Sen. Jim Webb had an op-ed published today in the Wall Street Journal about his desire to see affirmative action as now practiced ended. When I first read snippets of the editorial on Huffington Post, I thought, “Uh, Oh.” Then, I went to the WSJ link and read the entire article. The article contains nothing Webb hasn’t said before.
Before some on the left jump to the conclusion that Jim Webb is trying to end affirmative action where it is needed, I beseech them to read the whole argument Webb is making. It really isn’t a change from the view he had on affirmative action when he ran for the U.S. Senate.
His thesis is this: When President Lyndon Johnson pushed for affirmative action programs, he based his argument for the laws on the 13th Amendment and on the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which authorized the federal government to take actions in order to eliminate “the badges of slavery.” As Webb said, “Affirmative action was designed to recognize the uniquely difficult journey of African-Americans.”
Using specific numbers of the low educational attainment among poor whites in the South, Webb notes that they, too, are at the bottom of the economic ladder. He is NOT attacking affirmative action for black Americans. He simply does not feel that recent non-white immigrants, including Indians and Chinese, should benefit from laws that were designed to assist black citizens, who, Webb notes, “despite a veneer of successful people at the very top still experience high rates of poverty, drug abuse, incarceration and family breakup.”
This article is not an attack by Jim Webb against black Americans. It is Jim Webb standing up for poor people, regardless of the color of their skin.
“A recent NORC Social Survey of white adults born after World War II showed that in the years 1980-2000, only 18.4% of white Baptists and 21.8% of Irish Protestants – the principal ethnic group that settled the South – had obtained college degrees, compared to a national average of 30.1%, a Jewish average of 73.3%, and an average among those of Chinese and Indian descent of 61.9%.”
I would add that the South became the first “low wage” area where corporations moved their manufacturing after the Civil War, providing jobs that required a low level of education and which have now been shipped to third-world countries.
One example: Clothes we pay high prices for because they carry labels like Tommy Hilfiger are now being made in Bangladesh, where garment workers have been protesting in the streets against an average wage of $25 – a month! Meanwhile, the economies of southside Virginia, Danville and other areas of the South have been devastated by the loss of garment manufacturing jobs.
As Webb said, “Nondiscrimination laws should be applied equally among all citizens, including those who happen to be white. The need for inclusiveness in our society is undeniable and irreversible…Our government should be in the business of enabling opportunity for all, not in picking winners. It can do so by ensuring that artificial distinctions such as race do not determine outcomes.”
I would have preferred Sen. Webb to say that the inequalities in our society are caused in part by an economic system that demeans poor people and blames them completely for their condition. I wish he had said that affirmative action should target poor people, not just certain ethnic groups. He didn’t, but he sure didn’t trash affirmative action, at least not for its original purpose – to repay black Americans in part for the hundreds of years they were treated unlike any other group of Americans have been and for which they have earned special attention by the government.