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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Battle Affirmative Action - First Rebuttal - Iron Blogger Green

In his opening statement, my challenger made a surprising and startling confession. He's a white male. When I read that, I blinked at my computer screen in stunned disbelief. "My god!" I gasped, "What is the world coming to? Now white males are arguing against affirmative action? The next thing you know, they will be marching on Washington and complaining about oppression!"

But, seriously, I'm glad that my challenger has declared his identity. One never knows who one is arguing with on the internet, and assumptions can interfere with positive dialog. I promise I won't use his dirty little secret against him. And, worry not, dear challenger...some of my very best beloveds are white males.

As I stated in my opening argument, racial identity is essential to the conversation about race-based affirmative action. My opening argument laid out the many ways in which racial bias negatively impacts the lives of people of color in our society. I was pleased to see that my challenger read the links and found many of them "thought-provoking." It's unfortunate that he did not bother to share his thoughts with us in his rebuttal.

Instead, my challenger rebutted statistics and facts such as this:

The report from that study, Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care, found that a consistent body of research demonstrates significant variation in the rates of medical procedures by race, even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable. This research indicates that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services.

The report says a large body of research underscores the existence of disparities. For example, minorities are less likely to be given appropriate cardiac medications or to undergo bypass surgery, and are less likely to receive kidney dialysis or transplants. By contrast, they are more likely to receive certain less-desirable procedures, such as lower limb amputations for diabetes and other conditions.

with a list of 8 successful African-American professionals, of whom four were entertainers or sports figures. So, basically "yeah, yeah, black people are discriminated against in education, healthcare, career, and our legal system, but HEY, how about that Bill Cosby?!"

I'm afraid I expect better of my challenger. He told me to turn on my television...I implore him to turn his OFF. Please.

I feel like my opponent is flailing a little bit, and it's causing this entire debate to veer towards derailment. One thing is sure, though. His sources don't agree with him. First, there's the misquote of Douglass, then there's the terminally (as in, ad nauseum!) misrepresentation of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and then, there's this from my challenger's very own source:

Justice O'Connor: "race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time. The Court takes the Law School at its word that it would like nothing better than to find a race-neutral admissions formula and will terminate its use of racial preferences as soon as practicable. The Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today."

Emphasis added by me.

Buh? Guh? So, wait. My opponent is arguing against affirmative action, and fervently pointing to a justice who says that the court expects racial preferences will no longer be necessary TWENTY-FIVE YEARS from now?

Granted, there is room to argue that twenty-five years is not enough time, but what Justice O'Connor is, in effect, saying, is that racial preferences are tools that are necessary to ensure justice to those who actually make it to college.

(I have to ask, as an aside, what of those who do not? And once again, my opponent helps me with a very helpful source, which led me to another very helpful source with, unfortunately, very disturbing information about the relative placement of blacks and hispanics in reading, writing, math, and science (Thanks, Mr. Challenger, sir!))

The point of all of this being that my opponent cannot deny, yet refuses to acknowledge the glaring discrepancies between people of color and whites. And when one does not deny, yet refuses to acknowledge these facts, I have to wonder if perhaps one views these discrepancies as some sort of real gauge of the relative placement in society of people of color. I hate to believe that my opponent would assume this, but without any other explanation for these very clear statistics which reflect racial inequity, I'm not sure what else to believe. My opponent says that white privilege doesn't exist, but he doesn't offer any other argument on the subject other than "because I said so." Which is strangely indicative of how white privilege works:

Describing White privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in Women's Studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having White privilege must ask, "Having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?

In order to end White privilege, we must explore the destructive impact that White privilege has on White people. In much of the literature about racism, the emphasis is placed on how the system rewards Whites for their Whiteness. I am in no way arguing with the assumption that Whites benefit from their Whiteness, just as heterosexual’s benefit from their status, and men benefit from theirs. I am concerned, however, with exploring and recognizing certain costs. Not as much emphasis is placed on exposing what losses may be associated with having an artificial, socially constructed status imprinted on an individual.

But, I suppose I'm not being optimistic enough. So, rather than spend any more time puzzling over the motivations and mindset of my challenger, I will proceed. In my last post, I discussed the history of affirmative action. In this post, I will discuss the ways that affirmative action has been applied to truly reduce inequality between the races. I will continue to posit that affirmative action, among other things, is still needed to close the gap completely. However, we have definitely made some progress since the enactment of affirmative action laws. There are at least two areas of society in which affirmative action has had a measurable positive impact.

