Affirmative action programs are necessary

For thousands of Idahoans, it’s been another one of those weeks.

Another week of feeling attacked by those who claim to represent the interests of everybody. A week of being silenced. A week of feeling amazed at the degree of cruelty the state Legislature seems capable of. A week of thinking our legislators relish the cruelty they’re writing into state policy. A week of thinking the cruelty is the whole point.

Is it? It’s certainly easy to think so. The 2020 legislative session has been exhausting for those who already feel tired. There’s a whole slate of issues that affect our lives, from issues of property tax — with several bills just sitting in a drawer — to getting the Legislature to adequately fund education and the Medicaid expansion we had to pass when they wouldn’t do their job.

Instead of tackling our challenges, some of our legislators seem bent on creating problems and then creating even worse “solutions.”

What’s the point? We’ve waited more than two months for an answer to that question. We’re still waiting as we try to guess at intentions.

My latest guess attempts to give our legislators the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps their motivation isn’t malice, but a clumsy combination of idealism and denial. This world some of our legislators want to exist just doesn’t — and it never has — yet they seem to think they can brute force it into being.

Do I want to live in a world where affirmative action is necessary? Where institutions need diversity and inclusion programs and policies in place to reduce the chance that someone falls through the cracks? No, I don’t. We should have evolved past our conscious and unconscious biases ages ago. We haven’t. Until we do, external guidance and support are necessary. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it might keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”

We still have communities that are marginalized and underrepresented. That’s our reality. Idaho’s business leaders understand this and several have come forward to support inclusion efforts. They know inclusion enriches the economy, the community and the discourse.

While programs aren’t perfect, and they can’t completely fix the problem, they do offer us a measure of guidance and encourage self-reflection. Denying our problems entirely won’t make them magically go away.

Our nation’s history has included a long march of greater participation and inclusion. It hasn’t always been comfortable, but it has resulted in wider access to freedoms. Are we all the way there yet? No. But we won’t get there at all with the policies some members of the Legislature are pushing.

It’s never a good sign when our leaders seek to hold us down rather than lift us up.