Sullivan’s bill would remove laws that give minorities and women a fair chance

The Arkansas State legislature, with its extremist super-majority continues its war on freedom, liberty, and fairness. Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Jonesboro has introduced SB 71, which would effectively end Affirmative Action at the state and local level. It was rammed through committee this week, even though the public was not able to see the amended bill before the vote. 

This bill will end Affirmative Action in Arkansas. What is Affirmative Action?  Most folks have no idea. They simply think it’s a government giveaway to minority or female owned businesses.

The first Affirmative Action Executive Order came from President John F. Kennedy in the spring of 1961.  In Executive Order 10925, Kennedy declared that government contractors must “take affirmative action to ensure applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” This was superceded by President Lyndon Johnson’s executive order 11246, which prohibited employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, and national origin.  In 1967, Johnson added sex to that list. 

It was the acknowledgement of white Affirmative Action that led Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to give orders to protect minority and female owned business.

The philosophical assumption behind Affirmative Action was to identify classes of Americans who had been left behind because they did not have the same access to capital development, education, or political influence that the majority had.  It was accepted as a historical fact that because of slavery and Jim Crow laws, African American and Latino business had not grown like they would have in a free and open system where everyone had equal opportunity. As the African American Freedom movement and the Women’s rights movement pointed out these inequalities, this forced the government to do something positive for minority groups and females.  Since these groups had not had the opportunity to accumulate capital and develop their businesses and because they had been left out of educational opportunities, why not make rules that say the government will try its hardest to hold a percentage of contracts or college seats to help minorities or women have an equal chance to make it?  It was simply a recognition that white men had a few hundred years head start. 

Senator Sullivan’s bill would remove dozens of laws meant to give minority and women-owned businesses a fair chance to make it. 

via Walton College of Business

It would remove from Arkansas law many provisions that we’ve instituted to protect equity and inclusion. 

The Alcoholic Beverage Control could no longer consider ownership diversity when issuing alcohol permits.

Public schools would no longer be required to hire and retain teachers and administrators of minority races and ethnicities that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of their students.

The state Department of Education would no longer be instructed to work with the colleges and universities to attract more minority teachers to the profession.

Public colleges and universities would no longer be required to develop plans to recruit and retain minority students, faculty and staff.

It opens the Critical Needs Minority Teacher Scholarship Program to all individuals instead of only minorities. The program was designed to attract qualified minority teachers to the Delta and parts of state with critical shortages of teachers by awarding scholarships to minorities who pledged to teach in those areas.

It would do away with the program that required every state department, agency, board, commission, and institution of higher education and every constitutional officer to adopt and pursue a comprehensive equal employment hiring program designed to increase the percentage of minority employees to a level that approximates the percentage of minorities in the state’s population.

Sen. Clarke Tucker via Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The only opposition in committee came from Clarke Tucker of Little Rock.  Tucker argued that if this bill became law, “the state of Arkansas is saying that discrimination no longer exists, racism no longer exists, sexism no longer exists, and there is nothing more we need to do to make sure that people who have been historically discriminated against and historically disenfranchised… to put them on equal footing with everyone else.”  Tucker continued, “I think that statement would be absolutely wrong… morally and factually. I think we have a long ways to go to make sure that people who have been historically discriminated against have the same opportunity that people like I have.”

Senator Sullivan was so obtuse that he could only respond with, “You effectively accused me of racism.”  It’s so amazing that this Senator was unable to separate himself from his bill and see that Senator Tucker was speaking of the bill, not the author. 

Senator Sullivan went on to assert that this bill puts everyone on an equal footing and ends discrimination against whites. This is a popular argument in the new Republican Party. It denies the reality that the overwhelming majority of business contracts and college seats go to white men. All Affirmative Action laws do is try to give protected classes some help for all the lost opportunities in the past. 

What Republicans like Dan Sullivan forget is the period of American history when Affirmative Action was white.  We don’t call it Affirmative Action, because that does not fit the narrative that Affirmative Action is just a handout to minorities. In the 1930s and 1940s, the federal government took affirmative actions to make sure white poor folks got a hand up from the federal government.  The New Deal programs like the Federal Housing Administration made sure only white families received home loans to move to the new suburbs. Capital accumulation by African Americans was purposefully prohibited by the federal government to give Affirmative Action to white families. White families could use that equity in their homes to move to nicer houses or to start business. This was denied to African American families.  The Social Security Administration that started making payments to retirees in the 1940s, was not open to most African American workers, by law. That means most African American elderly did not have the money their white peers had. Government policy gave white families a helping hand. The lists go on and on. It was the acknowledgement of white Affirmative Action that led Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to give orders to protect minority and female owned business.  

We tend to not remember the past and because of this, Arkansas is on the verge of striping away the few protections that allow forgotten folks to get to a place where they can succeed. Affirmative Action is not a government handout, it’s simply an acknowledgement that we made some mistakes in the past and we want to change. Long ago we used to call this repentance, but I guess we don’t believe in that anymore.

Jim Ross has a Ph.D. from Auburn University and is a specialist in the interaction of race, class, and religion in 20th century United States history. He also spends much of his time investigating Arkansas history. He is a former high school teacher and serves as assistant coordinator of the secondary social studies education program.