WHICH AFFIRMATIVE ACTION?

One of the problems with discussions about Affirmative Action it never seems clear which AA we're talking about. Matthew Yglesias and Ta-Nehisi Coates both argue that Barack Obama should come out for a class-based approach while avoiding racial demagoguery. But while they seem to be talking about college admissions, in the public sphere such arguments often metastasize into arguments for abolishing AA in general (Ward Connerly's ballot initiatives would eliminate AA across the board), including in hiring and awarding government contracts to businesses owned by minorities and women. In the latter two circumstances, I can't see class playing as active a role as race or gender.

The urgency of this issue escapes me, even if Obama weren't to play it as a "Sistah Soulja" moment, the reason that we're even discussing it seems to be that it's an opportunity for Obama to remind everyone that even though he's black, he's not all scary black. The purely symbolic nature of such a gesture is clear when you consider that the vast majority of Americans approve of AA as a way to help women and minorities get better jobs (if not in college admissions), and that support has risen across party lines. So we should be talking in very specific terms about which kinds of AA should be eliminated (if they should be).

I'm also fascinated by why discussions of AA always end up being about race; (and black folks in particular). No one talks about what the effect on women would be in eliminating AA, but opponents want to abolish that aspect of Affirmative Action as well.

Ultimately, Obama will probably have to come out against Affirmative Action in general, if only because Ward Connerly has gotten anti-AA initiatives put on ballots in five states for the Fall, including Colorado and Minnesota. Obama coming out against AA isn't so much "politically savvy" as it is inevitable, but it might be savvy for him to do it sooner rather than later. I'm just not really sure if in the end, that's such a good thing.

I would also add that if eliminating AA requires the symbolic legitimacy of a black politician "leading the charge" there are reasons to question whether it's the right thing to do.

--A. Serwer

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