If Barack Obama gets elected next week, there are a lot of people who think this is proof positive that America is now color-blind, or at least that racial discrimination has been reduced to a minimal level.
While electing the first African American President would be ground-breaking progress in race relations, let’s not overreact. Should Obama win, he will have had to counter the roughly 6% of the public who would not in any circumstances vote for him because he is black. In comparing him with John McCain, it is amazing the race is even close.
Might the “Obama effect” lead to an end to affirmative action? I think this is very much a possibility. There are several examples of high-profile people of color in the Bush administration – Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Alberto Gonzales, Norman Mineta come to mind. If an African American is elected President, there will be significant pressure to abolish Affirmative Action programs under the mis-guided assumption that they are no longer needed. Several states have passed ballot initiatives prohibiting race conscious programs, and more are certain to try it if Obama is elected.
Just because there are a few high-profile minorities in positions of power does not mean racial discrimination does not exist in the workplace. Affirmative action programs exist to correct evidence of historical discrimination, and should be sun-setted when racial parity is achieved for the entire workforce, not just the top position.