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Watch out. Ward Connerly and his organization have returned to Missouri. After failing to gather enough signatures to add a constitutional ban on state and local government affirmative action programs on the November 2008 ballot, Connerly and his buddies are gearing up for another attempt for the 2010 election.
Banning affirmative action was a bad proposal then and it is a bad proposal now. Significant racial disparities remain in Missouri. Compared to whites, African-Americans have lower incomes, fewer assets, and less access to quality public services.
Why these disparities? The biggest reason is Missouriís history: a slave territory and a slave state from 1803 to 1865, then a state with segregated Jim Crow laws and regulations from 1865 into the 1950ís. Missourií s constitution mandated segregated public schools that were separate and decidedly unequal, local governments mandated segregated and unequal public accommodations, and Missouriís courts enforced restrictive covenants that perpetuated residentially segregated housing.
Missouriís state and local public policy was affirmative action for whites, tilting the political, economic, and social playing field so that African Americans were at a severe disadvantage. With this 150 year backdrop, to say that a few decades of episodic affirmative action for blacks is enough, that the time has come to have a color-blind approach, is patently unfair.
For racial justice and the good of the entire state, Missouri needs to be able to continue affirmative action programs. When asked to sign the Connerly petition, just say "no".
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Terry Jones is Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri - St. Louis.