The Blog


11:00 PM, Oct 27, 1996 • By HEATHER MAC DONALD
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Barry Shapiro is hopping mad. "Are these, people fools, thugs, charlatans? he sputters. "These people" are the advocates of the California Civil Rights Initiative, the historic ballot proposition that would eliminate state- sponsored race and gender preferences in California, and they are threatening his job. Shapiro is a professional "diversity trainer," and he has made a very good career out of affirmative action. "Teaching people about discrimination turns out to be surprisingly lucrative," he admits.

Shapiro is not just complaining about the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), however, he is fighting back. And he is joined in his efforts by a massive mobilization of the cultural elite, which has fanned out across the state in a vicious campaign to preserve California's race and gender spoils system. The stakes are enormous. Not only do thousands of sinecures like Shapiro's depend on affirmative action, but the elite's very self-definition does as well. Race and gender preferences serve as daily proof of the moral inferiority of ordinary Americans, who allegedly need such correctives to counteract their indelible prejudices. But should CCRI pass, it will ignite a chain reaction that could bring down the entire national edifice of quotas and set-asides.

And so all the usual suspects have turned out to defeat CCRI -- professional advocacy groups, university professors and bureaucrats, reporters and editorial writers, and the Hollywood glitterati. They are accompanied this time by some leviathans of the California economy -- big corporations, law firms, and above all, the affirmative action industry: people like Shapiro who explain, police, and promote quotas. Like a tracer dye, the fight over CCRI has revealed the ties between all of these entities, united by a common commitment to group rights.

The command center of the "No on CCRI" campaign is the civil rights network. Groups such as the NAACP, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the National Organization for Women, and the Feminist Majority are blanketing the state with speakers and tens of thousands of videos and leaflets denouncing the initiative. But the propaganda efforts of these groups depend enormously on their connections to the establishment. The NAACP, for example, held an anti-CCRI symposium for select lawyers, businessmen, and Hollywood moguls at the prestigious Los Angeles law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; when a lawyer from the opposing camp showed up, he was told to leave. Business executives who serve on the board of the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under the Law, a left-wing advocacy group, provide the committee's president with entree to their CEOs. MALDEF's affirmative action coordinator is denouncing CCRI in Los Angeles classrooms, invited in by sympathetic administrators and social studies teachers. Greasing the entire effort are millions of dollars from such national foundations as Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie; businesses are contributing as well.

The lovefest between the advocates and the corporate establishment depends partly on corporate self-interest. Businesses pay off the anti-discrimination machine in the hope of inoculating themselves against litigation. But the relationship has another basis as well: There exists inside corporations a parallel network of activists who share the same goals as, and maintain close contact with, the civil rights groups. This is the internal affirmative action apparatus, a fearsome bureaucracy that just grows and grows. Pacific Bell, for example, employs diversity managers, equal employment opportunity investigators, and affirmative action officers. Their functions sound more appropriate for Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood than for a business enterprise: The diversity manager "does training on who we are -- fat, skinny, etc." explains Rita Reining, a manager of affirmative action compliance.

Given this internal cheering squad for affirmative action, it is little wonder that Pacific Bell is "educating" its employees about CCRI. A lobby display called "Affirmative Action: Do You Know the Facts?" greets visitors to the company's offices. "We want to make sure that our employees understand the implications of their vote," explains Anna Wong, head of equal employment opportunity. "Our position is: 'Please understand that [CCRI's] proponents purport to ensure no discrimination, but the issue goes deeper than that.'" So deep that the company has also distributed brochures on affirmative action to its employees, televised a forum on CCRI to all its offices, and organized diversity brown-bag lunches. In addition, employee groups organized by racial and sexual identity are registering voters who share their opposition to the initiative.