Kansas City, Mo. Reginald Wilson boils the affirmative action debate down to a simple equation.
"Two hundred years of slavery. One hundred years of segregation. Thirty years of affirmative action. Is it enough? The answer is no," said Wilson, senior scholar for the American Council on Education.
Wilson and Theodore Shaw, associate general council for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, lectured Friday about affirmative action at an ACE conference in the Westin Crown Center.
Federal affirmative action policy has come under sharp attack by the courts and by state and federal government leaders. U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has helped lead the charge. Anti-affirmative action bills are in the hopper in 15 states.
"Although affirmative action is still on the books, it is my interpretation that affirmative action is constantly being narrowed," Wilson said.
Shaw said affirmative action stood as a "modest" remedy for injustice. Without it, he said, the country's social fabric would tear.
"Our task is to hold on, keep the pendulum from swinging too far to the right," he said.
He said the country had a rare opportunity to face up to the fact that race remains one of the greatest issues dividing Americans. The O.J. Simpson trial in Los Angeles and the Million Man March in Washington helped draw the race card to the top of the deck, he said.
"Ordinarily we are, as a nation, in great denial," said Shaw, adding that a coherent discussion of affirmative action was appropriate.
He said that debate should include political redistricting, school segregation, employment discrimination and more.
"Affirmative action is not one thing," he said. "It is many things."