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Current Battle: Election 2004

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Saturday, August 14, 2004

Battle Affirmative Action - Closing Arguments - Iron Blogger Green

I want to begin my closing arguments by thanking Bryan for his time and effort, the Chairman for providing the forum, and the readers for lending their thoughts and/or attention to this issue.

This morning, while half of my mind was obsessing over what to write for my closing argument, my 7-year-old son provided me with a perfect opener. "Mom," he said to me "I have come up with an alternate plan."

"An alternate plan?" I queried.

"Yes. In case, you know, I can't be a Major League baseball player when I grow up."

"Oh?" I said, "What is this alternate plan, Monk?"

"Well, there are a few of them. Plan B, I could be a professional golfer."

"A golfer? When have you ever played golf?"

"You know...putt putt golf. I'm pretty good at it. Anyway, Plan C would be to work where dad works. Plan D would be fixing computers like J (my significant other)...or maybe testing games and graphics. Plan E would be working at a High School. Like you do, mom."

I was hurt that my career choice was at the bottom of the list, but I was heartened by the fact that he had such a diverse array of options to choose from, and that the people in his family and community provide the examples he needs to feel as though each of those career options are viable opportunities for him. I was also thankful to him for providing such a clear illustration of how representation is as crucial to development and goal setting as opportunity is to achieving those goals:

It is educationally sound for the minority student attending a racially impacted school to have available to him the positive image provided by minority classified and certificated employees. It is likewise educationally sound for the child from the majority group to have positive experiences with minority people which can be provided, in part, by having minority classified and certificated employees at schools where the enrollment is largely made up of majority group students. It is also educationally important for students to observe that women as well as men can assume responsible and diverse roles in society.

In my opening argument, I quoted President Lyndon B. Johnson, but I left out a Nixon quote from this article:

Before launching his second presidential bid, Nixon, in language worthy of LBJ, told reporters that "people in the ghetto have to have more than an equal chance. They should be given a dividend." "On this score," he added, "I would be considered almost a radical." The Republican candidate reiterated a similar position a year later, promising to give "everybody an equal chance at the line and then giving those who haven't had their chance, who've had it denied for a hundred years, that little extra start that they need so that it is in truth an equal chance."

Which sounds as if it was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic." -- 1964, Why We Can't Wait.

"A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro..." quoted by Stephen B.Oates, Let The Trumpet Sound.

My opponent has criticized me for lacking optimism. He feels that we have come far enough in the 30 some-odd years since the inception of Affirmative Action to begin dismantling it. I have attempted to prove that we have not. Statistical evidence from all sectors of society point to the fact that racial injustice is a persistent reality. I've read so many articles about racism this week, that I can barely stand to quote from any more of them. In fact, I really just want to close my eyes and take myself to that happy place where race doesn't matter.

I apologize to my opponent for what he perceived was an ad hominem attack, but I really was hoping that I could prod him into giving me a different way of interpreting the astounding amount of evidence that defines the systemic racism that exists in our country today. Admittedly, linking to information about the Bell Curve was like using a high-voltage taser rather than a gentle nudge with a wooden baton. I was trying to give him an out. All he had to do was explain the cognitive dissonance that exists in his argument that current anti-discrimination laws are enough to eliminate discrimination, when from where I'm standing they most clearly do not:

From July 2001 to May 2002, Bertrand and Mullainathan sent fictitious resumes in response to 1,300 help-wanted ads listed in the Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune. They used the callback rate for interviews to measure the success of each resume. Approximately 5,000 resumes were sent for positions in sales, administrative support, clerical services, and customer service. Jobs ranged from a cashier at a store to the manager of sales at a large firm.

The catch was that the authors manipulated the perception of race via the name of each applicant, with comparable credentials for each racial group. Each resume was randomly assigned either a very white-sounding name (Emily Walsh, Brendan Baker) or a very African-American-sounding name (Lakisha Washington, Jamal Jones).

The authors find that applicants with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get called for an initial interview than applicants with African-American-sounding names. Applicants with white names need to send about 10 resumes to get one callback, whereas applicants with African-American names need to send about 15 resumes to achieve the same result.
At least I seemed to get him to change his rhetoric from calling supporters of affirmative action "racists" to calling them members of the "race industry."

