Aye Aye, Affirmative

Media and crowds at the diversity bake sale at UC Berkeley
President Franklin D. Roosevelt with McAdoo in Los Angeles in 1938. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Why, in the age of global terrorism, escalating ecological disasters, rising poverty rates and tanking economies, are people still threatened by affirmative action?

It would be comical if the racial paranoia that stokes the AA fear wasn't so real. And nowhere is the paranoia more evident west of the Mississippi than in California, the state of liberalism, last chances and golden opportunity for all. Not so fast. Recent events like the satirical "diversity" bake sale staged at UC Berkeley, preceded by a Fox News "investigative" series about the clandestine and potentially illegal diversity business at the University of California speak volumes about the ongoing and open consternation about people of color and other undesireds taking over the country.

With sentiment like this at a fever pitch in the age of Obama, I guess it's no wonder that one of the issues that gets people (young people, no less) out with picket signs and torches is an old-fashioned, entirely modest measure meant to guarantee that college or job applications submitted by black and other people be given the consideration they deserve but historically rarely got . It does not guarantee admission or a free ride and never has, but anti-AA folks don't bother with details like that; we are living in a new world that publicists and media types unironically call post-fact. This new willful, almost gleeful disregard of truth coupled with racial acrimony that traces its roots all the way back to slavery is a very bad combination. It's no coincidence that President Obama, during his recent visit to SoCal, had to suffer a heckler who vehemently called him the anti-christ in public. Might as well have been the 'n' word. Yet more evidence that the national change of heart that a black presence in the White House was supposed to engender is actually engendering the opposite. Or just revealing to us what's been there all along.

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But back to AA in our fair state. Its many detractors are feeling especially wary these days because AA proponents in California are quietly coalescing to support an effort to repeal the affirmative action ban enacted by state initiative in 1996 (a federal ban of the repeal of affirmative action in Michigan was a story that went curiously underreported this year, given the fact Michigan has long been a major battleground in the AA wars). Governor Brown is poised to sign or veto a bill that would reintroduce affirmative action in the state, hence the bake-sale protest at Berkeley by campus conservatives. Anti-AA forces are deathly afraid of it sneaking back in like a terrorist and giving the coloreds an upper hand just when Americans want to make it clear that everybody's had enough of a colored having the upper hand, thank you. One of the many conservative broadsides against Obama was that he was a beneficiary of--you guessed it--affirmative action. He doesn't deserve to be president, not because he's unqualified, but because he's black. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

Full disclosure, if you haven't figured it out already: I'm one of those proponents of AA. But come on, I have no choice. I'm on the board of the UCLA Black Alumni Assn. For the last five years we've tried like hell to recruit black students to a campus of 30,000-plus after the incoming black freshman class fell to below 100 in 2006, a historic low. The numbers are double that now, but they're still measly. But they were measly when AA was in full effect (I know; I was at UCLA in the glory years of the early '80s). Justice has never been done, the playing field at taxpayer-supported public institution has never been leveled, but that just doesn't concern Californians like it used to, if indeed it ever did. Somebody's got to wave the torch, even if a much bigger torch is the one that gets all the attention these days.

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user JasonUnbound. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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