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Friday, August 13, 2004

Battle Affirmative Action - Second Rebuttal - Iron Blogger Green

The challenger began his disorganized second rebuttal by mentioning the intervention of "real life" and it's undesired consequences. Granted, as a single mother who is employed full-time and spends the rest of her time attempting to homeschool her unruly children, I am all-too familiar with real life, and I do feel for my challenger. Yet it's ironic that he would present this temporary intervention as an excuse, while arguing against the established system to counteract the disadvantages of a lifetime of artificially imposed "real-life" circumstances.

At any rate, I wish my challenger the best and hope that whatever real life situations have been intervening with his ability to spend the enormous amount of time it takes to write these rebuttals (he's definitely making them look easier than they are!) are not too serious in scope or outcome.

To begin, I need to get two things off my chest

First, my challenger ends his argument with a reference to a color-blind society, and I couldn't more heartily disagree with him. Generally, when one argues about the mythical color-blind society, one is actually arguing that we as a society can move past matters of racism by ignoring the fact that race matters:

What is conveniently ignored is that while certain members of certain races have indeed been allowed through the class barriers, within each class people of color consistently populate the lowest echelons. By refusing to flip the toggle switch and render the class lines visible, so to speak, American society is given the illusion of a continuum containing a random racial distribution. Flipping the toggle switch reveals a society whose reality contrasts jarringly with the illusion, a society of discrete groupings (classes), each characterized by the distribution of white on top, and black and brown underneath. The working class is characterized by white skilled laborers and mostly black/brown unskilled laborers, and the middle class is similarly composed, though considerably whiter overall. (I would comment on the make-up of the ruling class, but they won’t let me into their meetings!)

Perhaps this is why I have so much trouble understanding and swallowing pretty much any of his argumentation. There is a fundamental conceptual misunderstanding that we are having here, and it is based on the perception that equal opportunity will eliminate color rather than promote true diversity:

When originally formulated, the concept of a color-blind society was seen as the answer to discrimination and prejudice: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, advocated judging people not by the color of their skin, but by their internal character. Misguided and devious advocates have co-opted it, taken it out of context and failed to understand a basic assumption made by King; such an approach has meaning only if we operate on a level playing field where equal access and opportunity exists for all groups. This condition does not currently exist in oar society.

The practice of color-blindness is a dangerous and frightening proposal because it will perpetuate and create greater disparities in our society. It will undermine accountability for civil rights violations (hate crimes, discrimination in the workplace and biased racial profiling), health care disparities, and racial/ethnic disease patterns important for medical treatment, educational inequities and so forth.

In my research on the causes and effects of racism, I have come to realize that color-blindness uses "whiteness" as the default key to mimic the norms of fairness, justice and equity by "whiting" out differences and perpetuating the belief in sameness. The denial of power imbalance, unearned privilege and racist domination are couched in the rhetoric of equal treatment and equal opportunity.

Second, my challenger seems to be attempting to redefine the term "affirmative action" as preferential treatment for women and certain races in the areas of hiring and admissions. My definition of affirmative action differs. I view affirmative action as equalizing opportunity in the areas of hiring and admissions in order to promote true diversity. If we are going to talk about "preferential treatment" in the areas of hiring and admissions, we can leave race and gender out of the equation altogether and focus on those who are already the true recipients of affirmative action.

Now, on to the rebuttal (by the way, I wish you all could have heard the peals of shrieking laughter I heard when I asked my children to please give me some time to write a reBUTTal. Ah, the glories of potty humor.)

In his argumentation, my opponent repeatedly takes the word of one well-positioned black man, and attempts to apply that opinion to the entire population of people of color. While it is true that there are many people of color who are positioned solidly in the middle class and above, there are still obstacles that stand in the way of truly equal opportunity. I cannot and will not deny that class is a factor. But race is a factor, regardless of class. I disagree with Judge Thomas' assertion that the son of a middle-class black man necessarily has it easier than the daughter of a single white woman. I, in fact, am the daughter of a poor, single white woman...and I have known many sons of middle class men of color in my lifetime who have had and continue to have significantly more challenges than I have ever had to face.

Certainly, neither anecdotal nor statistical evidence equates to individual impact. But if Affirmative Action has done damage to a significant amount of white males, wouldn't that damage be visible when viewing statistics? In actuality, studies have revealed that the perceived impact of affirmative action on white males is a lot worse than the actual impact.

