The Future of Affirmative Action Under President Obama


There is going to be a lot of debate on the impact of Barack Obama’s election on the future of affirmative action.

There has been speculation for months among all sides of the debate about whether Obama’s ascension to the Presidency would provide proof positive that affirmative action is no longer necessary, or at least, has run its course.

Ward Connerly, a black Republican who has led the fight to ban affirmative action in California and other states, told the San Francisco Chronicle today that Obama’s election decimates “victimhood“.

Obama has said that his own daughters do not deserve affirmative action because of their economic privilege. As president, asks Joan Vennochi in the Boston Globe, will he lead the way from race-based to class-based policies? Some black leaders, she writes, citing such figures as Eugene Rivers and Kevin Peterson, say Obama's political success necessitates a new approach to the issue.

As Ben Smith writes on, partisans of both sides of the bitter, long-running wars over affirmative action say Obama's position on the subject is ambiguous and scarcely articulated. As a state senator in Illinois, he called traditional affirmative action "absolutely necessary," but he's more recently called for government to "craft" policy "in such a way where some of our children who are advantaged aren't getting more favorable treatment than a poor white kid who has struggled more."

Some of the staunchest opponents of race-based affirmative action are skeptical of replacing it with a system that takes class into account rather than simply considering merit, but if Obama or the courts were to shift away from existing programs, writes Smith, a focus on class seems the most likely direction.

Indeed, affirmative action cannot endure if nothing else because the black/white paradigm no longer fits. Ironically the rise of Hispanic Americans (who, by the way, voted for Obama by a nearly 2-to-1 margin) may prove the critical factor here.

As I have maintained for years, the future of multiculturalism is not fragmentation and segmentation into endless subgroups, but a blurring, mixing and blending of races, ethnicities and cultures. This process is already well under way.

In Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America (2008), author Gregory Rodriguez writes that America has become so mixed that racial distinctions are losing their power to categorize and separate Americans from each other:

Mexican Americans are forcing the United States to reinterpret the concept of the melting pot to include racial as well as ethnic mixing. Rather than abetting the segregationist ethos of a country divided into mutually exclusive groups, Mexican Americans continue to blur the lines between "us" and "them." Just as the emergence of the mestizos undermined the Spanish racial system in colonial Mexico, Mexican Americans, who have always confounded the Anglo-American racial system, will ultimately destroy it, too.

How will they destroy it? By making categorization impossible, and hence, meaningless. When racial classification is no longer sensible or even possible, neither are discrimination or affirmative action. And we have long since passed that point. I often use Tiger Woods as an illustration of this: he is a mixture of black, Asian, Caucasian, and Indian (oops, I mean Native American) ancestors, but when asked to identify himself he says, ”I’m Tiger.”

Another key factor will be interracial dating and marriage. In 1987 slightly less than half of Americans approved of dating between black and whites. By 2007, according to the Pew Center, this had risen to 83%. These changes are most evident among the millennial generation, the very people who will make up the majority of adults in 2050, 94% of whom approve of such matches.

Already, over 2.5 percent of Americans are of mixed race, and this percentage grows significantly among people under 18, and, geographically, in California, on the entire west coast, and in the New York area. One third of all mixed marriages involve Hispanics. In California, between 1980 and 1997 one of every seven babies born had parents of different races. This notion of race will become ever more fluid as it becomes obvious from DNA testing that people’s racial or ethnic origins are often far more diverse than usually imagined.

During the 1990s, even interracial marriages between black and whites, once very rare, increased seven times as rapidly as marriages overall. Intermarriages between native-born Hispanics and Asians with other groups covered upwards of thirty percent in the first native-born generation, and over 57 percent in the next.

These developments are anathema to the diversity/affirmative action industries. Believe me; I have been encountering them on the corporate speaking circuit for years. When I speak (optimistically!) of the American future, of the blending and blurring of races, ethnicities and cultures, and of the individual as the basic sovereign unit of a truly free and diverse society, they start going through the first four phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining and depression. Regrettably, the final phase – acceptance – is beyond them. They will probably endure, administering preferential treatment for quite a while, as they have been empowered and financed by large, slow-changing bureaucracies: governments, foundations and corporations.

But the writing is on the wall. A mixed-race candidate has just been elected President of the United States. In the same election, via voter initiative, Nebraska adopted (and Colorado narrowly rejected) state constitution amendments outlawing discrimination by race, sex, ethnicity or national origin. Nebraska has thereby joined California, Washington and Michigan as states where voters have outlawed discrimination by race. According to the American Civil Rights Institute, similar amendments, put on state ballots by voters, will appear in coming election cycles across the country, including in Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri and Colorado (again).

What? you thought such discrimination was already illegal and unconstitutional? It is. These state ballot initiatives have become necessary to overturn the system of ethnic favoritism known as affirmative action – the use of racial and ethnic quotas in the bestowal of public and private largesse – which has been codified in both public policy and private practice.

Obviously, the American people are tiring of a diversity regime that (perversely) demands conformity of thought (also known as ”political correctness,” the phrase Soviet commissars used to enforce Central Party rule). Eventually, the American people themselves, having become a mongrel nation, will also reject racial and ethnic categorization. Hint: watch the dramatic rise in the number of people who decline to state in surveys, questionnaires and the Census itself.

Dr. Roger Selbert is a business futurist and trend guy. He publishes Growth Strategies, a newsletter on economic, social and demographic trends, and is a professional public speaker Roger is US economic analyst for the Institute for Business Cycle Analysis in Copenhagen, and North American representative for its US Consumer Demand Index.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Affirmative action

In the last couple of decades, affirmative action has seemed to have more potency as a political issue than a practical one. Correct me if I'm wrong, but was affirmative action really legally enforceable in anything besides government hiring/contracting and university admissions? The real battles took place long ago: the forced integration of clannish police and fire departments, set-asides for minority participation in contracting, and preferences for minorities in university admissions decisions. These efforts were successful in taking down barriers, if not always in achieving the holy grail: proportional representation. Complaints today are largely directed at the proportional representation issue, but it is impossible to reconcile with the more important value of merit-based hiring, contracting, and admissions.

I expect that affirmative action, as a practical matter, is going to fade away as the population becomes more diverse and the lines between ethnic groups become blurred. That won't stop it from being a cause celebre on the fringes of the left and right. But it's too much of a political bombshell for a pragmatist like Obama to want to touch it, beyond some lip service to groups on the left who like hearing words of support but who really have no idea how to squeeze more results out of affirmative action.