US Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor provoked immediate charges that the choice was an affirmative action pick. How insulting. This response should finish discussion of the fairy tale that we have moved to a post-racial America. Race baiting as a political tactic still exists. I share your disappointment, but I can’t say I am surprised. We should confront the reality that in America, this type of achievement for women and people of color is still novelty. Before any discussion of economic, professional or scholastic advancement of people of color in America begins, a definition of Affirmative Action must come first.
Affirmative Action refers to concrete positive steps taken not only to eliminate discrimination—whether in employment, education, or contracting—but also to redress the effects of past discrimination. Affirmative Action is a web of regulations and statutes designed to remedy the impact of a long history of institutional discriminatory practices perpetrated on certain protected groups. Under legal attack from its origins, Affirmative Action has been bleeding to death from a thousand little cuts that began with the Supreme Court’s Baake decision. What began as redress was spun into alleged quotas that forced supposedly unqualified minorities, women, disabled persons and others into positions to the detriment of the white, middle class. Due to recent Supreme Court decisions, there has been the elimination or decimation of any program that factors race, gender, or color among other considerations.
In the Age of Obama, Affirmative Action is still needed.
President Obama avoided being dumped into the Affirmative Action basket during his campaign. But as we see with Judge Sotomayor, Mr. Obama’s situation is the exception, not the rule. Judge Sotomayor is noteworthy for numerous reasons, and her gender and race are incidental. Her story is compelling, but her record is even more so. She is extremely accomplished educationally, not to mention highly experienced as a jurist. Those who know her personally and professionally all say that she is more than qualified to become the next Supreme Court Justice. According to conservatives, she’s not only an affirmative action pick, she’s also a racist. Her comment was, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Race still has negative implications. The fact that some ignored the message of wisdom and experience in those words and only heard the issue of race speaks loudly and clearly. It says that in the Age of Obama, Affirmative Action is still needed.