RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Sen. Jim Webb called for ending government-run diversity programs in a newspaper column Friday, saying they have disadvantaged struggling whites and hurt the cause of racial harmony.
Webb wrote an op-ed column in Friday's Wall Street Journal that said a "plethora of government-enforced diversity policies have marginalized many white workers. The time has come to cease the false arguments and allow every American the benefit of a fair chance at the future."
Webb's press secretary, Jessica Smith, said Friday that the senator felt the column speaks for itself and that he would not comment further.
As an author, Webb expressed misgivings about how affirmative action programs have grown beyond their initial intent in two of his books, "Born Fighting" and "A Time to Fight."
Federal diversity programs now primarily benefit new immigrants over whites and even black Americans, their original beneficiaries, wrote Webb, D-Va.
"In an odd historical twist that all Americans see but few can understand, many programs allow recently arrived immigrants to move ahead of similarly situated whites whose families have been in the country for generations," he wrote.
"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," he wrote.
Immigrants from Asia, Latin America and Africa in recent decades knew no such discrimination from the government, he wrote, "and in fact have frequently been the beneficiaries of special government programs. The same cannot be said of many hardworking white Americans, including those whose roots in America go back more than 200 years."
The column raises the issue of ethnic and racial sensitivity that helped Webb win his Senate seat in 2006, after Republican Sen. George Allen called a Webb aide of Indian descent "macaca," a slur in some cultures.
Should Webb seek a second term in 2012, he could face a rematch with Allen, who wants his Senate seat back.
Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor who endorsed Webb four years ago, criticized the column and challenged Webb to produce the data he used to conclude that diversity initiatives should end.
"If it's not for the civil rights movement and diversity programs, he would not be a United States senator today," Wilder said, 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," Wilder said.
There was no immediate reply to telephone requests for comment from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee or the Democratic National Committee.