It’s been almost 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech about dreaming of the day when blacks would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Sadly, many black political leaders still haven’t gotten his memo.
The alleged purpose of the civil rights movement was to bring about an end to racial discrimination, but the Orwellian nightmare we’ve built around race in this country requires that we pretend some racial discrimination is good, while other racial discrimination is bad.
In the county where I live, the city government of Birmingham — which includes the core older parts of the metro area, but almost none of the suburbs — is building a $60 million baseball stadium for a minor league team. In a newspaper story that came out Sunday, the mayor’s chief of staff bragged about the fact that 61 percent of the money is being contracted to minority-owned firms, suggesting that the color of the owners’ skin was a bit more important than either the content of their character or the quality of their work:
[The chief of staff] said the mayor made it clear he wanted that percentage [of money going to minority firms] to be even higher [than the legally required 30 percent] for the baseball park. “The mayor wanted as many qualified minority firms as possible, as many local firms as possible and as many firms as possible with experience building a project like this,” he said. “I think we’ve achieved all of his criteria.”
I suppose it goes without saying that the mayor and his supporters are black. The inner city is 63 percent black. The vast majority of the City Council is black.
Can you imagine the outcry if the situation were reversed? My suburb is mostly white. Can you imagine if my city government were building a baseball stadium — heaven forbid — and the mayor said something along these lines: “We’re mostly white folks here, so we’re trying to make sure that 90 percent of the jobs on this project go to white folks. We were aiming not to use companies that hire too many black and Hispanic workers, and we’re proud to say we’re hitting our target.”
There would be riots in the streets and TV cameras would be doing dawn-to-dusk coverage about the racists in the city government — as there should be. I just want to know why they’re not protesting the same racial discrimination when it’s minority groups doing the discrimination.
This kind of legalized racial discrimination isn’t helping blacks or other minorities, largely because the companies that get contracts this way don’t have any incentive to be the best. They simply have to be able to remain in business while they rake in dollars that their competitors can’t compete for. I once had a client who was a black businessman who almost exclusively did work that he won through winning bids for jobs that required a minority contractor. He had a lousy reputation and financial problems. He did lousy work.
Companies that are good at what they do — and want to build long-term businesses — compete with the best by trying to be the best. If I were a black man who owned a business, I’d want to be known for being the best at whatever I did, not known for being able to get business because my skin was darker than the owner of a company that did a better job than I did.
Quotas and racial set-asides were never legally or morally justified. Even if you think they once served a purpose, it’s time to end them and get around to at least forcing governments to get the best deals possible from available bidders, rather than treating government projects as social engineering opportunities.