By Sharon Gittleman
LANSING – Affirmative Action is dead in Michigan.
On Nov. 7, residents approved Proposition 2, by a count of 2,131,096 to 1,545,060.
Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the LGBT project for the American Civil Liberties Union said he was very disappointed with the vote.
“I think it was a misconception as to what the proposal would do,” he said. “I think people’s concept of affirmative action is faulty.”
Kaplan said many people think affirmative action programs are created to push less qualified individuals into jobs or university rosters, solely because of their race and gender.
“That’s not what affirmative action is,” he said. “Affirmative action is when all things being equal, a person’s race or gender can be considered as a factor.”
People who believe all Americans are treated equally when it comes to economic and educational opportunities are fooling themselves, said Kaplan.
“Racism and sexism exists in Michigan,” he said. “For many years, affirmative action has been a way to address this issue. I think we sent a wrong message in terms of valuing diversity and wanting to make sure people have equal opportunity.”
Opponents to Proposal 2, faced a daunting struggle, he said. Voters’ misinterpretations about the measure’s effect was just one big obstacle. Supporters needed time to convince undecided individuals – a luxury the campaign didn’t have, he said.
The ACLU hasn’t decided what its next steps should be, Kaplan said.
“I hope this doesn’t stop the dialogue we need to have in Michigan and in the LGBT community about racism and sexism,” he said. “We all want the battle to be over but we have to face the reality.”
Michigan is home to a culture of inequity that people couldn’t seem to recognize, said David Waymire, a spokesperson for One United Michigan, a group that battled against Proposition 2.
“That’s a pretty serious problem,” he said. “We knew going into this that people of color and Caucasian people viewed discrimination differently.”
Many white people don’t believe large-scale inequalities exist, he said.
“People voted their own interest,” he said.
A lack of money was another difficulty Proposition 2, opponents faced, he said.
“It would have been nice if we had resources for a full three weeks of television,” said Waymire.
The scale of the issue was another barrier.
“At the end of the day, it’s difficult to use a political campaign to change a culture,” he said.
When questioned by his group, many people claimed they lost jobs because of affirmative action, he said.
“We endeavored to get people to realize the progress people have made in the state because of affirmative action,” said Waymire.
Before affirmative action, just seven percent of law students at the University of Michigan were women, he said. Today, half of the people signing up for classes are female.
While progress has been made, there’s still a need for affirmative action, he said.
“If we went for a year in Livonia with no murders it wouldn’t mean we wouldn’t need the law against murder,” he said. “There’s work to be done and this proposal says we should stop this work and accept the discrimination in place and not take any further steps to overcome it.”
According to published reports, when other states eliminated their affirmative action programs, African-American enrollment at public universities dropped and there was a decline in the number of government contracts awarded to women and minorities.
Opponents of the proposal will be meeting together in the days ahead to decide what action, if any, to take, Waymire said.
“One United Michigan is made up of over 200 organizations. These are the true leaders of Michigan,” he said. “They have the ability to start making the cultural changes that are needed to be made.”