Committee Of Correspondence

Affirmative Action: Is There a Middle Way?

Herb Stein
2:37 p.m.  Friday  10/4/96 

       On Nov. 5 the people of California will vote on Proposition 209, an amendment to the state’s constitution that would say: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment public education, or public contracting.”
       Surveys of public attitudes in California on the proposition reveal a picture that is significant not only for California but also for the rest of the nation. A majority of people seem to be against discrimination, but a large proportion, possibly a majority, of the same people seem to be for affirmative action. I interpret this to mean that many individuals have, at the same time, two goals. One is to stop or avoid discriminating against whites because they are white. The other is to remedy the disadvantage, the lack of equal opportunity, that many blacks suffer because they are black. The problem is not just to avoid discrimination against whites or to remedy the disadvantages of blacks but to find the best feasible way to serve both goals, insofar as they can both be served. (I state this problem in terms of white-black relations because that is the most acute problem, but the same problem exists in other majority-minority relations.)
       Is this a valid statement of the problem? If not, how should the problem be described? Whatever the problem is, how can we best deal with it?