Here’s what NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous had to say about affirmative action at the NAACP’s annual convention this week:
MR. JEALOUS: And we will need all those friends and many more because I’ll tell you this: The days of Ward Connerly beating us at the ballot box are nigh. We are going.
You know, the only question about affirmative action isn’t whether or not we need the hammer. The only question is whether or not the hammer is big enough.
You know Dr. King pointed out some time ago that poor black prisoners and poor black ‑‑ poor white prison guards have more in common than we don’t ‑‑ have more in common than we don’t. There are white people trapped in multigenerational poverty in this country. There are disabled veterans coming back from Iraq in droves.
And the only conversation about affirmative action should be in addition to there being a gender ‑‑ no replacement here ‑‑ in addition to there being gender‑ conscious affirmative action, in addition to there being race‑conscious affirmative action, if we should do as a country what so many college campuses have done with first‑ time college admissions and say there should be class‑ conscious affirmative action too. It should be class‑ conscious.
First, it’s nice that Mr. Jealous acknowledges, albeit indirectly, that, when put to a vote, racial preferences lose: That the NAACP’s defeat on this issue is indeed “nigh.”
Second, like Barack Obama, Mr. Jealous also acknowledges — again indirectly, but here unmistakably — that using race as a proxy for disadvantage really makes no sense: That Martin Luther King noted that there are lots of poor whites, as well as poor blacks (and, President Obama has added, plenty of privileged blacks — like his daughters — as well as privileged whites). To say nothing, of course, of rich and poor Asians, Latinos, Arab and Native Americans, etc.
Now, the Left will resist replacing race-based affirmative action with means-tested programs, but the logic of concessions like this is pushing them in that direction. And that’s a good thing. Class-based preferences may or may not make sense in this or that particular context, but they are never going to be as divisive and unfair as race-based preferences, and of course they do not raise the same constitutional and other legal issues.