The day after Barack Obama was elected the first black president of the United States, a Republican friend of mine who teaches in the public schools in Harlem commented that there was good news in the result. Her students could no longer claim that the system was keeping them down. Their failure or success, in other words, would henceforth be their own, not the product of a system working mysteriously outside their control. Wishful thinking?
Maybe. Or maybe the elevation of a minority to the most powerful office in the nation changes something psychologically in this country. Maybe the days of quotas and set-asides based on race and sex (what even Bill Clinton mocked as bean counting) are finally numbered.
The grievance peddlers who have spent the last 40 years carefully constructing a spoils system that handed plum positions and contracts to minorities and women have by and large been silent since Nov. 5 for good reason. With a minority not appointed -- but elected -- to the most powerful position in the world, the foundation of the system of handouts and set-asides so painstakingly built over the last four decades has cracked.
We don't have to wait for Obama to take office to see the ridiculousness of racial quotas and set-asides in a world in which whites gladly elect blacks to govern them. In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick's administration has given a sign of what is inevitably to come.
Patrick, the first black governor of Massachusetts, promised fealty to the diversity regime. But by the old standards, he isn't living up to the promise. Were he white, he would surely be called a racist by now. The Boston Globe reported two Fridays ago that Patrick has appointed fewer minority judges than any other governor in recent Massachusetts history.
In his first two years in office, Patrick has had the opportunity to appoint 29 judges. Of those 29 appointments, only 2 were minorities. Patrick told the Globe his effort was "not good enough."
Patrick might have appointed so few minorities because, being black himself, he didn't feel the pressure to disprove the racism that racial pressure groups argue rests in the hearts of every white executive. Relieved of the political pressure to make appointments based on race, he made them based on qualifications (or whatever other criteria they use in Massachusetts).
President-elect Obama so far seems to be operating under a similar presumption. He doesn't have to prove that he isn't racist. It is assumed. As a result, Obama's cabinet is not significantly more "diverse" than George W. Bush's and might wind up with fewer minority members.
If black governors and presidents wind up appointing more whites than white governors and presidents do, then the whole justification for quotas and set-asides collapses. The justification is that people select those who are like themselves. If whites select whites, blacks select blacks, and so on, then policies must be put in place to guarantee some access to power for those who look different than the people in charge, the thinking goes.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Patrick is being criticized by activists who say minorities are not "represented' on the bench. But of course the judiciary is not a representative body. And the whole concept that office-holders must be representative of the community at-large falls apart when the dominant group in the community is out of power. In that situation, the minority executive would be prohibited from appointing a higher percentage of minorities than exists in the general population.
For example, if Deval Patrick has to appoint members of a 10-person board and he happens to personally know two highly qualified and talented blacks, he could appoint only one because the black population of Massachusetts is only 6 percent. Having 20 percent of the board membership be black would not be representative of the community at large.
So why then would it matter if the chief executive were white or black or Hispanic? If the rules hold that the racial makeup of the government (or corporation) must reflect the racial makeup of society, then it doesn't matter which race is in charge, the appointments will be done by formula. So there is no advantage, at least as far as appointments go, to a minority group that gets one of its own into high office.
In a world in which whites elect blacks to the most powerful offices in the land, the "representation" rule actually hurts minorities by preventing a minority executive from appointing more than a token handful of qualified people he or she may personally know. Not to mention that it is absurd to suggest that a minority executive is racist against his own race if he doesn't appoint "enough" minorities to office.
(The argument that Obama's and Hillary Clinton's replacements in the Senate must be a black and a woman respectively shows that the people who have a vested interest in the spoils system are not going to suddenly give up. But again, the justification for that bean counting is no longer as persuasive as it once was, as Obama, Clinton, and others have shown that minorities and women don't need extra considerations to achieve positions of power.)
All of this is not to suggest that racism or favoritism have suddenly vanished from this country or that the law no longer needs to prohibit racial and sexual discrimination. As long as ignorance and stupidity exist, racism and sexism will, too. What it does suggest is that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the racial set aside regimes. By 2042, whites will be in the minority in the United States, according to Census Bureau projections. Then what? Quotas for whites? That is absurd. But it is the inevitable result of maintaining the set-aside system. Which is why that system will eventually die. And we appear to be seeing the first death throes right now.
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