Sex & Society » Politics, History: "The Devil's Advocate: Has the Time Come to Bring an End to Affirmative Action?"

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The Devil's Advocate: Has the Time Come to Bring an End to Affirmative Action?

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Donald Trump thinks that Obama was too dumb to get into Harvard. Is that racist? Or does the accusation stem from well-intentioned policies of affirmative action that inadvertently undermine attempts to make society more equal?

  Positive Discrimination

Affirmative action is a widely administered policy, which identifies cases of organic inequality — such as how white and Asian students are disproportionately represented at college — and tries to redress them by giving preference to those from underrepresented groups.

To a large extent, it’s a wonderful system — capable of not just changing the lives of those who benefit directly from it, but also helping to slowly balance out history and circumstances that have made the world unfair to certain minorities.

But for all those benefits, many right-wingers feel that minorities who achieve any kind of political or academic success do so purely as a result of this “affirmative action.”
Observe the poorly informed Conservapedia’s article on Barack Obama — in which they claimed “he’s achieved nothing that couldn’t be explained as a result of affirmative action” and qualify Obama’s membership of the Harvard Law Review by observing they “use racial quotas” to select members.

Even worse, it’s not just the right wing that thinks this way. In a stunning article for CNN, African-American Etan Thomas recounted how, during his days at Syracuse University, he’d been accused of cheating on a calculus test because he’d aced the curve of his (typically white and Asian) classmates. It was an attitude he encountered a lot.

“One professor asked me, on the first day, what I was doing in his classroom,” he recalls. “Shouldn't I be in remedial English or Rocks for Jocks?”

Even in what right wingers call “liberal elite” academia, there’s the underlying suspicion that African-Americans only make it to college because of affirmative action or sports scholarships.

Thomas’ story highlights one of the serious, but unintended consequences of programs like affirmative action: That it completely undermines the achievements of any African-American or minority who gets to the top through intelligence, perseverance and hard work.

Etan Thomas writes of repeatedly experiencing an attitude of “what’s a black man doing here?” Affirmative action perhaps gives those racists an inadvertent explanation: They’re only here to fill a racial quota, not because they deserve to be.

Even Barack Obama notes that this attitude is a growing one — and in his book [italic|The Audacity of Hope’ admits “rightly or wrongly, white guilt has largely exhausted itself in America.” He, himself, is challenged to answer a white voter’s frustration at having his son denied a place at college in preference of an African-American student with lower grades.
So should the era of affirmative action end?

On one hand, giving one disadvantaged person an “unfair advantage” sets in motion a chain of events that positively benefits generations of future students, and helps make society more balanced.

But at what cost does that come?

  Blair’s Babes

Bringing this article back to where it started gives an opportunity to examine the consequences of affirmative action at their worst: In 1996, when Tony Blair became Britain’s Prime Minister, he tried to balance out the disproportionate number of male politicians by ordering that only female candidates should stand in certain elections. This brought a significant number of additional women into the House of Commons.

But instead of bringing gender balance, these women were mocked for being “given” their positions. Dismissed as “Blair’s babes,” they set the credibility of their female peers back two decades.

That’s in contrast to the most famous female British politician of all time, Margaret Thatcher. Known as “the Iron Lady,” she’d said “There will never be a female prime minister in my lifetime” just years before winning the position herself.

While “Blair’s babes” were “given” their positions by a man, Margaret Thatcher earned hers. That’s perhaps why, whether they loved or hated her, there was not a Brit alive who didn’t respect what she’d achieved.

  The Audacity of Equality

Perhaps because Barack Obama recognizes that respect — and perhaps because Donald Trump’s accusation of racial bias wasn’t the first — he’s come out in opposition to positive discrimination based on gender or race.

“You’re not anti-Civil Rights just because you question the efficacy of certain affirmative action programs," he wrote in The Audacity of Hope.

“For example, I think that my daughters should be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged. Likewise, we should take into account white kids who have been disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty.”

"An emphasis on universal, as opposed to race-specific programs, isn't just good policy. It's good politics."

And that’s true enough — because even though such policies were written with the best of intentions, any policy that treats one group differently to another perpetuates inequality, instead of combating it.


Honestly, I have to agree with you here.

Affirmative action scares the crap out of me... as just imagine you are somebody who has gotten a dream job. You have worked hard for so damned long on getting it. You are even qualified for it. However, you noticed that you are being checked marked as proof of affirmative action. Now, just wait for that fear to enter into your head. Maybe you were not that good, really. Maybe... maybe you were fooling yourself this whole time. Maybe the job you have been trying to get is just one huge lie. Maybe you do not actually deserve to work here.

Which may manifest itself in every way possible. In my case... I start working to make myself even better. I am only hear because people like tits sort of thing going through my head. Well, lets make my abilities better, to justify that bit that screams ethics. However, lets also wear more revealing clothing... so they do not notice that maybe my skills still need much more sharpening.

Then people start saying things. They always will--because it will never be 100% perfect every damned day. So they will mention some 5% tarnish. Maybe it is 20%... hell, maybe there is a 43% tarnish on the idea. You look, and "my gawd--they are right... it... it is not perfect... I must fix this... just to be up to par with everybody damned else here."

All affirmative action for me does, is move self esteem issues into both physical looks AND competence departments. It is not a good thing for places where people have ethics. Which from my understanding, apparently anything apart from white cisgendered heterosexual republicans can have... so I guess this argument is moot, really.


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