At issue | Aug. 8 commentary by Los Angeles Times writer Gregory Rodriquez, "End affirmative action to calm white anxiety"
The column by Gregory Rodriquez, in which he calls for President Barack Obama to repeal affirmative action policies, is shortsighted.
The writer thinks in order to avoid a "destructive white backlash in the face of a rapidly diversifying society," we should undo all the hard work that has gone into creating a more equitable society. Not once does he mention the benefits of affirmative action policies for women.
Ninety years ago last month, Congress adopted the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, arguably "the largest enfranchisement in history," according to The New York Times.
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Yet the recent 2008 Census figures suggest most women make 77 cents for every dollar their male colleagues make.
According to Herald-Leader columnist Merlene Davis, this is an increase of less than half a penny a year since the salaries started to be tracked. The salary discrepancies are greater when minority women are considered.
Especially in certain careers, the inequities defining gender are more difficult to address.
In my research focused on women in agriculture, I have learned that affirmative action laws are still needed. As recently as 2009, commercial women beekeepers on average earned lower wages than their male counterparts. This disparity also applies to women beekeepers in academe as well.
More than once, I have been requested, and complied, to edit an interview because of an interviewee's fear of retaliation.
Yet Rodriquez simply (and wrongly) states that "when affirmative action was established, it was intended to benefit a small percentage of the U.S. population." He offers no proof.
In fact, if one reads the legislation from both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, both presidents clearly intended to serve as many people as possible.
Intriguingly, Rodriquez also does not acknowledge the recent firestorm concerning Shirley Sherrod, an agriculture administrator whose comments about her own biases were taken out of context, broadcast via Internet, led to a quick and forced resignation, then an apology.
Is it possible Rodriquez does not want to see that there has been as much black anxiety as white anxiety, some fostered by the NAACP and White House?
Sherrod readily admitted by virtue of her climb up the economic ladder that affirmative action helped her develop compassion for all struggling people. Summarily, in light of the backlash (I'll leave it to the readers to decide if it was white or black backlash), she at least had a legal leg to stand on when her position was unceremoniously stripped from underneath her.
White anxiety? Rodriguez does not attempt to define it, although he writes an entire article blaming and projecting future racial divisions upon it. Nor does he attempt to clarify affirmative action laws in this country.
But in my mind, there is plenty of anxiety to share without attaching it to one demographic.
The causes are complicated by racial inequities, but until we get the economic engines started again, we would do well to maintain the legal framework protecting civil rights as much as possible. Affirmative action is not, by itself, a "remedy for institutionalized racism," as Rodriguez claims.
But it is one of the few "checks and balances" with which people may examine gender discrimination and other societal prejudices, including racism.
Nor will repealing these policies ease anxieties, as Rodriquez' own example of California illustrates.
While California may have repealed its affirmative-action policies in the 1990s, all of its citizens seem equally anxious about the state's economic shortcomings, such as mandated state employee furloughs, higher education cutbacks and real estate crashes.
As a state, California does not seem any better prepared to deal with impending problems than any other state. So, I am not convinced repealing affirmative action has been an answer to California's problems.
It seems more like a distraction from a long-overdue assessment of economic engines — some of which are obsolete and some which have yet to be defined — that we have not wanted to examine.
The basic point Rodriquez seems to miss is that, until people feel economically secure, many types of anxieties will abound. Maintaining some semblance of equitable practices, therefore, is as important as it was 90 years ago.