Is Obama proof that affirmative action is dead?

To be honest, I’m surprised I didn’t hear more rumblings about this earlier. Maybe I just didn’t have my ear close enough to the ground.

As it turns out, Barack Obama may be both the best and the worst thing to happen to African Americans at the same time, depending on your point of view. Check out this rather interesting Associated Press article entitled “Does Obama Threaten Affirmative Action?” which appeared on June 30. The gist of the article, in case you haven’t guessed by the title, is that if a black man named Obama can make it this far in America, what the hell’s wrong with the rest of you negroes? Better learn how to swim or get your ass out the deep end, boy.

Well, OK, the article doesn’t quite say that, but I’m at an age where I’m pretty good at reading between the lines.

Those of us who have always supported affirmative action, but who are also honest and awake, have seen the end coming for quite awhile. The marches, the shouting, and the amped up protests against injustice led by the NAACP and other groups were all fine, but in the end it was simply dramatic theater at a wake. It’s too bad, but it is what it is. For the record,  I do believe there is still a definite need for affirmative action since it is painfully obvious to all but the willfully blind that the playing field is far from even. And to point to the admittedly remarkable candidacy of Obama and say “All’s well!” is like pointing at an episode of the Cosby Show and insisting that it represents the full spectrum of the African American condition. Which, by the way, some folks actually did…

Barack Obama is a phenomenon, and the Cosby Show was a phenomenal, quietly revolutionary sitcom peopled by amusing, uplifting, yet nevertheless fictional characters. To adequately judge the average temperature of a city, you don’t wait until the hottest day, then trot out to a parking lot blacktop in the city’s hottest section with no shade, take a quick reading, and then claim to have done your job. At least, that’s not the intelligent way to do things…

So here we are. An African American man is likely to become the next President of the United States, which is an inescapable and overwhelmingly powerful signal of progress. Even if he loses, the power of his candidacy has shoved race relations forward and forced even the most cynical among us – myself, for example – to recognize that attitudes have changed more than we would have ever believed possible.

And yet, right here in my beloved city of Detroit -including the surrounding suburbs – is all the proof anyone will ever need that black folks as a whole are not even in the same time zone as the Promised Land, let alone the same zip code. The blackest city in America is also the most economically at risk, and that pretty much says it all. In the age of Obama, and all the possibilities that his candidacy represents, Detroit is still trying to dogpaddle across the river toward the possibility of dry land with the full weight of yesteryear’s failing economy strapped to our ankles in the shape of twin Cadillac cars.

So then…Does Obama threaten affirmative action? Hell no. Obama is the realization of a dream held by many whose time has actually come. And when we wake up from this dream, we will realize that the death of affirmative action was the price we paid for sleeping.



~ by Keith A. Owens on July 4, 2008.

7 Responses to “Is Obama proof that affirmative action is dead?”

  1. Great post!

    Affirmative action has been made to be controversial and not properly utilized in my mind.

    We must realize that there are many people even across the color spectrum that have been pushed down for so long that they need help getting themselves outta the hole.

    When we combine real accounts of history in our schools and realize the individual needs of the community, maybe we won’t need it.

    Like in Detroit when there was no grocery store, when does the city wake up and see the problem and do something to help the neighborhood either through a special start up loan for someone from Detroit to open a grocery store.

    There are so many solutions that haven’t been tried. Many people think that Obama has to steer away from “black issues” in order not to scare the “whites”. This white woman surprisingly is upset that Obama at this point isn’t tackling these issues. We cannot keep passing this off on a national level. We have so many past issues to resolve in order for every American to have freedom of potential. That’s what it boils down to.

    Every person deserves to recognize their potential and not be dragged down by the realities of social and economic injustice in our communities.

    The whole sociology of “The gist of the article, in case you haven’t guessed by the title, is that if a black man named Obama can make it this far in America, what the hell’s wrong with the rest of you negroes? Better learn how to swim or get your ass out the deep end, boy.” is deeply rooted in the Republican Party.

    Survival of the fittest despite environmental factors. This thinking does not consider any other factors. We are of course all responsible for our actions regardless but can’t ignore the weight of our culture especially that of disenfranchisement.

    You always exercise my mind.

    You continue to be on my mind, old friend.

    In light and love


  2. Danielle!
    So great to hear from you and to reconnect. You’ve been on my mind as well. Hope all’s well in your life, and thanks much for the wonderful response to this post.

  3. It is great to have Bro. Keith back doin’ what u do! This is a powerful post that highlights one of the unique outcomes of Obama’s candidacy. However, truth to tell, affirmative action has been on its deathbed for many, many years. It is truly time for all of us to work together to provide our own support to one another … even in my former home of Detroit. The first step towards recovery in Detroit is going to involve the end of the mayor’s reign…

    peace, Villager

  4. Hey Villager!

    Well, I guess I’ve been a little in and out these past months, but it’s great to be missed and appreciated by my friends and colleagues! It’s good to be back, as always. And as I think you know, I couldn’t agree with you more about the need to end the current mayor’s reign. We simply cannot move forward in the way we need to s long as he’s still hanging on. Man that is such a tragedy on so many levels…

  5. Affirmative Action is still needed in the white corporate world. Maybe we can switch affirmative action with education and make it more based on socio-economic status. I would welcome a program that supports this. Student loans are creating additional havoc on the credit crisis of the country. So more grant programs needs to be devoloped that help students who are black or white, male or female get into college. There should be a lottery based grant system for students who work hard in school and get good grades. Priviledge kids whose parents that have deep pockets and will pay for college and tutors and educatation should not get grants and they really shouldn’t get to go to college if they can’t keep their grades up in Jr High and High school. There should be tutor grants for students who really want to learn and succeed. I am a working white single mom and sometimes I am so tired after work to sit and read with my daughter. I know it’s very important and one of the most important things I can do with her but I am so tired at the end of my day I just need to relax and unwind. I don’t expect a tutor to handle all the homework and responsibility but it would be very helpful to have a break once an while from it. For example I would love to initiate a program called where kids can come and have fun while they work and do homework. It could be a place where once they finish homework they are rewarded with some kind of social or play activity.

  6. I also agree with you Teamowens313. Obama is the exception and not the rule. There are still white corporate leaders who have an invisable white cap and keep qualified minorities and genders down. Affimative action can help the poor and disenfranchised if it’s structured right. If it’s structure wrong it will breed laziness. The goals should be to really monitor the system and see if it’s structure right. Affirmative action has never advocated for managers to hire an unqualified person over a qualified person. Affirmative Action is the process of forcing managers to evaluate it’s workforce and making sure that if two equally qualified individuals apply for a job that the person is lot overlooked because of race or gender. For example: Affirmative Action could help a white man who is applying and up against a black man who is equally as qualified and where the manager is black. The black man could harber discriminating feelings against white people and feel the urge to hire all black people. Affirmative action is not a race or gender inititive if it’s structured right. This means that demographics have to be studies and understood. It’s sad to have to say that affimative action still needs to exist. I wish we didn’t need it. I wish people were just fair and treated people fairly but they don’t always do the right thing. Until the United States has Leaders and managers that represent the diversity of the nation. Racism and genderism are still in existance!!!

  7. Michelle,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to provide such detailed and informed responses and commentary. That means a lot and I appreciate it. I hope you’ll be stopping by often.

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