Delegate Mark Keam - Virginia's 35th House District

Delegate Keam quoted in Richmond Times Dispatch

Published: July 24, 2010

Webb editorial calls for ending diversity programs


Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., is arguing for the elimination of government-directed diversity programs, saying they have expanded "so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white."

Programs created to right historic oppression of blacks have grown to include other ethnicities who did not suffer the same discrimination to the point of damaging "racial harmony" and marginalizing "many white workers," Webb wrote in an opinion article published yesterday in The Wall Street Journal.

The article reaffirmed views that Webb expressed in 2006 during his bid for the Democratic U.S. nomination. But it stands as a provocative declaration from the freshman senator expected to run for re-election in 2012, perhaps in a rematch against the man he beat in 2006, former Gov. and Sen. George Allen.

"The injustices endured by black Americans at the hands of their own government have no parallel in our history, not only during the period of slavery but also in the Jim Crow era that followed," Webb wrote.

"But the extrapolation of this logic to all 'people of color' -- especially since 1965, when new immigration laws dramatically altered the demographic makeup of the U.S. -- moved affirmative action away from remediation and toward discrimination, this time against whites."

The more the programs have grown, writes Webb, "the less they have actually helped African-Americans, the intended beneficiaries of affirmative action as it was originally conceived."

Political commentator Robert D. Holsworth, said Webb's article is "perfectly consistent with what he has said in the past."

"The real question is why would he do it now?" Holsworth said, noting that it might make some Democratic groups uncomfortable.

"Senator Webb marches to his own drummer," Holsworth added. "It will probably provoke a national discussion and that is probably what he intended."

Webb, author of "Born Fighting," a history of Scotch-Irish settlers in America, wrote in the opinion article that he has dedicated his career to economic fairness, "regardless of what people look like or where they may worship."

State Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, who backed Webb during his bid for the nomination, applauded what he called the "thought provoking" op-ed "that reaffirms his support of needed affirmative-action programs."

"Poverty and inequality know no boundary, whether it is geography, gender, race, age or disability," McEachin said. "We need to provide opportunities so all those individuals can become productive, constructive members of society."

But L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor, who endorsed Webb four years ago, criticized the column.

"If it's not for the civil-rights movement and diversity programs, he would not be a United States senator today," Wilder told The Associated Press, referring to minority support that helped Webb beat Allen by about 9,000 votes.

"Things are tough enough without having people you thought were friends do things like this."

Other politicians on both sides of the aisle steered clear of the issue. A spokesman for Allen said he could not be reached for comment. Virginia's other U.S. Senator, Democrat Mark R. Warner, was unavailable for comment and Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-3rd, the only black member of Virginia's congressional delegation, had no comment yesterday, a spokesman said.

Neither the Democratic National Committee, the Virginia Democratic Party nor the Republican National Committee had comment.

Del. Mark L. Keam, D-Fairfax, one of two Asian-Americans in the General Assembly, said he had mixed emotions about what Webb said. On the one hand, it is good to have a discussion about race, but on the other hand it is a "little draconian" to be talking about ending all diversity programs, he said. From a public-policy viewpoint, it might be beneficial to talk about which programs are working and which are not.

In Virginia, he noted, "all the discussion is about blacks and whites, not Asians and Latinos. We are almost invisible minorities."

As someone who grew up in South Vietnam, he knows the Webbs socially because Webb's wife, Hong Le is from Vietnam, he said.

"We've had this discussion before," he said.

Keam said he was curious about the timing of Webb's column, which comes when race relations have once again entered the national conversation.

Andres Tobar, a member of the executive committee of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, said he respects Webb but disagrees with his assessment.

"I do believe there is a need for affirmative action including African-Americans, but Latinos, as well as women," he said, adding that "We want to make sure there is fairness and I don't think we've reached it yet."

Tobar noted that a small percentage of state contracts go to minority businesses in Virginia. He said that "unless we have some kind of [effort] to encourage and, at times, to require that groups are given the opportunity to compete and participate, some of these groups will never be able to excel or win any of these bids." The same goes for employment, he said.

"The suggestion of playing fair is laudable, but when you have nobody from your community at the table to ensure that the game is played fair . . . you just don't get results that ultimately are fair."

Contact Olympia Meola at (804) 649-6812 or

Staff writer Jim Nolan contributed to this report.

Richmond Times-Dispatch © Copyright 2010 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General company.

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