Tamar Lewin reported in the New York Times Friday on the results of Ward Connerly's crusade to end affirmative action. Connerly has killed affirmative action by initiative votes in California (1996), Washington (1998) and Michigan (2006). He aims to spread his poison to 10 more states in 2008.
And what has happened in state higher education systems when affirmative action has been banned? The Times reports:
It's simple: under a ban on intentionally valuing racial diversity in admissions, Blacks and Latinos won't be attending the major public colleges covered by the rule. Mission accomplished: state higher education systems cease to be part of the aspirations of masses of young people who might go to college.
Connerly's attack on affirmative action is an attempt to preserve the crumbling white supremacist underpinnings of our society that are about to be swept away by demographic change. By 2050, whites will cease to be the U.S. majority. We'll be a demographic group alongside others, as whites already are in California, Hawaii and New York City.
So long as this country is something like a democracy, these changing demographics mean that people who aren't white (and also people who are white but have learned that their neighbors are not strange threatening creatures) will become the elected government. However, poor people and uneducated people don't make their weight felt inside the system in anything like their numbers in the population. For example, in 2000, over 80 percent of eligible people who had the highest 20 percent of U.S. incomes voted, as opposed to 51 percent of eligible people in the lowest fifth. Since educational attainment correlates with income, keeping a population out of higher education pretty well guarantees less of them will vote.
Of course, some students of color will find a path to higher education in the private institutions that are still legally allowed to value racial diversity in their student bodies. Private schools able to affirmatively weigh race in admissions and offer scholarship money to back up their choices will cherry pick smart, better prepared applicants of color -- and be known for offering a more welcoming atmosphere than the state schools. Many of those students of color will get good educations and do great things. But they'll also largely leave behind the expectation that government institutions have an affirmative duty to provide opportunities to all of us.
Ward Connerly, an African American developer who aims to pull the ladder of success up behind him, is helping to create structural obstacles to wider participation in our democracy -- and thus helping to keep his Republican buddies in power. Former California Governor Pete Wilson was his mentor and the key to his advancement; Wilson's Republican friends are getting a good return on their investment in Connerly. Connerly's crusade is about keeping people outside the system who might change the rules to the detriment of those who now have an inside track. It's that simple and that brutal.