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When first-year graduate student eric Brooks joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson on a podium in the shadow of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge last year, he had earned that privilege by having the dubious distinction of being the only African American to enter the 1997 class of the Boalt School of Law at the University of California-Berkeley. It was an “honor” that befell Brooks by default when 18 other African Americans chose not to attend the school, which stood at the center of the maelstrom over Proposition 209. The measure, passed by California voters over a year ago, bans government-sponsored affirmative action programs, including university admissions.
Indeed, 1997 was a dizzying, and perhaps foreboding, year for supporters of affirmative action efforts. Whether it was Jackson, in a scene reminiscent of the ’60s, marching across the Golden Gate Bridge, or the continued aggressive backlash against diversity efforts nationwide, it appeared the new year might begin with affirmative action coming in D.O.A.
That possibility still lingers. Currently Prop 209 clone bills are being prepared for ballots in Washington, Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Ohio and Iowa. And this past November, the Supreme Court rejected challenges to Prop 209 and upheld California’s sweeping ban on affirmative action policies in state education, employment and contracting. Supporters of Prop 209 believe the floodgates are now open for more clone bills to go through virtually unchallenged. Affirmative action supporters, however, view Proposition 209 as nothing short of the first step toward annihilating the black middle class.
So threatening is the prospect of Prop 209 and its offspring, it was the focus of the semi-annual meeting of the BLACK ENTERPRISE Board of Economists in Washington, D.C. The board met to examine the implications of the elimination of affirmative action in education, employment and contracting.
Present at this discussion were David H. Swinton, president of Benedict College; Margaret C. Simms, vice president for research at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; Lucy Reuben, dean of the School of Business at South Carolina State University; Thomas D. Boston, an economics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology; Andrew F. grimmer, president of Washington, D.C.-based Brimmer & Co.; and Cecilia A. Conrad, an economics professor at Pomona College. Also invited as a special guest was former board member Bernard Anderson, currently the assistant secretary of labor for the U.S.
The board recognized 1998 could well be the make-or-break year for affirmative action efforts. Waiting in the wings is the McConnell/Canady bill. Formerly the Dole/Canady bill (or the Civil Rights Act of 1997), the legislation has as its goal to repeal all existing federal affirmative action programs and policies in contracting and employment. “It’s time for Congress to do the same [as California] for the entire nation,” bill co-author Charles Canady was quoted as saying.
Because of the rising tide against affirmative action, Boston says the time is now for African Americans to unite behind it. “We cannot back off from supporting affirmative action. I don’t care if the whole country has moved away from it,”