healthcare reform. But for whatever reason it seems like bashing affirmative action isn't quite as sexy as it used to be. That said, as a young(ish) African American I can usually rely on some . . .
. . . ahem . . .
. . . conservative . . . attempting to confront me about the alleged grave injustice of affirmative action, as surely as I can rely on the Wizards stankin' up the Verizon Center. It's not a matter of "if" but rather "when" and it's usually not worth reminding the intrepid interrogator that I neither make U.S. policy or speak for all Black people. So in the interest of getting that discussion out of the way here on One Drop, let's take a look at affirmative action in the U.S.
Affirmative Action is a policy that allows race, gender, or ethnicity to be taken into consideration for the purpose of increasing diversity and equal opportunity in employment and education. The term "affirmative action" was first used as a a part of U.S. policy in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy issued Exeutive Order 10925 mandating that all government contracting agencies 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." Why would JFK issue such an order? The short answer is: because of the history of Black people's struggle in this country.
The vestiges of slavery in the U.S. included laws and actions that segregated and discriminated negatively against African Americans. There is a long history of legal decisions and laws that have been established to undo the negative impacts of slavery. The specific foundations of Executive Order 10925 can be found in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 Executive Order 8802, The Fair Employment Act which outlawed segregationist hiring policies by defense-related industries holding federal contracts as well as the 1953 President Harry S. Truman Committee on Government Contract Compliance which urged the Bureau of Employment Security "to act positively and affirmatively to implement the policy of nondiscrimination . . . ."
Executive Order 11246, which further barred discrimination in government contracting and again required contractors to take affirmative action to ensure employment and non-discriminatory treatment. Johnson, elaborated on the concept of affirmative action several times. At the 1965 Howard University Commencement ceremony, he said:
Ok, so what's the problem? Well, there are several. The first revolves around a reading of law. The backbone of LBJ and JFK's executive orders is a clause that states:
[contractors must] 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
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 contains similar language stating that it is unlawful for an employer to:
discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin
Based on this language, opponents of affirmative action argue that discrimination on the basis of race is illegal. Period. This discrimination on the basis of race includes disrimination that favors minorities and it includes discrimination against white people. This argument has even been espoused by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts who claims that, "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." Very clever.
Opponents also argue that affirmative action lowers standards by forcing schools and employers to accept applicants who are not necessarily the most qualified. They further argue that affirmative action prevents the United States from becoming a truly color-blind society. Finally, showing their sincere altruism, opponents argue that affirmative action is condescending and demeaning to minorities in that it implies that minorities cannot succeed without some extra assistance.
I find it hard to believe that the minorities who benefit from affirmative action are somehow lowering standards in any kind of significant way. A minority is literally a smaller group; in the case of Blacks that smaller group is about 11% of the U.S. population and the segment of that group that is competing for admissions at selective universities and high end employers is a still much smaller group.
As for the color blind society: A color-blind society is a society that ignores the identities of its people. I have no interest in being color-blind because I enjoy and appreciate the cultural differences between us. It's not your awareness of my race that bothers me, it's the mistreatment that I'm not feelin'.
condescension? It's not like the people who mistreat minorities are gonna start acting all warm and fuzzy because affirmative action has been eliminated. Haters gonna hate. That's just how it is. I would feel very comfortable making $800k/year and having my office mates think I got there because of affirmative action. Driving home in a Maybach kind of takes the sting out of something like that. I expect that the benefit of being able to feed my family would outweigh the horrible condescension of some @ss who was going to hate me regardless of whether I received affirmative action consideration or not.
Having said all of that, I'm actually willing to let affirmative action go.
Look, the Civil Rights Act and LBJ's Executive Order have been around since 1964. Forty-five to 46 years is a substantial length of time. We've litigated affirmative action cases and have a firm body of law to rely upon should acts of invidious discrimination arise. I think society as a whole frowns on invidious discrimination. We all understand that affirmative action should probably be diminished or eliminated at some point because the scars and impacts of slavery must necessarily diminish over time. Time does indeed heal all wounds. So, we can end it today or we can end it in ten years, or fifty years, but at some point we should probably move on.
To me, though, the most important reason to retire affirmative action is that I'm just freakin tired of talking to conservatives about it. My god, you would think we were interning white males in camps the way some of these cats squeal about the "great injustice" done to them by affirmative action. It's not worth arguing about anymore. Affirmative action did not save any lives taken by Katrina or stop terrorists on 9/11. Affirmative action has no impact on the HIV/AIDS rate in Black communities. It's a distraction at this point and if it'll get some conservatives to STFU I'm all for letting it go.
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