While, as a pacifist, I am skeptical about the application of affirmative action in the military, it is clear that affirmative action has been perhaps most successful in that environment, and possibly the public sector can learn from this success:

[...]certain elements in the military success may be applicable more broadly, including in the corporate sector:

- Top-down priority: There is no confusion in the ranks about the importance of the equal opportunity agenda. Private sector experts on affirmative action stress the importance of similar commitment flowing from the Board Room to the line supervisors.

- Thorough implementation: Relatedly, the goals are pursued with a range of tools, from management information systems, to equal opportunity training, to performance appraisals of managers based on their EO efforts.

- Emphasize merit and have patience, but measure results: The long-term support for the program has depended upon the firm belief that merit principles are indispensable. The payoff has required both patience and investments. Patience, however, can degenerate into flagging commitment unless progress is carefully measured, tracked and related to goals.

- Investments for a quality pool: The organization works to recruit, retain and upgrade the skills of women and minorities to ensure that they, like their white male colleagues, can compete effectively in the promotion pool.

One official credited the success of the army's affirmative action program to "necessity, control, and commitment." I ask you, kind Iron Blog readers, is it not necessary for us, as a society, to bridge the racial divide, and are we not dedicated to closing the wage gap for people of color? And if we are not sufficiently in control of unconscious manifestations of discrimination, should we not look to guidelines to help ensure that all people are receiving a fair chance?

College campuses, as well, where affirmative action is used to equalize opportunity for those who are more likely to have already been placed at a distinct disadvantage due to institutionalized racism in their primary and secondary education, have experienced remarkable increases in enrollment from people of color over the past 30 years under affirmative action policies:

Affirmative action creates more open, fair, and meaningful access to higher education for all qualified members of our society. Over the past 30 years, affirmative action has contributed to increases in the number of women and people of color enrolling and graduating from colleges and universities. Since the late 1980s, students of color have increased their total college enrollment by 57.2 percent, and the proportion of women earning bachelor's degrees is increasing steadily. The Supreme Court agrees that student body diversity is a compelling interest in affirmative action programs at colleges and universities, given that it "better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society, and better prepares them as professionals" (Supreme Court majority opinion, Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003).

However, all of the progress of the last 30 years dissipate abruptly when colleges dismantle race-based admissions policies:

She's the only black student in an English class of about 30. In microeconomics, she's one of two, out of about 200.

In an African politics class with 85 students, "there are no more than five of us," she said.

When she enrolled in 1999 as one of 147 black freshmen in a class of 3,872 students, she said, the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles looked different.

"I would see other students of color walking around," said McKesey, 22, a political science major.

That year's graduating class was the last one admitted before the University of California system of eight campuses banned the use of race, gender or ethnic factors in admissions and hiring.


The result: minority enrollment at UT Austin, which was the original defendant in the Hopwood case, has plummeted [overall figures for 1995, 1996 and 1997 are available]. It's law school was hardest hit: only four black students (less than 15 percent of last year's enrollment figures for black students) and 26 Hispanic students will join this year's class. And undergraduate enrollment felt a similar drop: UT Austin will matriculate only 150 black students out of a freshman class of 6,500 -- a 50 percent drop from last year.

So, while there has been success in utilizing race-based policies in higher education and the military...we still have a long way to go before we achieve true equality. Particularly when racial employment bias begins before the interview process:

The results are a bit disturbing, the researchers admit. Applicants with white-sounding names were 50 percent more likely to be contacted for job interviews than those with typical black names. There were no significant differences between the rates at which men and women were contacted.

This, unfortunately, is not something that affirmative action alone can address. Which is why I insist that, while affirmative action is a necessary component of restructuring the system to nurture equitable opportunity, attacking racism and dismantling the system of white privilege is at least as important. It is crucial that we all stop pretending that privilege does not exist and start doing the hard work in examining how institutionalized racism affects us all.

In closing, just as systemic racism has a negative impact on all of us, so are we all affected positively by making a commitment to honor and encourage the success of people from a diverse array of cultures, races, and backgrounds. In my next post, I will address how actively encouraging diversity is essential to a healthy society, and is in fact the only way we can bring an end to the necessity of affirmative action.

Thank you, again, for your time,

Drucilla B. Blood
Iron Blogger Green

(edited 8/11 4:31 PM to close bold tag.)

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