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Ending Racial Discrimination Doesn’t Mean Banning Affirmative Action

Wenyuan Wu writes for Minding the Campus about the debate surrounding a proposed constitutional amendment in North Carolina.

The North Carolina General Assembly is considering a new bill (Senate Bill 729) which seeks to outlaw racial discrimination and racial preferences in public affairs. The bill’s language is identical to similar proposals in California, Washington, Michigan, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arizona, Colorado, and Idaho, which states:

The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public contracting, and public education.

More broadly speaking, this emphasis on non-discrimination and non-preferences reflects the letter and spirit of both the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. …

… However, shortly after SB-729 was drafted for the North Carolina Senate in mid-July, regional news channels began to brand the measure as an affirmative action ban. This linguistic obfuscation that crudely equates racial spoils with affirmative action is reminiscent of the predominant popular narratives surrounding successful legislative proposals in nine states that currently ban racial preferences. In Washington state, for instance, a referendum was introduced (and voted down) in 2019 to roll back the state’s prohibition on racial preferences. In a desperate attempt to skew public support for the repeal, the Washington secretary of state crafted the ballot title so misleadingly that Washington voters thought they were voting on an affirmative action measure.

Affirmative action has never been absent or categorically outlawed in any of the nine states. Race-neutral, need-based affirmative action measures are perfectly legal and have been employed systematically to level the playing field in many areas, so as to offer reasonable assistance to socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals, regardless of race. At the same time, outreach efforts that target women and minorities are allowed, as long as they are conducted in an inclusive and non-discriminatory manner.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...