Former United Nations Ambassador and Congressman Andrew Young tells Newsmax that affirmative action is needed because it assures the diversity that is required to make democracy work.
He also says affirmative action is "a settled issue," but "it's not charity, it's good business."
And he lauds ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela for making "reconciliation a national policy."
Young served as United States ambassador to the U.N. during the Carter administration. He also served as mayor of Atlanta, a congressman from Georgia, and a supporter of Martin Luther King Jr. during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
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The Supreme Court on Monday avoided a major ruling in a closely watched case involving affirmative action by sending the case back to a lower court.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV on Monday, Young was asked if he is disappointed that the justices did not weight in more definitively on the issue.
"No, the important thing was that it was a seven-vote majority that by and large affirms what's going on now," Young says.
"The courts just need to be very careful in assuring that diversity, the goal, is reached because diversity is about making democracy work.
"Some kind of affirmative action is important in a democracy and for economic competitiveness and national security. The Army was the first to realize that you had to have desegregation of a military to have it working properly."
African-American scholar Thomas Sowell has said minority students can fail if they are admitted into a school they are not readily equipped for due to affirmative action. Young disagrees.
"We wouldn't even know who Sowell was if we hadn't created an affirmative action policy," he says.
"There were lots of smart black people at Harvard before Barack Obama but none of them ever got to head up the law review. There has been a history of discrimination.
"Atlanta is probably the most successful city in America right now and basically it's because we have practiced affirmative action at almost every level.
"Affirmative action is an effort to include every aspect of society in the decision making. Now in Atlanta, before we started talking about affirmative action for blacks, not a single white woman had a contract with the city, and so for us it's not just about race discrimination, it's about gender discrimination, it's about including all Americans in decision making and in opportunities."
Affirmative action "should be and has to be" part of this country, Young asserts.
"It is a settled issue because business cannot do business if it's not inclusive of all Americans.
"I use this illustration: I was on the board with a gentleman from Family Dollar Store and there were no Family Dollar Stores in black neighborhoods, and he wanted to help black people and he wanted to know what foundation or what college he should give some money to. I said pick some good, strong, moral leadership in your company that happens to be people of color and allow them to own and operate franchises in their neighborhoods and let them create the jobs and expand the economic power.
"And I said it's not charity, it's good business.
"That was about 10 years ago. The Family Dollar Stores are all over town now. And that's what affirmative action does — it opens the door to opportunity.
"I'm very personal about this because by any standard you address, I have been successful. But when I took the SAT, I didn’t get accepted into a single white school that I applied to. Now I've got honorary degrees from a lot of those schools that rejected me. Things are different now but not that much different."
Former South African leader Nelson Mandela was reportedly in critical condition on Monday.
Asked what stands out most out Mandela's accomplishments, Young responds: "He basically made forgiveness and reconciliation a national and continental policy. He came out of jail after 27 years with no bitterness, no enmity, and sought to reconcile black, white, Indians, even those who had put him in jail. And he insisted that his jailers be seated with his family at his inauguration as president.
"He symbolized the spirit of a people. But there was a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation that I saw throughout the country and it was one of the reasons that I was always very optimistic about South Africa, that in spite of the years of apartheid and real brutal racism, there was a willingness to start anew.
"The values that have pervaded South Africa, first of all, they're rooted in a lot of the ancient tribal communal values. They developed elaborate capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation at the tribal level. So the big question was, was South Africa going to see that free enterprise was the most effective way to get people out of poverty? And it seems as though that's the way it's working, that they have a very strong economy, they've been growing at close to eight percent, and that growth will continue.
"It may be that the importance that Nelson Mandela attached to free enterprise and affirmative action in free enterprise, that we had to make a special effort to include people who have been poor and locked out of free enterprise, we had to get them an opportunity in the economy, that's beginning to happen and all of Southern Africa is beginning to grow."
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