed by veterans. Anti-affirmative action zealots that cite MLK as the source of their “race neutral” rants are, in a word, lying.

President Lyndon Johnson’s historic speech to the 1965 graduating class of Howard University marked the definitive beginning of affirmative action as public policy. Johnson riffed on King’s metaphor:

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."

“’Diversity’ is not even a ghost of what Dr. King defined as ‘compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro.’”

Equality “as a result” died with Bakke. But the essence of affirmative action as “compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro” (emphasis mine) was abandoned not long after King’s death and Johnson’s exit from politics, as bourgeois post-mass movement Black leadership sought allies among other ethnic groups (and white women).

The legal, as well as moral, basis for affirmative action lay in the culpability of the United States and all of its layers of government in the enslavement and Jim Crow “hobbling” of African Americans – a unique history of oppression of a specific people that requires institutional redress. Otherwise, the legacies of these crimes will reproduce themselves, in mutating forms, into infinity. Once the specificity of the Black American grievance was abandoned, affirmative action became a general catch-all of various historical wrongs. Stripped of its core, affirmative action morphed into “diversity,” a vessel for various aggrieved groups that was politically versatile (and especially useful to the emerging Black deal makers of electoral and corporate politics), but no longer rooted in Black realities.

The affirmative action of Dr. King and President Johnson was a species of reparations, of form of redress for specific and eminently documentable harms done to African Americans, as a people. It was understood as a social debt owed to a defined class. “Diversity” recognizes no such debt to a particular people, or to any people at all. Rather, its legal basis is the “compelling interest” of public institutions in a diversified student body (or faculty). As I wrote in July, 2003, the Grutter decision meant that “white folks are free to play at diversity and use race as a factor, as long as the rules don’t address racial injustice or demand results.” (See “The Slow and Tortured Death of Affirmative Action,” Black Commentator). The latest ruling narrows the administrative white folks’ playground, and makes race even more suspect as a factor.

The essence of affirmative action was abandoned not long after King’s death and Johnson’s exit from politics.”

The journey from affirmative action to “diversity” has largely negated African American history as a legal basis for redress. What’s left is the notion that it would really be nice if schools and workplaces looked like the country as a whole. The Universities of Michigan and Texas have “compelling interests” that the court will address, but the interests of the descendants of U.S. slaves are immaterial to the argument; they are owed nothing.

Such a result was predictable in the early Seventies – and many of us did predict it – when the upwardly mobile Black classes shut down the mass movement in favor of electoral politics and individual corporate striving. Dr. King’s version of affirmative action was meant for mass Black uplift. President Johnson’s response was mandated by the strength of the Black mass movement. Once that movement was gone, affirmative action was left to twist slowly in the wind, and to meet its final demise in 1978. Let us say its name no more, except in respectful memory – or, until a new movement arises that will demand what is historically owed.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].




Affirmative action isn't dead by any means!

The only way to kill it is to have every opportunity parceled out by blind lotteries.

New Rule!  No more Alumni, donations, networking, inheritance, test scores, race, religions or recomendations will be allowed.

The elites have always had many upper hand (s) and always will.  It is time to get rid of their crappy favors to each other.

Why should we care?

I've been arguing AA has been dead for years; the SCOTUS decision was just an official burial.

Given that we (I suppose "we" is the appropriate term), have Black colleges, medical, law and other professional schools.... why should we give a good goddamn!???  This is what incessantly puzzles and confuses me about this so-called experiment in diversity and democracy?

Black people are messed up in huge part due to the the insecurities we manifest in myriad realms be it relational or financial or entrepreneurial, you name it- because we waste to much G**ddamn time and energy trying to meet White benchmarks or to be a part of their top level corporations and organizations ALL OF WHOM HAVE A MISSION TO PERPETUATE OUR STATUS QUO.  Duh Nigga.

Damn.  Think about a simple yet profound fact, what other ethnic group do you see constantly trying and being rebuffed, constantly begging and whining for White Acceptance?  To be clear I personally believe in diversity of cultures and experiences, I grew up in a 97% White state and had nothing but love from my teachers., diversity is a no brainer for the enlightened.  But kissing folks ass to become second-class ain't that appealing in the scheme of things.

I'm sick and tired of this "First Nigga" shit, its played out.

