Without benefit of Congressional debate, President Richard Nixon quietly exempted blacks–and later anyone else who could claim to be a “minority,” including foreign nationals– from America’s opportunity-based model.

Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate, the designated builder of the proposed new KCI, is getting a quick education in minority capitalism Kansas City-style. On Wednesday a group calling itself the “KCI Airport Urban Consortium” will spell out its concerns “relative to the lack of transparency in the selection process, low Minority Business Enterprise and minority workforce participation goals proposed by Edgemoor, and Clarkson’s historical low performance with MBE utilization on local projects.” The Kansas City-based Clarkson Construction Co. is part of Edgemoor’s design-build team for the estimated $1 billion project.

Edgemoor has already proposed 20 percent participation by minority business enterprises (MBE) and 15 percent participation by women-owned firms, but that apparently is not enough. Kelvin Perry, president of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City Inc., wants a 40 percent cut of the KCI action, plus a 40 percent minority workforce.

Although we take these kind of demands for granted now, they have fully subverted the promises of the civil rights movement. Curiously, the man who let the cat out of the bag—as President Clinton would often remind America—was none other than Richard Nixon. Clinton had no better way to defend the phenomenon.

In March 1970, Nixon issued Executive Order 11518, directing the Small Business Administration to “particularly consider the needs and interests of minority-owned small business concerns.” The result of this and similar orders was astonishing. Authorities would begin to use the words “disadvantaged” and “black” interchangeably. They gave themselves authority to ignore the newly minted civil rights acts. Indeed, they would “set aside” contracts for preferred minorities solely on the basis of race and, more discreetly, “connections.”

Without benefit of a public airing or even Congressional debate, America had quietly exempted blacks–and later anyone else who could claim to be a “minority,” including foreign nationals– from its historic opportunity-based model and schemed instead to arrange appropriate outcomes. This “proportional” model of justice was so far removed from the notion of individual rights that at the time it disturbed even the liberal U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

There was nothing organic about the minority capitalism movement. Instead of building a skilled minority workforce and letting it develop, politicos rewarded well connected middlemen who, in many cases, simply fronted for established businesses. Today, despite heroic efforts, construction companies struggle to find young black men in particular to enter the profession.

Worse, the whole phenomenon had no real justification, not even the redressing of historic wrongs. In a dispassionate text on the minority rights revolution published by Harvard Press, John Skrentny argued pointedly that minority capitalist programs “were developed for blacks as a way to mitigate the urban riots of the 1960s and to win their votes.” There never was any evidence “government was responding to complaints of discrimination.”

As social philosopher Eric Hoffer once observed, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

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