I have to admit that I don't necessarily believe that my opponent is a white supremicist just because he can't explain why the race gap exists. But I was sorta hoping to hear more of a solution for closing it rather than the weak insistence that race simply does not matter. My opponent wants to convince you that I'm engaging in a "strange loop" by advancing the concept of white privilege, but what kind of strange loop is he engaging in by verbally waving away a preponderance of statistical evidence that shows that people of color, as a group, live with the daily challenges of discrimination?

The odd thing about the arguments my opponent makes is that there is so much unconscious racism in many of his statements. From the misinterpretation and misapplication of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King (regardless of how my challenger feels about the statement he quoted, I have to say that it is his privilege to interpret Dr. King's words in whatever manner he sees fit. However, it is his responsibility to consider how Dr. King would have wanted those words to be applied, rather than co-opting them in an attempt to prove a point.) to the success stories of black athletes and entertainers as opposed to Scientists and Historians, to the insistance on "color-blindness," my opponent makes all of the fumbles that are common among people who have a limited amount of social/cultural literacy with regard to people of color. Whether my opponent knows this or not, these types of commissions are indicative of an ignorance of racial dialog, and demonstrate the importance of inclusive experiences.

The argument that simply removing the barriers of discrimination is enough to counteract our nation's history of systemic racism and the effects of this racism on communities of color simply does not make sense. The challenger wants us to believe that dismantling white privilege is not possible because the "race industry" is more invested in making him feel guilty for his privilege than in encouraging him to acknowledge and examine the racial preferences that have been awarded him since birth. He wants us to believe, in the face of a history of injustice, that if we close our eyes and wish really hard, discriminatory practices will disappear without the aid of policies of equalization such as affirmative action. Further, my challenger would have us believe that it's more important to cater to perception rather than reality:

Several studies of court cases also show that the number of racial discrimination cases filed by whites and sex discrimination cases filed by men ranges from 2% to 5% of all discrimination cases. The remaining cases involve charges of discrimination by people of color, women, the elderly, the handicapped, etc. (Burstein, 1991; "Reverse discrimination against whites is rare," 1995). Another study of complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission between 1987 and 1994 revealed that only 4% involved changes of reverse discrimination (Reskin, 1998).

In response to this, I say to my challenger, that's not optimism...that's willful ignorance.

My argument is that we are a nation in crisis. The race gap is so wide that we can't just diminish it by outlawing discrimination. Discrimination is already outlawed, and it's still rampant. What we can and must do is continue to apply affirmative action where it is currently being applied, as well as expand it to areas where it is desperately needed. If justice alone was the benefit of affirmative action, it would be enough. But equalized opportunity brings not only long-awaited justice where applied, it brings representation, and, eventually, equal distribution of power. Affirmative action is one way that we can slow the escalator of white privilege to allow people of all races an equal chance at the privileges that those in power are so unwilling to share:

Quote, "We have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and non-violent pressure. Lamentably, it is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture, but as Reinhold Neibuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals," end quote. That was the Reverend Martin Luther King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

I have shown the results of yanking affirmative action where it was once applied. And, while results in other areas are promising, I believe we have a long way to go:

[...]we have made great progress in the past generation, but there is much more to be done. Drastic inequalities still exist in hiring practices and salary. On average, college educated African-American women annually earn $19,054 less than college educated white men. Also, on average, a woman with a Master's degree makes $4,765 less than a man with an undergraduate degree. With the help of affirmative action, minorities and women now have greater access to the business world. We need to further this progress so that everyone has an equal shot at higher-level jobs and fair compensation. The Supreme Court agrees that the "skills needed in today's increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, culture, ideas, and viewpoints" (Supreme Court majority opinion, Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003).

Kind Iron Blog readers, this has been my first debate at Iron Blog, and I have learned much. I have worked hard to bring you an array of links and information that might help shed light upon some of the many facets of this discussion. It is my hope that I have in the process, at the very least, introduced some of you to ideas and concepts you had not yet considered about race, white privilege, justice, and the application of affirmative action.

It is also my hope that when my son is old enough to finally choose which career is right for him, he can be certain that he has earned his position through hard work and dedication, and not due to unearned privilege granted to him by virtue of the color of his skin.

Thanks, as always, for your time.

Drucilla B. Blood
Iron Blogger Green

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