For 30 years of writing this column, I have consistently said the topic of race was the most pressing and most dividing issue in this country. We talk about political differences, religious differences, rural/urban differences and a host of other issues that surface in the daily dialogue. Yet, despite our denials, we all too often return to the topic of race.
The presidential debate tried desperately to avoid the discussion of race but that was never to be. And now that the curtain has been parted, the delicate issue will lay just below the surface in the coming months.
We are a nation divided along countless lines but no line more distinct than race. To argue otherwise is to ignore reality. The lines fall in simplistic terms between those who feel they are "owed" for past discrimination and those who feel the tab for those past actions has been "paid in full." You'll find it impossible to convince either side of that argument that their position is wrong.
The laws of this great nation have clearly remedied the discrimination that is our national legacy. But laws alone cannot change prejudice nor bigotry. Those laws address the issue but they don't change attitudes. Nor can laws dictate that the attitude of "victimhood" be erased. The race card has been played with such regularity that it has lost any impact it once had.
Thus, the stalemate. You will never convince some that the playing field has long been leveled. And because of this impasse, we are given the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and others who fan the flames of fires for their own benefit and who set back progress with their every word.
Missouri perhaps will face this issue in the November elections with a ballot initiative that would end affirmative action in our state. Supporters of the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative are now collecting 150,000 signatures to place the issue on the November election ballot. Missouri is one of five states which may decide this controversial issue come November.
The initiative would ban laws that give preference based on race or gender in public hiring, contracting and school admissions. It would base those decisions on the best candidate, regardless of their race or gender. To some, it makes common sense. To others, it marks a setback that would reduce minority enrollment in colleges. And to me, both arguments are right.
Eliminating affirmative action would adversely impact minority participation. But the other side of that coin is that when anyone is given a preference over another based on race or gender, someone suffers. Someone with better scores, someone with better skills and experience pays the price for affirmative action. And since the deciding factor is race, the lines are clearly drawn.
When you give to one, you take away from another. That is often the lost message and impact of affirmative action. In our national rush for diversity, we have lost sight of those who are passed by to make room for others simply because of their skin color. And more important than any other issue is that there is scant evidence that affirmative action is diminishing the divide along racial lines. In short, it has not worked in the manner expected and there's no evidence it will ever work.
I think it's time for Missouri to end the practice of affirmative action in schools, in the workplace and in doling out taxpayer money. I'll support the Civil Rights Initiative. I hope you will too.