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Monday, August 09, 2004

Battle Affirmative Action - Iron Blogger Green - Opening Argument

The Chairman has introduced this battle by asking whether or not race should be institutionalized. I open my arguments by insisting that race is institutionalized, with or without affirmative action. Moreover, it doesn’t take much research to reveal that racism is the institutional norm in our society, thus predicating the need for solutions such as affirmative action.

To ensure clarity, I will use my opening statement to define terms and illustrate the inequality which currently exists, and which affirmative action is designed to help overcome. I will give a brief overview of the legal history of affirmative action. I will define privilege, and I will present statistical evidence of existing institutional bias which shows how very deeply that bias penetrates both in giving a boost up to those who benefit from privilege, as well as ripping the ladder from the hands of those who do not. Additionally, in future posts, I will cite resources to further educate and elucidate the benefits for all of us when we, as a society, actively promote and foster equality and diversity in our institutions of education and places of employment.

Since our esteemed Chairman has seemingly narrowed the focus of this debate to one of race, rather than one which includes affirmative action based on gender or other considerations, it is important that we understand how race is viewed in our society. I will take the liberty of assuming I can narrow the scope of my arguments to focus on the United States, and here I use the term "our society" inclusively, to refer to what some may consider a very diverse and often divided group of people who live within the United States. It is also important to make it clear that race is not merely a black/white issue. Obviously, there are several races within our borders with unique cultural histories and interactions that influence or inform how they view, are viewed by, and fit in with our society as a whole. The fact that there is such a diverse pool of people who are all affected by institutional biases makes the argumentation difficult, but not impossible, and very definitely richer, more rewarding, and more interesting. Which, when you think about it, holds true for learning, living, and working with people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and experiences.

Affirmative action, as a concept, was first established by President John F. Kennedy, in an executive order aimed at ending discrimination in employment by government contractors. The term affirmative action appeared as such:

"The Contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The Contractor will take affirmative action, to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."

However, like the will of God in the previous Iron Blog battle, the will of our leaders changed (or should I say evolved). Perhaps due to the fact that it is a naive assumption that one can simply pretend that race doesn’t exist after centuries of race-based oppression, turmoil, and revolution. In fact, prior to broadening the scope of President Kennedy’s executive order, President Lyndon B. Johnson made a considerably more pragmatic statement:

"You do not take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, "you're free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates or opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates .... We seek not...just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result."

This shift in paradigm, from the passive assumption of a color-blind meritocracy to the proactive promotion of equality came to fruition with the support of none other than Richard Nixon. Who was eulogized this way by Fortune magazine:

"Incredible but true, it was the Nixonites who gave us employment quotas."

In actuality, the incredible thing is that, in 1994, a magazine as professional as Fortune, which no doubt has a full staff of fact checkers, can characterize affirmative action as mere "employment quotas." From the same article:

Did the Philadelphia Plan establish quotas? Absolutely not, said officials in the Labor Department. Shultz and Fletcher distinguished between racial quotas that compelled employers to hire a set number of African Americans and goals that simply established numerical ranges for minority employment. Under a quota system, employers who failed to hire a specific number of minorities would face immediate sanctions, while a policy of numerical ranges only punished contractors who failed to demonstrate a good faith effort to meet their goals. Accordingly, Labor Department Solicitor Laurence H. Silberman and Attorney General John N. Mitchell found no conflict between the Philadelphia Plan and the Civil Rights Act. At any rate, such practical men as Shultz, Fletcher, and Silberman probably were more interested in opening skilled jobs to minorities than in splitting hairs distinguishing between quotas and goals.

What would cause a Republican president to commit what some would consider to have been political suicide, and would cause at least one republican opponent of the Philadelphia plan to utter the words:

"[T]his thing is about as popular as a crab in a whorehouse"

We might never know Nixon’s true motives, but it appeared he was a man who understood how privilege, and the lack thereof, affects opportunity. (Um, that's some irony there, for those of you who are struggling to keep up.)
Privilege, specifically white privilege is defined:

white privilege, a social relation

1. a. A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities.

b. A special advantage or benefit of white persons; with reference to divine dispensations, natural advantages, gifts of fortune, genetic endowments, social relations, etc.

2. A privileged position; the possession of an advantage white persons enjoy over non–white persons.

3. a. The special right or immunity attaching to white persons as a social relation; prerogative.

b. display of white privilege, a social expression of a white person or persons demanding to be treated as a member or members of the socially privileged class.

4. a. To invest white persons with a privilege or privileges; to grant to white persons a particular right or immunity; to benefit or favor specially white persons; to invest white persons with special honorable distinctions.

b. To avail oneself of a privilege owing to one as a white person.

5. To authorize or license of white person or persons what is forbidden or wrong for non–whites; to justify, excuse. 6. To give to white persons special freedom or immunity from some liability or burden to which non–white persons are subject; to exempt.

And, while some might argue that the world has changed, since the inception of affirmative action, to allow for more inclusion and opportunity, regardless of race, reality doesn’t bear that out. In fact, the amount of information that points to a continued bias against people of color from all income levels and in all areas of society is alarming, disturbing, and downright disgusting.

I ask you, kind Iron Blog readers, how these statistics can be interpreted without either espousing a philosophy of Social Darwinism or admitting that the playing field is so far from being level that there are some people who are standing freaking sideways...or upside down!

Gentle readers, as the tagline on my blog states, I believe most emphatically in the inherent goodness of all beings. Which of course means that I believe that people are inherently good. However, with all of the evidence pointing to the obvious systemic shortcomings in promoting opportunities for people of all races, it is clear that the solution does not lie within relying on the goodness of individual people. The solution lies within developing and nurturing a system which actively promotes and provides opportunity for people who are frequently running to stand still. Not people individually, because certainly people of color are not defined by failure and struggle alone. We, as a society composed of individual people, have the strength as a united group to combat the lasting effects of institutionalized bias against people of color. We can do this by strengthening our commitment to promote reasonable goals to counteract the effects of bias towards people of color. Yes. But that’s not the only way. Affirmative action assumes that those it affects have already made it through the system without giving up or being jailed (with or without having committed an actual crime). In a society in which race-based schisms begin in the womb, continue through a person's education and career, and ends in prison and/or death (typically at a younger age than a white person) - affirmative action is just one way to attempt to bring equality and opportunity to people of all races.

In my job as a coordinator and instructor at a community technology center, at which I am honored to serve a wide array of people from various ethnic groups and income levels, one of the keys to success lies in providing WIIFM to the people that I serve. WIIFM is short for "What’s in it for me?" If you are reading this post, and you are not a person of color and do not feel that you benefit from affirmative action, I ask you to consider the evidence I have presented here and will present in future posts. I ask you to sincerely look at how privilege influences your life. I ask you to consider what solutions you would offer for the discrepancies I present to you, and those that present themselves to the people at whom affirmative action is directed. And I re-state that affirmative action is but one of many necessary tools – a bulldozer, if you will – aimed at clearing the obstacles that stand in the path of true equality and viable opportunities.

Thank you for your time,

Drucilla B. Blood, Iron Blogger Green


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