A state question that will appear on the ballot in November will effectively end affirmative action in Oklahoma government, consequently furthering institutionalized discrimination in the state.
SQ 759, which would amend the constitution, is a bad, needless measure that ignores the recent history of people being denied opportunity because of race or gender. It presumes discrimination no longer exists and that people now have equal opportunity, which is simply not true.
Affirmative action programs help prevent discrimination through awareness and offer people inclusion. They have never been intended to deny other people opportunities.
The amendment, sponsored by state Sen. Rob Johnson, a Kingfisher Republican, would cover employment, education and contracting in government. According to language listed on the Oklahoma Secretary of State's office, "In these areas, the measure does not allow affirmative action programs. Affirmative action programs give preferred treatment based on race, color or gender. They also give preferred treatment based on ethnicity or national origin. Discrimination on these bases is also not permitted."
The measure allows some exceptions, including federal mandates or when gender is a "bonafide" qualification.
It's somewhat unclear, perhaps deliberately so, what the main reasoning is behind the measure, but another one of its sponsors, state Sen. Ralph Shortey, said, "One of the big reasons we need it is Oklahoma is perceived nationwide, and it is not warranted, as a racially biased state. We don't need that."
Of course, the amendment would send the exact opposite message, as I wrote here, about Oklahoma, which does have a long history of discrimination and intolerance that still echoes today.
One of the supporters of the measure is Ward Connerly, who heads the American Civil Rights Institute ACRI, an organization that works to end affirmative action programs nationwide. Connerly, who is of African American and Indian descent, once said affirmative action causes resentment, according to CNN.
Is the issue, then, for ACRI what has been described as reverse discrimination? According to CNN, Connerly said Caucasian students might feel resentful if they didn't get accepted into particular colleges if minority students with less stellar academic records did get accepted.
The issue of banning the use of affirmative action in college admissions has been a contentious issue in other states, including California and Texas, but I don't know of any similar issue here.
As far as I know, Johnson, Shortey or anyone else in favor of the amendment has never cited an example of this or any example of what they might describe as reverse discrimination in Oklahoma. Thus, the measure is entirely based on a particular ideology and worldview, not evidence, at least here in Oklahoma.
The ACLU of Oklahoma is opposing the measure. One point it makes is that the measure could affect programs for a wide group of people. According to the state's ACLU's web site:
SQ 759 threatens . . . a range of targeted programs that most voters may not associate with "discrimination" and "preferences" at all: science and technology programs for girls, higher education funding for minority health professionals, review systems designed to monitor and address discrimination, domestic violence programs, breast cancer screenings, and much more.
The attack on affirmative action is really an attack on the basic principles of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. It's also a denial of systemic discrimination that manifests itself in myriad, sometimes subtle ways. Affirmative action programs create opportunities while acknowledging reality, and they are still vital in our culture.