There are many who consider themselves professionals, “agents of change” if you will, in the field of diversity. To those who continue to espouse the word “diversity,” yet continually fail to speak about the importance of affirmative action as the tool, I say this: You have much to learn.
Diversity is not legislated. Affirmative action is. While diversity is the objective, affirmative action remains the tool. A company, whether public or private, or a government agency, can change its mind about diversity, but must still abide by affirmative action legislation. The only truly effective change agents in the field of diversity are those who understand this.
Shortly after the presidential election, there appeared a newspaper editorial cartoon that included ball-and-chain images, one each for the economy, the war in Iraq, the bailout and racism. In the picture, the “racism” chain was clearly broken, signifying the end of racism in America simply because Barack Obama was elected president.
Let’s connect the dots: With people not knowing if they are going to lose their jobs and their homes, and foreign and domestic markets in disarray even now, the economy, overall, was the No. 1 issue in this election. Voters believed Mr. Obama had the better plan, so racism, among at least a few, took a back seat this time.
That’s not to say that America hasn’t progressed away from the color line in the last 30 years. But racism dead in America? It remains very much alive and kicking. You need look no farther than the construction industry, which, to this day, many years after the initial implementation of affirmative action, remains a battleground for parity. How else does one explain the continuous failure of many contractors to achieve a mere 5 percent minority work force goal in publicly funded contracts? Only consistent monitoring and creative implementation of minority business and work force goals programs have brought about any change.
I look forward to President-elect Obama’s proving wrong the naysayers. Let us not get caught up in believing that racism in America is dead, however. Diversity professionals are those who understand the history of what we continually try to accomplish, and the tools needed. To those who don’t understand this, your consistent down-playing of affirmative action only serves to hurt our efforts.