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Affirmative Action

Sister Souljah

Reading the news these days is like Marty McFly going from 1985 to 1955 in the film Back to the Future.  It’s 2015 and African-American Section 8 holders are still denied housing in majority white neighborhoods. Black kids still attend segregated schools, And 50 years after Watts, and twenty years after Rodney King, white police violence against blacks—particularly following traffic stops— continues to occur.

And continues to provoke resistance.

Unfortunately, while many Americans are troubled by persistent societal racism against African-Americans, this group does not include a majority of our Supreme Court. The Roberts Court is also primed to go back to the future.

Unfortunately, while many Americans are troubled by persistent societal racism against African-Americans, this group does not include a majority of our Supreme Court. The Roberts Court is also primed to go back to the future.

In 2013, it overturned a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This encouraged states to pass laws making it more difficult for African-Americans to vote, a throwback to the Jim Crow era.

But Roberts and his color-blind majority are not done yet. In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Court is expected to rule next year that college affirmative action plans that consider race or ethnicity are unconstitutional (Justice Kennedy, a hero to gay marriage advocates, is a fierce critic of affirmative action and is expected to be the deciding vote striking down the longstanding policy).

Take a moment to think about this.

African-Americans face persistent discrimination in nearly every walk of daily life. This reversal in progress applies to more other categories than we can count, including the reduction in the number of blacks as baseball managers, movie directors, or actors in top grossing films.

Yet the U.S. Supreme Court is about to declare the nation a color-blind society. A society in which affirmative action plans designed to remedy past discrimination are themselves unconstitutionally racist.

Who’s to blame for these racial setbacks?

Obviously, there are many who have always opposed racial justice and will continue to do so. But it’s also true that since the Clinton era the Democratic Party saw the route to winning national elections as putting universal policies targeted to the poor and middle-class ahead of race-based solutions. This class based messaging did “solve” the Democrats inability to regain the White House, but it ignored the persistent racism that tarnishes the nation today.

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Dems Choose Class over Race

The story of how national Democrats downplayed or ignored persistent racism began with the white backlash to passage of the 1960’s civil rights bills. After Richard Nixon won the 1968 and 1972 elections with a “Southern Strategy” that swung working and middle-class whites to the Republican Party based on racial appeals, the Democratic Party sought ways to get these voters back. This did not happen in a presidential election until Bill Clinton in 1992. Clinton’s high-profile attack on African-American singer Sister Souljah—creating what is since known as the “Sister Souljah moment”—sent a message to whites that New Democrat Clinton would not hesitate to repudiate blacks with whom he disagreed.

While Clinton proved popular with African-American voters, his “Sister Souljah moment” echoed Ronald Reagan’s launching of his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three white civil right activists had been killed in the 1960’s. Both were designed to win over white voters who believed government was favoring blacks.

Clinton’s victory in 1992 was followed by a 1996 re-election after he again sent a message to white voters by passing a welfare reform law that disproportionately hurt African-Americans. The message to Democrats seeking the White House was clear: winning requires the pursuit of universal, class based policies, not those based on race.

Barack Obama followed this strategy in winning two sweeping national election victories. He did not come out forcefully on race issues until the past two years.

Progress or Reversal?

So where has the Democrats pursuit of universal, class-based policies and their virtual abandonment of race-based solutions got us?

Well, Democrats have won the popular vote in three of the past four presidential elections. And Hillary Clinton is a heavy favorite in 2016. African-Americans almost always do better under Democratic Presidents, and Obama is no exception. To name just the most obvious, Obamacare has disproportionately benefited African-Americans, as has the minimum wage hikes associated by the Fight for 15.

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But as we examine the studies on housing and school segregation, higher African-American unemployment, police shootings and many more, national Democrats downplaying ongoing racial bias has come at a price. In exchange for winning white votes by bypassing race-based solutions, the Democrats longtime most loyal constituency has been left behind.

randy shaw

Randy Shaw

This has to change.

Because its clear from the ongoing discrimination against African-Americans in housing, education, employment, police practices and voting, that avoiding race-based problems and solutions has failed.

Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron