taking joy in human unreason

Affirmative Action and Race Quotas in America

Affirmative action seems to be a major issue in America lately, both on the local and national level. Here in Charlotte, Charlotte-Mecklenberg School executives have been biting their own asses in trying to arrange, rearrange, create, and destroy bussing of students back and forth across the county to satisfy race quotas at public schools. On the national level, President GW is stammering his way through proposals to do away with affirmative action in education. But when isn’t he stammering his way through something?

Until about two days ago, I cared not at all about affirmative action; on principle, I disliked it, as I found it demeaning that the standards have to be lowered for blacks and hispanics. Why the hell can’t we study just as hard or harder to get into Yale than white people? If you want it bad enough, work for it, right? And don’t say tests are “racially biased”. You know who’s giving the test, so study for it, including the literature and science and all that “white stuff”. Or is that just too practical for America?

Two nights ago, however, I watched a show hosted by Phil Donahue, the former talk-show host, in which the issue of affirmative action in schools and the work place was being debated. I strongly dislike Donahue and the political specimens that were there to present their sides of things. Donahue is a dramatic showman, and the men at the table were too aggressive for this type of presentation, in which the issue was supposed to be debated, not preached and yelled about endlessly. It was like watching Jerry Springer with a political theme. There was a white conservative man against affirmative action; he seemed coherent, but a little lost in the fury of the other two men. The second man was a black man of probably moderate-conservative standing, also against affirmative action; he was more aggressive, but had interesting points and didn’t back down. By the end of the show, however, I found myself confused as to his standings, primarily because of the last man. The last was a large black man, pro-affirmative action, that ranted and yelled like Jesse Jackson on methamphetamines, all the while never really making eye-contact with the person with whom he was arguing (usually the other black guy), as though that made him seem less confrontational in some way. Right. He was rude as hell, resorted to petty semi-slanderous arguments to undermine his opponents, and had some pretty nice arguments. But he ended up taking over the show, as his loud-mouth type is wont to do. You know the type. By the time each too frequent commercial break came up, I had to take a deep breath and change the channel to something else.

But the show opened my eyes to many of the affirmative action issues in America, and showed me that is wasn’t just as simple as “work hard, you’ll get in, or you won’t, depending on the level of competition”. White people (and other “majorities”, like Asians) are hurt by the race quotas, losing jobs and promotions because the companies must maintain quotas and hire/promote more blacks and hispanics. This seems to be particularly a problem in jobs funded by tax payers, such as the police and fire departments. The idea, apparently, is to maintain racial percentages in these jobs that reflect the percentages of people in the county or city. Is this really feasible? I’m not sure one way or the other, after watching this show. It sounds a little ridiculous, and yet sounds logical.

With regards to education, a teacher there mentioned that as a teacher working at an intercity school, there was less funding and thus fewer AP courses, and the students, who worked hard as hell despite their lot, had no way to compete with the suburb students in terms of getting into college, because the school itself just didn’t offer that many choices in advanced courses. So how do you “work harder” to get around that? Short of investing in a computer and Internet connection and taking expensive online courses to pass AP exams (which run $73 per test if you aren’t enrolled in the course), it’s not really possible. And that’s not at all practical, even among suburb kids. Anyone who has that kind of money is probably already going to a private school anyway. And those vouchers people are always talking about? I knew nothing of them until I watched this show. They take taxpayers’ money and use it to send a kid to an expensive private school. WTF?? How is that helping the intercity schools? And why isn’t that money going towards schools, as it should have in the first place?

And yet there is the issue of lowering the standards for blacks and hispanics. One of the men on the show pointed out that in a test for some job, like maybe the postal service or a police station, a group of black men had failed this test, then sued the city, saying the test was racially biased. So the passing grade for whites remained at 70% or 75% or whatever it was previously, the passing grade for hispanics dropped to 68%, and the passing grade for blacks dropped to 66%. Whoa. How insulting can you get? Have a little pride here, people, this is barely different than a handout. Or should pride be put aside for livelihood? Do we need this, as a race with an (apparently) automatic disadvantage given to us at birth in the color of our skin?

And what about the stereotypes perpetrated by affirmative action? Because of things like these passing test scores, blacks are automatically seen as inferior, as are hispanics. They are seen as needing that handout, that help. Images like those shown on TV shows like “The Wayans Brothers” are seen to be the fact; ig’nant folks runnin’ ’round, unable to keep a job, calling women bitches and flunking out of school.

But there’s also the side many people forget to mention, and that was only lightly touched upon by the people on the Donahue show: white women. Affirmative action applies to them, as well. And it has helped them, a lot. There are more females in high ranking executive positions that ever before, and fewer had to perform sexual favors to get there (that’s just a little joke… it probably wasn’t even funny…).

My standing on affirmative action is now quite muddled. I still hold onto my harshly practical “work hard” ethic (although with a lot more compassion and understanding of the other side), but I know that if I get into the tech school of my choice, it will probably be because I’m a black female. And that’s gonna suck.