It's Fostered A Cruel Game of Bait, Switch Debating Affirmative Action CON

June 25, 1995|By ROBERT L. WOODSON SR.

Affirmative action policies have accomplished little toward their goal.

The major effect of affirmative action and anti-discrimination policies has been a redistribution of black workers from small and medium-size firms to large companies and federal jobs, while black unemployment rates have remained twice those of whites.

Not only have these policies failed, but they have often offered opportunities for flagrant abuse.

In many cases race-based set-asides have amounted to no more than a cruel bait-and-switch game in which conditions of poor blacks were used to garner preferences that, ultimately, benefited upper-income blacks and white corporations.

A prime arena for this sort of manipulation lies within the communications industry.

In an effort to increase non-white ownership of media properties, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) offered massive tax breaks for the owners of TV and radio stations and cable systems who sold to minority purchasers.

In numerous instances blacks have served as "fronts" for white companies in exchange for a portion of the potential profits.

A recent transaction was a proposed tax deferral with estimates ranging from $640 million to $1.6 billion. It was to have gone to billionaire Sumner Redstone for his sale of Viacom Corp. -- the world's second-largest media-entertainment conglomerate -- to a group led by a black investor, Frank Washington.

The purchaser in this case was deemed minority-controlled although, in fact, Mr. Washington provided only 20 percent of the equity and would be able to withdraw after three years, with a profit of at least $3 million.

Opportunism in the guise of affirmative action has spread across all boundaries.

Meanwhile, those who are most in need have received scant dTC benefit from the policies instituted in their name.

The government reports that one-quarter of the $4.4 billion in contracts awarded in fiscal 1994 went to about 1 percent of the 5,155 firms in the Small Business Administration's 8(a) program.

To be sure, racism has not been totally removed from American society.

But a large portion of the black community recognizes that race-based preferences are not the tool for overcoming the obstacles they face.

Forty-seven percent of blacks interviewed for a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll opposed affirmative action, although their "spokespersons" in the civil rights establishment and political arena have adamantly demanded that those policies stay in place.

The danger in a myopic focus on race-based policies goes far deeper than the misuse of programs that were purported to counter disadvantages.

By sending a message that the solution lies in what others do, or fail to do, it has undermined a tradition of self-determination and personal responsibility that had long provided a foundation for the stability of the black community.

A virtual culture of victimization has been engendered, as many of those in leadership positions have entered into a Faustian deal, trading a long-standing tradition of self-sufficiency for race-based entitlements.

Young people are being told that they need not be expected to earn their rewards or accept responsibility for their wrongdoing.

A victim mentality has been not only demeaning but dangerous.

In effect they have been told, "You are a victim of society. If you rape your sister, rob or kill your brother, you are not really to blame, for you have been wronged."

Tragically, many young blacks have acted on this message.

Amid the vestiges of slavery, Frederick Douglass declared that when blacks constituted "a class of men noted for enterprise, industry, economy and success, we shall no longer have any trouble in the matter of civil and political rights."

Douglass' words represented the sentiments of hundreds of former slaves who overcame the stifling subjugation of Jim Crow laws and legislation that barred their quest for literacy to score impressive economic and educational gains.

During the first half-century of their freedom, blacks increased their overall per capita income by 300 percent. With confidence in what they had to offer, many blacks parlayed the demand for labor and their growing power as consumers to their advantage, even during the Jim Crow period.

Groups such as the American Missionary Association established hundreds of schools serving tens of thousands of black students.

From 1865 to 1892, black illiteracy declined from 80 percent to 45 percent, the number of black newspapers increased from two to 154, attorneys from two to 250 and physicians from three to 749.

Decades later in the 1920s and '30s, still under the oppression of Jim Crow laws and legislated segregation, blacks in Tulsa, Okla., and Durham, N.C., established thriving business districts.

These offered every product the black population could want or need, including theaters, tailors and seamstress shops, laundromats and dry cleaners, repair shops, clothing and grocery stores, inns, hotels and restaurants, appliance and furniture stores, funeral homes and libraries, as well as black doctors, lawyers and dentists.

Granted, there still are hurdles to be crossed with regard to racial discrimination in America.

Yet in addressing these issues, our focus should be on our capacities, not our deficiencies, and we should act in constant recognition of the rich heritage we have been given.

Those who have experienced economic or social disadvantages and need a hand up to realize their potential should be given that boost -- regardless of their race or ethnic origin.

Robert L. Woodson Sr. is founder and president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a Washington-based nonprofit research organization. This article is adapted from a longer version in Emerge magazine.

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