If race becomes an increasingly potent factor in the next few weeks, the outcome could be decided by millions of conversations among white voters, many of whom believe their own race was unfairly threatened, if not severely injured, by affirmation action programs in the recent past.
This most common complaint against black Americans is blown away by an historical fact that few know and apparently no one has ever used to redefine the issue of affirmative action, and to revolutionize white understanding of race relations in general.
Affirmative action [AA] and its consequences provided a framework for most discussions of race, and of the economic woes of white Americans, for about three decades, starting with the school busing battles of the early 1970s.
Throughout this period, anyone who wanted to vent racist feelings in the MSM or in polite society, could do so freely by pretending they were just complaining about AA. (There were indeed plenty of legitimate complaints — just not quite as legitimate as they were made out to be, as we'll see.)
The debate over AA became positively malignant with the publication of the now-notorious The Bell Curve. The MSM, from the NY Times on down, greeted the book with shameless enthusiasm. Rave reviews and endless editorial discussions propelled it onto national bestseller lists and kept it there for ages. The book cited IQ records as incontrovertible proof that black poverty must be due to black stupidity rather than white racism, and declared that AA programs are doomed to failure for this reason. The Bell Curve was slowly but surely discredited, not by black protests but by experts in the field of intelligence testing who showed the authors' misinterpretation of the data, as well as the flaws in the data itself. (In fact the arguments against The Bell Curve had already reached a conclusion years before the book was even written, but the media had to be reminded, over and over, before this manifesto was finally abandoned by its MSM cheerleaders.)
But even though the strongest and most respectable argument against it crumbled to toxic dust years ago, and it's been rolled back or even virtually outlawed, AA is still a volatile issue.
But a brief, simple historical fact puts it all in perspective. It's not that slavery was bad, and segregation was bad, or that white people are evil. This isn't about opinions, and it isn't a rehash of familiar rhetoric. This is the fact:
Thousands and thousands of black employees who had won and kept their jobs through ability and hard work were summarily fired to make way for less qualified whites.
The employer who did this was the United States government — under a Democratic president. They had worked in the postal service, in the back offices of federal bureaucracies, and all kinds of other places, and they weren't all menial dead-end jobs by any means.
I first across this choice little tidbit while glancing at an old copy of The Strange Career of Jim Crow, by C. Vann Woodward. It first came out in 1955, long before the term "affirmative action" even existed.
This what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
Woodrow Wilson, a southern Democrat and the first southern-born president of the postwar period, appointed southerners to his cabinet. Some quickly began to press for segregated work places, although Washington, DC and federal offices had been integrated since after the Civil War. In 1913, for instance, the acting Secretary of the Treasury ... was heard to express his consternation at black and white women working together in one government office: "I feel sure that this must go against the grain of the white women. Is there any reason why the white women should not have only white women working across from them on the machines?"[Wikipedia footnote: King, Desmond. Separate and Unequal: Black Americans and the US Federal Government. 1995, page 3.]
President Woodrow Wilson, a Southern Democrat, introduced segregation in Federal offices, despite much protest.  Mr. Wilson appointed Southern politicians who were segregationists, because of his sincere belief that racial segregation was in the best interest of Black Americans and White Americans alike.[Wikipedia's footnote: Schulte Nordholt, J. W. and Rowen, Herbert H. Woodrow Wilson: A Life for World Peace. 1991, page 99-100.]
Not many people realize that advances made during the two or three generations after Abolition were systematically reversed, not just by the repeal of Reconstruction in the late 1870s, but by the resurgence of race-hatred (and the emergence of a new "scientific" racist ideology), between 1890 and 1930. Wilson may have been the most racist president in American history. And his purge of black federal employees wasn't reversed when "the party of Lincoln" took back the White House in the 1920s, when the reborn KKK was a mainstream organization in the North.
Think about the direct social consequences of Wilson's purge: These were the grandfathers and grandmothers of many black people growing up in the 1960s — their families had been humiliated and destabilized as well as suddenly impoverished. Even solid loving households often crack under such strains, resulting in all sorts of nervous breakdowns, alcoholism, and worse. And even if they don't crack at the first blow, they still have to survive, and their options — migrant farm work, petty crime, perhaps prostitution, as well as the most utterly demeaning menial roles in the straight economy as servants or dishwashers — would seem all the worse because they remembered a time when they could make a decent living with their dignity intact.
Private sector employers may well have followed the government's example; it may even have seemed the patriotic thing to do when white troops were demobilized and seeking jobs during the economic recession right after World War One. In they heyday of the Klan in the mid-1920s, few businesses would have hired or promoted black workers unless they wanted to be ostracized in their communities.
The affirmative action programs that got going in the 1970s involved some preferential hiring and promoting, and college admissions; did they ever require the firing of white employees or the expulsion of white students? For the individual white victims of this reverse discrimination, this was painful and distressing emotionally and economically. But when seen in the perspective of families — just going back two or three generations (not even considering the earlier long history of slavery!) — how many of the white people affected had a grandparents who had replaced of a purged black worker? How many of the black beneficiaries of AA were merely reclaiming a fraction of their lost birthright — because their "dysfunctional families" had been broken by Jim Crow purges?