The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States will be
viewed by many as accomplishing racial diversity’s last frontier.
The politics of diversity carries a heavy stigma, particularly
in the post-affirmative action era. Like the post civil rights
era (1980 to the present), the post affirmative action era
(1989 to the present) has been framed as an obsolete endeavor
in America’s “colorblind” social construct. Colorblindness
- the notion that race was no longer relevant and race policies
(best faith efforts, set-asides and “quota” policies) were
no longer needed as America had become the great melting pot
it was designed to be.
By the end of the 20th Century, we had found out that racial disparities
were just as great, white women had been the biggest beneficiaries
of affirmative action and colorblindness had become the new
Jim Crow, as educational, wealth and income inequality created
separate societies. This was despite significant political
gains in representation throughout the nation. The
only real conclusion that can be derived is that political
diversity was the only real gain of the civil rights movement.
more political breakthroughs that occurred (three decades
of “firsts”), the more regression occurred in graduate and
professional schools, employment management gains and business
Now the last glass ceiling in politics, the Presidency of the United
States, is being tapped. It is yet to be seen whether it will
be broken, but you already have people suggesting that equal
access in our society means equal opportunity, and thus no
more need for “special” programs for the historically disadvantaged.
Of course we know it’s not true, and study after study validates
that the more things should be equal, the more we find they
are not. We find that we have to advance diversity as a staple
to the promotion of inclusion.
In Los Angeles last week, the whole notion of dispelling the need for
diversity training came to a head when the Los Angeles Department
of Water and Power (DWP) Commission sought to approve its
2008-2009 budget. The Commission President, Nick Patsaorus,
in a publicly televised meeting, berated staff for not bringing
forth the expected budget cuts to help the city make-up its
huge deficit for the upcoming year.
specifically called out why diversity training was still in
the budget. DWP is one of the city’s proprietary departments,
meaning they have their own stand alone budgets, board and
operations. Of the three proprietary departments (the other
two being the Airport and the Harbor), DWP is the most lucrative
and the most discriminatory. It is known as the city’s “slush
fund” where mayor after mayor pulled on DWP purse strings
when they wanted to get something done. It was also run by
mostly white males, who hired mostly white males and who gave
to mostly white males when the community needed assistance.
It earned the names “the glass house” and “the Ivory Tower”
not for its structural architecture but for racial nomenclature.
As DWP staff remained silent, Patsaorus, a politically connected
Greek businessman known his impolitic behavior, said that
since we are about to have an African American as President
and a woman “almost made it,” why do we need diversity training?
The inference, of course, is why do we need entitlement programming in
this era of apparent equal entitlement? Typical illogic, questioning
inclusion, that we’ve heard before by segments who have rarely
been excluded in our racially sensitive social contract.
Most every time that there has been a historical political event, the
politics of inclusion takes a hit. The most memorable of which
was the election of Douglas Wilder as the first black Governor
of a U.S. state in November of 1989. In anticipation of Wilder’s
election, a case filed a few years earlier against the City
of Richmond’s minority set-aside program that guaranteed minorities,
specifically African Americans 30% of city contracts, came
before the U.S. Supreme Court that decided that racial set-asides
of historical excluded populations were unconstitutional unless
the affected class could prove that they, personally, were
discriminated against by a white owned firm during business
with the city of Richmond.
The plaintiff in the case, of course, stated that he had never discriminated
against an African American firm and therefore should not
be penalized in having to set aside 30% of his contract. The
High Court agreed with him. The case came to be known as Croson
v. The City of Richmond, and it essentially wiped out
every mandatory set-aside program in the nation.
Every other program is now “best faith effort” which is hard as heck
to prove that you discriminated against someone if you go
through the motions. This followed by a deluge of anti-Affirmation
Action referendums that, state by state, attacked mandatory
diversity hiring. Whether Croson happened in correlation
to Wilder’s election or was a causal factor in Wilder’s election,
the case will be 20 years old next February, a month into
a new administration. Is Nick Patsaorus’ attitude symptomatic
of a larger social shift in waiting?
cannot backslide on diversity and the politics of inclusion
every time there is a major political breakthrough in our
society. There will always be a need to gain more understanding
about races and cultures we don’t know and to guard against
xenophobia, and more critically, Negro-phobia, that seems
to arise every time an individual African American is about
to over come a major socio-political barrier. The individual
gain seems to inspire a collective opposition toward social
and racial progress as if to say a political concession here
requires a racial regression someplace else.
And there are people, like Nick Patsaorus, that are perfectly fine with
that. However, the community is not and, though not one major
press organization reported this item, it spread like fire
throughout the city that Patsaorus tried to cut diversity
out of the DWP budget. We
also know that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa knew about the comments
and wasn’t prepared to react to them if they didn’t show up
in the mainstream press. “If a tree falls in the forest and
nobody is around, does it make a noise when it hits the ground?”
Of course it does. Just as when someone retracts on diversity
and nobody speaks of it, does it represent an attitude of
regression? Of course it does.
Now the question is, what is Villaraigosa prepared to do with the commission
head of his most visible (and problematic) proprietary department?
Will DWP, and agencies throughout the nation, change course
on diversity if Barack Obama is elected President of the United
It is something we all need to pay attention to, and be prepared to watch.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, is a national columnist, managing
director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom.
His Website is AnthonySamad.com.
to contact Dr. Samad.