Why Affirmative Action Remains Essential in the Age of Obama

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2012-09-15 22:03Z by Steven

Why Affirmative Action Remains Essential in the Age of Obama

Campbell Law Review
Volume 31, Issue 3 (2009)
pages 503-533

Reginald T. Shuford, Senior Staff Attorney, Racial Justice Program
American Civil Liberties Union Foundation

With the election of Barack Obama to the most powerful position in the world, the presidency of the United States of America, many opined that America finally conquered her racial demons, some trumpeting the term “post-racial” as though it were a fait accompli. That an African-American man-much less one with such a nontraditional name-could ascend to the highest office in the land, they argue, clearly signals that America’s racist history is a thing of the past. Gone. Over. Kaput. Slate wiped clean. Concomitant with their notion of a post-racial America is the strong belief that complaints of racism lack merit, and measures to remedy past and current exclusionary practices are no longer necessary. But saying it is so does not make it so. There can be no doubt that Obama’s election represents a singular moment in American history and demonstrates significant and welcome progress in America’s notoriously fraught racial relations. That said, claims that America is truly post-racial are decidedly premature. Indeed, during this very election season, some voters conceded that Obama’s race was an issue impacting whether they would vote for him.

It also bears noting, at the risk of stating the obvious, while it is true that Obama’s victory shattered the ultimate political glass ceiling, he, black or otherwise, is not your “Average Political Joe.” As such, whether his election portends a future where African-American candidates, and other candidates of color, will be elected to the highest office in the land with any degree of regularity is debatable. For generations, African-American parents preparing their children for the harsh realities of racism have told them that they are required to be twice as good and work twice as hard as everybody else, just to stand a fighting chance at leading successful and productive lives. President Obama may personify that concept better than most. Among his many notable accomplishments, Obama is the graduate of two Ivy League schools, Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he graduated magna cum laude. At Harvard, he served as the first African- American president of the Harvard Law Review. Obama is also the author of two best-selling books, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. He was a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago. His well-known political successes include his career-defining delivery of the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which catapulted him onto the national and, perhaps, international stage. During his tenure in the Senate, Obama was the sole African-American.

Beyond his academic and professional accomplishments, President Obama possesses a combination of personal traits-powerful oratorical skills, discipline, equanimity, self-confidence, and the ability to connect with and inspire a broad range of people-that undoubtedly have contributed to his phenomenal success and uniquely qualified him to be the right person for the job at this particular moment in our history. Even Obama’s biracial background advantages him, for example, with the ability, evident in his Speech on Race, to speak credibly from both sides of the racial divide. His background might also have benefited him in another way: Perhaps, he was not “too black” for certain skittish voters. In light of his eminent qualifications, many wondered whether Obama’s racial background at least partly accounted for the relative closeness of much of the race between him and John McCain

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