U.S. House of Representatives
House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution
Hearing on H.R. 2128 – "Equal Opportunity Act of 1995"
07 December 1995
December 7, 1995
2237 Rayburn House Office Building
Testimony of Jorge Amselle
Center for Equal Opportunity
I am Jorge Amselle, Communications Director for the Center for Equal Opportunity, a non-profit research and education project specializing in issues related to race, ethnicity and assimilation. It is an honor to be with you today to testify on affirmative action, an issue of profound importance in the current national policy debate on race and the role of government.
We are here today to discuss whether the federal government will continue to provide preferential treatment to people for no reason other than their race, ethnicity, or gender. Treating people differently because of the color of their skin used to be called discrimination, but today it is called affirmative action. Racial discrimination is abhorrent when practiced by the private sector, but when it becomes the official practice of government it becomes more than just repugnant, it becomes dangerous.
As a multicultural, multiehtnic, and multiracial society we cannot afford to become divided. Yet, this is exactly what current affirmative action policy does. When society has preferred groups, those who are not in the preferred category will become justifiably bitter. Group enmity is bad enough, but it is made worse by our government preserving and reinforcing it.
By establishing racial and ethnic group categories for the purposes of disparate treatment, the government is making discrimination publicly acceptable. The combined result of racial enmity and the acceptance of official discrimination will inevitably turn to the favor of the majority and against the minority, with drastic consequences. Being in the minority, I find this a frightening and unacceptable prospect. My own Jewish grandfather narrowly avoided the logical end product of racial preference programs when he escaped from Nazi occupied France.
The arguments in favor of racial and ethnic preferences are twofold. First, racial preferences are intended to make up for the past discrimination, some of it also government sponsored, suffered by minorities. This argument of historical reparations is applicable almost exclusively to Blacks only. It also ignores the reality that not all Blacks are still suffering from the effects of America's shameful past. The other problem with this argument is that it does not apply to other minority groups and non-Black women.
The second argument in favor of racial preferences is more inclusive. It says that anti-discrimination laws have proven insufficient in fighting current discrimination, as is evidenced by the lack of proportional representation of minorities and women in all aspects of American society. By this argument, everyone is presumed guilty of discrimination, and government- mandated racial, ethnic, and gender preferences are required to ensure that employers do not discriminate.
This second argument makes it possible for immigrants to receive preference in hiring, government contracts and college admissions over American citizens by government mandate. The result of this policy is clear. A 1993 survey of 1200 Republican primary voters in California found that the use of racial preference programs by Latinos significantly raised concerns over immigration and increased support for Proposition 187 and other unwise anti-immigration legislation.
These programs only serve to provide an excuse to question the accomplishments of all minorities and women, whether they benefited from affirmative action or not. These preferences, which are intended to benefit minorities, are only serving to divide society by race and ethnicity to the detriment of minorities.
Proof of the harm done to society by racial preferences can be seen in a survey by Professors Paul Sniderman of Stanford and Thomas Piazza of Berkeley They found that whites were more likely to identify Blacks as being "lazy" and "irresponsible" if they were first asked a question about affirmative action. The authors concluded that many whites dislike the unfairness of racial preferences so much that they came to dislike blacks as a consequence.
It is time to stop classifying every woman and every minority as socially and economically disadvantaged simply because of race or gender. Someone may be more likely to face discrimination due to their race, but all minorities do not face the same problems. A minority of means, such as Bill Cosby, is less socially disadvantaged than a poor white person. What determines disadvantage is wealth not race.
The lunacy of racial preferences reaches its zenith when it comes to the question of racial classifications. In order to have a racial preference program, one needs to divide people into racial categories. In order to avoid fraud, a system of verifying a person's race and ethnicity is essential. with so many Americans of mixed racial and ethnic backgrounds, a complex system of racial categorization has already been implemented. The Office of Management and Budget policy directive No.15. outlines this procedure.
What is the next step? Are we going to assign individuals preference points according to the percentage of Black blood in their veins? It is time that we realized that all racial classifications are wrong. Just because some feel that society classifies people by race and treats them differently, there is no excuse to accept this situation or, much less, to cement it into public policy.
We can and should help those who are truly disadvantaged, but not by holding them to a lower standard. We must provide them with the tools necessary to compete on an equal basis and insure that they are not held to a different standard. We can improve our schools and make our neighborhoods safer. There are programs that help the economically disadvantaged without regard to race.
The National Council of Contractors Association (NCCA) in Austin, TX, runs a race-neutral program for small businesses that has put millions of dollars into the hands of minority-owned companies. One of the biggest barriers new companies face when they want to bid for public contracts is obtaining surety bonding. It is this difficulty in getting bonded that prevents most small, minority and non-minority contractors from bidding on, or receiving public contracts.
The NCCA program helps them clear this hurdle — without resorting to preferences or set-asides. It provides small businesses with training and supervision, subsidizes visits with accountants and lawyers, and offers other kinds of professional advice. Most important, it actually issues bonds to its participants — with the help of the Standard Group of Companies, a national surety bond underwriter. Even though the program is race, and gender-neutral, 85 percent of the participants are either minorities or women.
Since 1994, NCCA has assisted 83 small contractors in Austin, it has issued 171 bonds worth over $31 million, and has not suffered a single default. NCCA helped its participants receive $6.3 million in public works contracts, and small company participation in municipal contracts has shot up 600 percent. By contrast, the city government abandoned its racial set-aside program after issuing only one bond to a minority-owned small business in 1993.
In addition, the NCCA program actually saves tax dollars. By making small companies eligible to bid for public contracts, instead of guaranteeing them contracts on a set-aside basis, NCCA increases competitiveness instead of decreasing it. When a participant wins a contract — based entirely on offering the lowest bid — the difference in cost between that bid and the next lowest is a hard dollar savings. Since its inception less than two years ago, NCCA has saved the Austin community over $1 million.
This one program is proof that affirmative action can be used for positive efforts to increase minority participation without dividing people by race. There need not be a backlash against minorities. Recent polls show that it is not too late to stop the harm that has been done by racial preferences.
An NBC News\Wall Street Journal poll, from January, found that 61 percent of people want to eliminate race as a factor in employment, university admissions, and public contracting decisions. Yet, a CNN\USA Today poll conducted last September showed that 49 percent of Americans supported stronger affirmative action laws. Similarly, a Los Angeles Times poll this past January showed that 55 percent of the public is either satisfied with current affirmative action laws or wants them strengthened.
The reason for the opposing viewpoints in these polls becomes clear when we realize that the definition of affirmative action is unclear. The good news is that a CNN\USA Today poll found that 56 percent of whites would support race-neutral, need based affirmative action programs.
If we are to salvage our dream of a color blind society, we need more of these types of programs and an end to racial preferences. Yet, some would argue that as long as race continues to matter in America, we must have public policy that recognizes that fact and uses race-based solutions. These people claim that as long as society is not color-blind, government cannot afford to be color-blind either. They are wrong. We will never have a race-neutral society as long as government continues to categorize people by race for the purpose of disparate treatment.
We should not wait on the judiciary to eliminate racial preferences either. Despite some promising rulings from the Supreme Court limiting the use of preferences, the Court stopped short of eliminating them altogether. According to the Congressional Research Service there are over 160 federal racial preference programs. At the Administration's current rate of "mending" affirmative action, it will require a separate lawsuit to stop each and every one of these unjust programs. Congress and the Executive created the problem of preferences, and it is going to take action from both to eliminate them.