It happened so fast during the 1990s. California, once the leader in diversity and fairness, became the "pit bull" for bigotry and right-wing extremism.
Yes, under the guidance of former Governor Pete Wilson, this state became the new Mississippi. Or should I say the "old Mississippi." Mississippi today is doing well in diversity and inclusive business practices. But like the old state, California has become a White-men-only club when it comes to procurement and minority participation. With Proposition 209 as the excuse, the doors of procurement and admission slammed shut for Blacks and Hispanics. The biggest tragedy is that no one stood up to fight it. Blacks in this state had no infrastructure for organizing and the political will was most weak. The traditional organizations issued comments and held a few small meetings but for the most part, resistance to the assault was paltry.
As a native Californian, I toured the state and held meetings with the local Black chambers. It became very clear to me that they were all looking for Jesus or someone to come to the rescue. They did not have the will to fight. Such is the case today. African American businesses are getting absolutely nothing in terms of contractual dollars in California. Not only are they blocked from state dollars — via Proposition 209 — but even the federal dollars because no one is ready to fight. It will take outside agitation if California is to return to its former glory.
California has a minority population that exceeds 50 percent. It is minority majority but less than 5 percent of any government procurement from federal to city goes to minority businesses. In most cases, such as San Diego, not one Black business gets a government contract. California is in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. No government entity in this nation can authorize or allow discrimination. Why are we letting the largest populated state in the nation get away with this?
New York City can be a best practices model for California. After performing a comprehensive Disparity Study New York is now implementing the recommendations to return diversity contracting to where it was before the Giuliani years. New York City is returning to its former progressive policies. It's time for Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, etc. to do likewise. Having their mayors apologize for racist results in contracting doesn't solve the problem.
Likewise, the State of New York has just contracted with a consultant to perform a statewide Disparity Study. Within the next two years we will see billions of new dollars coming into the minority business communities of this state. If New York can do it so can California, but only if we demand it.
This February, the board of directors of the National Black Chamber of Commerce will hold a summit in San Francisco to organize and plot a strategy to change Jim Crow California back into a progressive state. It is so sad to see the land that gave birth to the peace movement and the Black Panther Party become such a "chump." As God is my witness, we are going to change this around if we have to do it all by ourselves. Look out California. The new freedom riders are about to descend on your racist land and fight the power until change has come.
Harry Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.