The Corner

Racial Politics in Chicago, of All Places

Chicago mayoral candidate James Meeks is unhappy with the fact that non-African-Americans are participating in the city’s affirmative action programs, such as municipal contracting set-asides. “I think that the word ‘minority,’ from our standpoint, should mean African-American,” Meeks said. “I don’t think women, Asians and Hispanics should be able to use that title. That’s why our numbers cannot improve, because we use women, Asians and Hispanics, who are not people of color, who are not people who have been discriminated against. We fought for these laws based on discrimination. Now, groups that have not been discriminated against are the chief beneficiaries.” Later on, Meeks attempted to clarify that statement, and said that he would remove from City Hall set-asides only businesses owned by “white women.”

Now, it was of course silly to assert that there has never been discrimination against Asians and Hispanics, and against white women. But an argument about who has been discriminated against and who has suffered most is, in 2010, pointless.  The way to remedy the problem of any remaining discrimination is not by discriminating against white men or anyone else. As Chief Justice Roberts has written, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

This is particularly true in the contracting area, where greater transparency is really the key.  It’s good to make sure contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one gets discriminated against because of skin color or national origin. But that means no preferences because of skin color or what country your ancestors came from either — whether it’s labeled a “set-aside,” a “quota,” or a “goal,” since they all end up amounting to the same thing. Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it breeds corruption and otherwise costs the taxpayers money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder, as Heather Mac Donald has recently discussed; and it’s almost always illegal — indeed, unconstitutional — to boot (see this model brief prepared by the Pacific Legal Foundation and the Center for Equal Opportunity). Those who insist on engaging in such discrimination deserve to be sued, and they will lose.

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