Election approaching, Obama turns his attention to boosting diversity of federal workforce

August 25, 2011|Ron Smith

A USA Today/Gallup poll released this week shows fewer Americans now believe that race relations are better than was the case in the first year of the Obama presidency.

Thirty-five percent of those polled say they think race relations have gotten better compared to 41 percent who said the same in October 2009.

When I see something like this, the first question that leaps to mind is how one is to define "race relations"? What does the phrase mean? Such a poll question lacks precision and leads the respondent into guessing what other people are thinking about "race relations." Most of us don't want to be thought of as "racists," because that's the second worst thing (the first is "anti-Semite") to be called in modern America. It is a whip word, designed to delegitimize the person so described.

How times change. A century ago the American government was in fact blatantly racist. The westward expansion of the United States was frankly and unapologetically based on belief in Aryan supremacy.

I know you didn't learn that in school, because history is always being whitewashed one way or another. It's exceedingly malleable. For an entertaining and mind-boggling look at this, I highly recommend James Bradley's "Imperial Cruise," a book about Theodore Roosevelt and how his race-based foreign policy led to war with Imperial Japan — whose imperialism was nurtured by Teddy himself — a few decades later. It's a remarkable story.

In a short time historically, the U.S. Government has gone from being frankly racist to being passionately anti-racist. Just last week the White House issued an executive order with the cuddly title, "Establishing a Coordinated Government-wide Initiative to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Work Force."

Federal agencies are directed by the president to design new strategies to find, hire and train more people of a "diverse" background. As the Washington Times aptly put it in an editorial headline, "Obama: Whites Need Not Apply."

The only diversity sought by the White House is based on skin color, and whites, particularly white men, should get out of the way of others even though the federal work force is already disproportionately "diverse."

"According to the Office of Personnel Management," says the editorial, "federal employees in fiscal 2010 were 66.2 percent white, 17.7 percent black, 8 percent Hispanic, 5.6 percent Asian and Pacific Islander and 1.8 percent American Indian. Compared to the general U.S. population, the federal force is a bit too diverse. Blacks are overrepresented by 6.9 percent compared to the civilian work force, Asians and Pacific Islanders by 1.2 percent, and American Indians are more than double their proportion of the population at large. White Americans, who make up about 70 percent of the work force, are underrepresented by about 4 percent."

President Obama has a political problem: His wide support among swaths of white voters is shown by polls to be far less than in 2008. Independents are moving away from supporting him, and the Congressional Black Caucus is furious with what many of its members see as his lack of specific attention to the problems of the "community."

Perhaps this executive order is designed in part to soothe his critics on the left, though his more frothy-mouthed critics on the right would say it's part of his plan to ruin America.

It's no secret, nor did it begin in the Obama years, that white men are discriminated against in the ranks of federal workers. The drive for "diversity" has been relentless for many years in federal agencies. At the highest levels, it is minimal, but down in the ranks it is overwhelming. I've known quite a few federal workers and the tales they tell are similar: no promotions for white men, new hiring virtually excluding them, being told by non-white supervisors that it's their turn to wield power and too bad if you don't like it, etc.

It's also true that the net worth of black Americans has plummeted since 2005 and that without government employment, there would be scarcely any black middle class in this country.

Hispanics have suffered an even deeper cut in net worth, some 66 percent compared to blacks' 53 percent from 2005 to 2009, and they actually are a bit underrepresented in federal jobs.

With the election season steamrolling down the tracks, President Obama needs a boost. He needs to gin up some excitement among his core supporters, hence his recent statements on slowing deportation of illegal immigrants, and his order that more minorities be hired by the government.

What this will do to "race relations," whatever that means, remains to be seen.

Ron Smith's column appears on Fridays. His email is rsmith@wbal.com.

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