NOW THAT THE REAGAN administration has won a stunning victory on its tax-cut package, it is not unreasonable to expect that affirmative action -- overregulation in the eyes of the New and Old Rightists in Congress and the White House -- could be next to go.
It's no secret that the administration wants equal opportunity laws changed to make it harder to find businesses guilty of discrimination, and businesses could be excluded from adopting affirmative action plans against their wills. EEO budgets have been slashed. Overcoming past injustice directed at blacks and women has come to be considered almost un-American. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (D-Utah) called it "an assault upon America." The Attorney General wants a "color-blind society."
I think they're wrong. These laws are needed because without them, as the first 200 years of the Republic revealed, people will hire and promote people who are most like themselves. Without such laws, society stands the best chance of being unequal from now until the end of time. Of course the administration of such laws do need streamlining. The paperwork is strangling the cause. But the way to decrease paperwork is not a decrease in regulation that will simply end up increasing segregation, turning back the clock.
So the imminent demise of affirmative action points more clearly to an unused lever that minorities have that can provide an alternative simply to praying over the corpse. I think that calls for some kind of response, perhaps even a counter-offensive based on a new/old idea that borrows a page from the Moral Majority.
The lever I'm referring to is the much-touted consumer buying power of black folks, a notoriously underutilized wedge to increase economic and political power. The best-known success of this weapon was during the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956, and its victorious use lay partly with the leadership of Martin Luther King and partly with the localized nature of the effort.
There have been several efforts to launch successful black selective buying campaigns in the years since. Some have had limited success, but most have ended in failure -- unraveled by the difficulties of trying to organize on a national level or to the sheer diversity or lack of discipline of the black population.
Sometimes the effort was co-opted, as in a campaign against an oil company in which the company quickly bought full page ads in black magazines touting their alleged contributions to the black community.
Now Jesse Jackson thinks the time is ripe to once again try to use consumer buying power to open up private sector jobs and franchises. He's introduced a "Coca-Cola Selective Patronage Campaign." Jackson contends that black people drank $480 million worth of Coke in 1980, but Coca-Cola has not one black among its 18 board members, not one black among its 550 bottler franchisers, not one black wholesaler among 4,000 and spends only $500,000 of its $169 million domestic advertising budget with black populations.
The statistics are compelling, but the big question is why this so often ineffective tactic would work now?
Maybe these are the times that will so try folks' pocketbooks that they will think twice before scoffing at what looks like one of the few levers they seem to have at this point. Maybe this is the tactic that could move people up inside the doors opened during the struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.
Blacks are a highly diverse group and won't be jerked as easily as the Moral Majority's constituency. But maybe, just maybe, in these times when the public dollars are going, blacks will face the real test. Will they have the discipline to pass up, say, a rum and Coke to gain a foothold in the society?
If they don't show they have the muscle to punish enemies and reward friends, they'll be forever taken for granted, spouting unassailable moral positions that nonetheless fall upon ears that are deaf to everything except the tune of the cash register.