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exposition on affirmative action

‘Member how I said I’d talk more about it later?  Later = now.

I received a comment on that post – which I’ll respond to here – once I’ve expanded my discussion on the subject a bit further.  So here goes.

Affirmative action is an imperfect program designed to compensate for injustice that has been otherwise propagated in the American system.  So-called preferential treatment is given to women and minorities because they are under-represented [not represented in a similar relation to their presence in the population] in public institutions.  I say imperfect because there are kinks.  Sometimes the program is mishandled [often, IMO, to increase dissatisfaction with the program itself] such that an incompetent minority or woman is given a position above their skill/preparation level.  These kinds of mistakes fan the flames of ire from members of the majority, and often invoke comments about “reverse discrimination”.  These mistakes also help further racist/sexist ideas that women and members of minority groups lack the abilities to attain these positions on their own [on a so-called “fair” playing field], and that is why there would be so few of them, were it not for affirmative action.

The intention of affirmative action [hereafter called AA] is to level the racist and sexist field of American educational, employment, and government systems.  Systems that have existed since the beginning of this country [before, even].  The idea is that those who have benefited from being members of the privileged majority have been able to build wealth and take advantage of opportunities and freedom in ways that were restricted for non-majority citizens.  Women and minorities start from behind – from disadvantage – in this race to the American Dream.  [And it is a race: that’s what capitalism is all about ~ competition.]

In fact, the ideals of capitalism, and the spirit of competition that are sewn into the fabric of our culture are exactly what allowed things to get lop-sided the way they did – necessitating AA in the beginning.  They are also the very reason why AA has so many opponents.  Those that have been privileged to receive goods & services, employment, training, and enfranchisement instead of or at the expense of others will certainly view any program giving said ‘others’ the opportunity to get the same goods/services/employment etc. as “unfair”.  Unfair because it requires them to give up some ground – where before, they had to give up nothing.

But, of course, saying something is unfair does not make it so.  Examining the story from a bigger picture/longer view gives better resolution.  Inequities built in to the original system can only be remedied with systemic solutions.  AA is that solution, until a more perfect one is discovered and agreed upon.

And now – a comment from treewrestler:

I can fully relate to the findings of this poll (no surprise at all), if you have benefited by this practice, then I know why you support it (self benefit), but don’t try to convince the people that this practice discriminates against, that it is somehow good for them. I as a white guy actually know the effects first hand of this government sanctioned discrimination, (when you loose your job because all minorities are exempt from layoff, or are by passed for a job because of nothing more than the color of your skin or your sex) then maybe you could understand. The sad fact is some people just wont try no matter how many give away programs there are, and some will. Race, sex, and age should not be on any applications; employment, loan, well fare, etc. (equal rights means equal). There are a lot of poor blacks in America, but there are a whole lot more poor whites in America, social programs should support people in need “all people”in need.

Being a white guy, I’m not surprised that you agree with the poll.  In fact, when I thought about it later, I figured that I shouldn’t be surprised at the results at all.  Roughly 70% of America is white.  Why wouldn’t 70% of those polled [in a completely unscientific poll] presume that the presence of viable minority candidates means racism and sexism in America have been vanquished?  Generally, AA is criticized more for its racial ‘preference’ than the gender ‘preference’, so it makes sense that members of the majority race would assume Obama means we’re passed all the ugliness and can be a perfect meritocracy now.

I’m not actually trying to convince anyone that AA is good for them, but I believe it is.  If you’re a minority or a woman, it helps you attain an equal footing.  If you’re a white male, it gives you a reality check – reminding you that no one – not even you – is self made.

****To digress for a moment, the notion of the “self-made man” is very prevalent, and I think it’s the source of much of the ire that came out of the whole ‘privilege meme’ episode.  Folks all over the ‘net were doing the meme, confronted with their own privilege, and summarily dismissing it as something else.  Admitting to privilege is admitting that you had help.  That your success is due to more than just you.  And this makes people indoctrinated with American ideals of individualism, ‘healthy competition’, and the quintessential American Dream uncomfortable.****

Right now, I can’t think of a time that I benefited from affirmative action.  Possibly college…I don’t really know.  But I don’t believe there’s been another case since then [if indeed that was a case.]   The reason I support AA is that I believe in the concept.  I believe it’s necessary, because I see the inequities that are propagated even with it in place.

I’ve never worked anywhere (or heard of anywhere) that minorities [and I would presume, women] were exempt from layoffs.  I haven’t had that many jobs (2), but they’ve both been at EEOC employers, so, I wonder about that assertion.  I was actually laid off from the first [due to lack of work and low seniority] and narrowly missed the layoff at the second/current job for the exact same reasons.  There were actually rumors at my current job of supervisors that were trying to save male employees over females, because the males might have been taking care of a family.   [with no regard to actual job performance, seniority, etc.]

I actually have been bypassed because of my sex.  And was told in such a way that I would understand that to be the case but have no proof or subsequent recourse.  I believe I’ve also been bypassed because of my color, but this also could not be proved.  That’s the whole reason AA exists – and yet this still happened (at an EEOC employer).  Insidious, institutionalized racism and sexism, that is undercover enough that it must be documented for years to prove a trend – remains greatly untouched by affirmative action, unfortunately.

The argument that AA is some kind of government “give-away” is laughable, and frankly, I don’t believe it deserves any more of a response.  If you think poor white people aren’t receiving government benefits because they’re white, think again.

Affirmative action endeavors to level the playing field for people who most likely will not achieve parity in their lifetimes because of the [centuries of] systematic oppression that has disenfranchised and removed agency from them and their progenitors.  (Not to mention the continued efforts to maintain a status quo that excludes non-majority members). Interestingly, despite the advent of AA, there is still great disparity for minorities and women in various fields, schools, companies, etc.  Go figure.

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2 thoughts on “exposition on affirmative action

  1. Thanks for your digression and analysis of the ‘privilege meme’. Yeah, there are many ways to deny the warm hands of friendship and help that many received. Just because you are on third base doesn’t mean you hit a triple, maybe you were born there.

  2. Pingback: alive, awake, aware « Molecular Shyness

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