Did Palin really say she wouldn’t hire blacks?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 9/24/2008, 6:18 a.m.

But apart from the veracity of the charge and the denial, Palin’s statement that she’s absolutely colorblind when it comes to hiring and appointments does set off warning bells.

The “colorblind” argument strikes to the heart of the continuing debate over what and how far all public officials should go to ensure that their staffs and appointments truly represent the broadest diversity possible. Officials must conduct concerted outreach efforts to make that happen.

Palin’s colorblind posture, more often than not, has been nothing but a convenient excuse to not seek out, hire or promote African Americans and other minorities in her administration, no matter how qualified.

Diversity is a major issue in this election. It’s implicit in Democratic rival Barack Obama’s White House run. It’s explicit in Ward Connerly’s anti-affirmative action initiative, which will appear on the ballot in three states this November. Obama opposes it. McCain backs it, and so does Palin.

Palin’s commitment to diversity is no small point in Alaska. According to data from the 2000 Census, blacks make up officially about 4 percent of the state’s population. But those who self-identify at least in part as African American give the percentage a considerable bump. This is not an insignificant number, especially when American Indians, Aleuts, Eskimos and Asians are considered. Minorities then make up about one-quarter of Alaska’s population, making the state one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse.

Diversity, then, must be more than a word that an Alaska governor pays campaign lip service to and then ignores.

Palin’s campaign and gubernatorial spokespersons say the knock that she is hostile to blacks and minorities is unfair. That may well be true. But to those Alaskan black leaders who challenged Palin on her administration’s minority hiring practices, the knock is much deserved.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a syndicated columnist, author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is “How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back.”