I'm glad that SCOTUS is killings our collective delusions of inclusion, be it voting or Affirmative Action.   Let me put some sh**t in perspective in case I'm being misunderstood.  The Chaldeans in Detroit are a smaller but much wealthier ethnic group than Blacks, they don't give a damn about INCLUSION they only care about a level playing feel.

Black folk done confused a level playing feel, with MoFos LIKING you on G.P.  Puhleez, I ain't mad at Paula Deen btw.   Cause ALL of use done used a derogatory term either in reference to our own race or someone else in the past 90 days??  It's that political correctness bullshit that holds us all prisoners and makes us all phonys, fakes and perpetrators.

DOWN WITH P.C. !  Yall know these MoFos ain't hiring us, what METRIC DO YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND?  Big deal, you act like it's new news.  Anyone study Obama's EEOC record btw?  (That's what I thought)

I agree why should we care. 

I agree why should we care.  We need to rid ourselves of the slave mentality of going to the big house in Washington DC and asking the masters for permission to do what we are entitled to do.  We have proven over and over again, we do best, when we do for ourselves.  As you mentioned the Black colleges.  Now look at the education of our children since intergration of schools.  The world is larger than the US.

Affirmative Action Correctly Portrayed

First was the watering down accomplished by the corporate avoidance term, "diversity."  Title VII and state regulations address the real crime, discrimination.  Diversity or not is a symptom or part of discrimination.  Diversity sounds more corporate, pleasant.  Changing the term from discrimination to diversity is a subtle but, strong distancing by employers from the real crime addressed in Title VII.

Dismantling Affirmative Action is part of the current era's post reconstruction of the Civil Rights Movement of the 50's and 60's.  It is undo the corrections implemented as a result of the movement.  Affirmative Action addressed the oppression of that times set-a-sides quota’s percentages.  At that time they were one hundred to zero percent.  Affirmative Action in its heydays percentages were no more than ninety six to four percent.  If the four percent is discriminatory towards the ninety six percent, then the ninety six percent is twenty four times more discriminatory towards the four percent.  The attacks on Affirmative Action and Voting Rights are for the strengthening of Jim Crow, which in truth has never left.

We are returning to the one hundred to zero percent quotas prior to Affirmative Action. Such return is very visible in the workplace today when it comes to African Americans.  The excuse that it is hard to find qualified African American candidates is widely used.  Yet there is never a question of finding qualified White candidates.  It is assumed they are qualified. This is an age-old stereotype.  African Americans are also kept out of the workplace by the use of the term diversity.  Other minorities, especially those not present during the movement are hired while there is a void of African Americans in the workplace.  There is a hiring of those from countries outside the US and of other brown people of the world. Yet with the use of the term diversity, there is assumed no discrimination.

The quotas for the hiring African Americans have for the most part returned to zero in the workplace today.  It was done slowing beginning with the riddance of discrimination as we have sat back and let it happen. 1860’s fighting to end slavery, 1960’s fighting to end the economic slavery of poor job, 2060” fighting to end….To Be Continued.


Diversity - New Cream

Diversity is the current cream in the coffee of what was all Black, Title VII and Affirmative Actions.  It has cooled down both.  As John Kennedy wanted to be sure there were White faces in any marches-demonstrations on Washington by Blacks, diversity accomplishes the same in claims of discrimination. Malcolm referred this inclusion of White faces as adding cream to coffee.  Now the only ones to benefit from either Affirmative Action or Title VII are White women.  Those who fought for these laws are repeatedly denied a finding of discrimination.  Malcolm said they would not keep these laws. The coffee has been made cold and beige.  

The EEOC and state agencies of human rights also cool down the Blackness of these two accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement.  They serve to see that suits do not have any standing.  They claim discrimination is hard to prove.  They require an abundance of evidence while stifling the collection by limiting the timeline for evidence.  The timeline is only a matter of the last six to eighteen months of employment even though the discrimination may have been for years. There should be no limit in how far back a claimant can go to present evidence of discrimination.  This time limit prevents the abundance of evidence required to prove discrimination.  With the agencies denying discrimination or not being able to find for the claimant, there is less likely a chance in court.  These agencies should be avoided as much as possible and claims should go directly to the courts.