Earlier I alluded to how half to two-thirds of whites and males believe that reverse discrimination is common. Some of the polls asked respondents whether they, personally, had lost a job, promotion, college seat, etc. because of affirmative action. When the question is phrased this way, the number of whites and males who respond 'yes' drops significantly to between 2% and 13% (Steeh & Krysan, 1996). These numbers are also considerably lower than the percentage of people of color and women that respond 'yes' to similar questions. In a recent survey by the National Conference for Community and Justice (2000), for example, 13% of whites said that they had been discriminated against in the past month at restaurants, while shopping, during worship, at work or in other situations. On the other hand, 16% of Latinos, 31% of Asians and 42% of blacks said 'yes' to the same question.

Additionally, to argue that there should be no impact on white males is arguing backwards. Of course white males are affected. The current state of affairs is due to the fact that white males currently enjoy more power than they have actually earned, and yes, it is time to give some of that unearned power back.

I began this discussion taking care to point out that affirmative action and racial discrimination is not strictly a black/white thing. However, I do have to point out that there are unique challenges within the African-American experience in this country that warrants special attention. With the African-American population, we not only need to combat generations of racism, but also the ingrained and intentional inferiority complex that was necessitized by slavery and is perpetuated by our society's refusal to admit to the systems of oppression which continue to this day. When my opponent talks about "certain" minorities, he is either intentionally ignoring or unintentionally ignorant of the significant disadvantage these "certain" minorities continue to struggle with, both individually and as a whole. As one of my favorite bloggers, Prometheus 6 says in reference to The Shaping of Black America:

Black people had to be broken to be slaves, and White people had to be broken to be masters. How else can you explain slave owners who allowed slaves to buy their own freedom when by law anything the slave owned already belonged to his master?

As for the quote by Sowell:

These black students are simply distributed differently within both systems -- no longer being mismatched with institutions whose standards they don't meet. They now have a better chance of graduating.

I have often wondered out loud how preferences are influenced by the society in which they are formed. In other words, we might perceive that women have a preference for one area of study, but that preference might have been artificially constructed by a lifetime of social conditioning pushing her in that direction. Affirmative Action, appropriately applied, can act as a counterbalance by actively encouraging diversity in fields of study traditionally pursued by white men. In turn, this encouragement results in more women populating these fields, encouraging more girls to take up study and participate. I wonder if perhaps the lack of minority students in certain fields creates a self-fulfilling prophecy due to unconscious exclusion or prejudice on the part of those who are already in the field, much as women frequently need to work harder to "prove themselves" in fields dominated by males. Whatever way you look at it, I find it difficult to believe that so many people of color would self-select areas of study and employment which place them at such a glaring economic disadvantage:

Racial-ethnic minorities are a far smaller percentage of the labor force than are women (23.1 percent versus 46.6 percent).1 Their disproportionate representation in certain jobs is, nevertheless, worthy of attention. Women of color-African-American, Latina, and Asian-are over-represented in institutional service work, in occupations such as private household workers, cleaners, nurses' aides and licensed practical nurses, typists, file clerks, kitchen workers, hospital orderlies, and some occupations in the food packaging and textile industry. Other jobs that have disproportionate numbers of women and men of color include guards and corrections officers, mail and postal clerks, social workers, telephone operators, bus drivers, taxi drivers and chauffeurs, and some operator or laborer jobs within manufacturing.

As far as the application (or lack thereof) of affirmative action to the Asian minority:

In the United States, affirmative action programs at universities usually benefit only black African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans. Asian Americans, although a racial minority, do not benefit at most colleges because their makeup in the student body exceeds their makeup in the general US population. White-skinned people do not benefit in universities where their makeup in the student body is less than their makeup in the general US population because they are not members of a racial minority.

This is not to say that racism does not affect Asian Americans, but it is to say that racism affects Asians in a unique way which perhaps requires a different approach, but does not necessitate the dismantling of affirmative action:

The goal of affirmative action is to re-orient our society away from one of unearned privilege towards justice. It is this goal that gives affirmative action the unique status of being a social initiative which, in the end, cancels itself out. Our society can only successfully combat the effects of white privilege and the concentration of power when Affirmative Action is applied effectively, and races are represented more equitably in all areas of society. We've moved forward slowly, in fits and starts, due to the dominant culture's reluctance to relinquish some of it's power. This reluctance perpetuates the systems of oppression which cause schisms between races and crises within communities of color. True integration (NOT assimilation) is the only
method of establishing a society based on meaningful contribution rather than means alone.

My opponent wants to argue that anti-discrimination laws are enough to equalize opportunity, yet he refuses to acknowledge that discrimination still happens. In other words, he wants to abolish affirmative action, thereby reversing it's positive impact, without any other viable way to ensure that organizations with a proclivity towards discrimination do not discriminate. Just as the opposite of racist is not "color-blind" but "anti-racist" - discriminatory practices must be combatted not through passive means, but by actively encouraging inclusion of people who have historically been damaged by discrimination.

Once again, I thank you for your time.

Drucilla B. Blood
Iron Blogger Green


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