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Affirmative action still needed in Utah

The NAACP Opposes HJR24 (Joint Resolution on Equal Treatment). This joint resolution of the Utah Legislature proposes to amend the Utah Constitution to enact a provision prohibiting discrimination and preferential treatment by government entities. This resolution proposes to amend the Utah Constitution to: prohibit the state, public institutions of higher education and political subdivisions from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin with respect to public employment, public education or public contracting; and to provide exceptions; to authorize the Legislature to provide a remedy for a violation and provide limits for a remedy; and to provide that the prohibition is self-executing.

The NAACP strongly opposes this legislation and urges a no vote. Furthermore, we do not understand the fast pace of this purposed constitutional amendment.

Affirmative action was developed and enforced for the first time by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It is used to combat discrimination and promote equal opportunity in education and employment for all. Affirmative action is the country's obligation to provide equitable treatment for people unfairly shut out of societal systems.

In a 1965 speech at Howard University, Johnson said, "You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and say, 'You are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair."

The current scope of affirmative action programs is best understood as an outgrowth and continuation of our national effort to remedy subjugation of racial and ethnic minorities and of women. Affirmative efforts did not truly take hold until it became clear that anti-discrimination statutes alone were not enough to break long-standing patterns of discrimination.

For much of the last century, racial and ethnic minorities and women have confronted legal and social exclusion. Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites.

Some are confused on the differences between equal employment opportunity and affirmative action.

Equal employment opportunity is best described as a policy of simple nondiscrimination, in compliance with legislation prohibiting all forms of intentional discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or national origin. It specifically outlaws discrimination in employment in all public and private sector organizations with 15 or more employees, as well as labor organizations and employment agencies.

Affirmative action goes further by requiring employers to take steps to achieve a balanced representation of workers.

White Americans have lost next to nothing with what gains African-Americans have made from affirmative action programs. Generally, whites still make a higher salary than many black Americans, and they are certainly not being politically or socially disenfranchised by affirmative action. Many whites still hold the most lucrative positions, live in some of the best neighborhoods in the country and attend some of the best schools in the country. They're not losing much of any privileges.

Affirmative action helps many women, American Indians and other historically disenfranchised communities. It is not strictly black, as some may want others to believe. White women have been the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action programs.

Furthermore, the residents of Utah do not need to have Wardell Anthony Connerly coming into our state dictating what he thinks is best for us. Connerly is a millionaire businessman and the leading black opponent of affirmative action. He has publicly patted himself on the back for the great success he has achieved all on his own — his is the glory of a self-made businessman; he is living, breathing proof that affirmative action is superfluous. That is, of course, until you dig a little deeper to find that because of certain laws and regulations, Connerly has from time to time certified his company as a minority business.

During Connerly's crusade, he was fined $95,000 for violating campaign finance laws and was forced to reveal the names of key financial backers. The all-stars (all big names from the vast right-wing network) are Joseph Coors, the beer magnate and founding partner of the Heritage Foundation, with $250,000, and Rupert Murdoch, emperor of Fox News, with $300,000.

Yes, the same Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the New York Post, who came under criticism for an editorial cartoon published by the newspaper that drew charges of racism. Murdock personally apologized in February 2009, stating that "we made a mistake. We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today, I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted." The cartoon by Sean Delonas referenced the mauling of a Connecticut woman by a chimpanzee that was later shot and killed by police. In the caption, one of the officers says, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." The cartoon was published a day after President Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill.

The disclosure of Connerly's financial backers was forced under a legal settlement with California's Fair Political Practices Commission, after the latter filed a class-action suit on behalf of six organizations, including the League of Women Voters of California and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. Despite that, Connerly's largest contributors to his campaign were conservative white industrialists, whose wealth and power would seem to contradict his underdog stance; he continues to be the frontman and poster child in his campaign to ban affirmative action.

Furthermore, Connerly often distorts the words of Martin Luther King Jr., by using a single quote taken out of context and used to push his own agenda. The quote Connerly uses is, "Judge me not by the color of my skin, but by the content of my character," as a statement to ban affirmative action, in his effort to lend credibility to his own misguided platform.

Jeanetta Williams is president of the Utah chapter of the NAACP.