Contrary to the statements made by Supreme Court Justice Scalia recently, affirmative action isn’t about sub-standard people’s worth being rewarded. It’s about the playing field of opportunities not being level before any number of candidates ever shows up for your job/school/opportunity.
You can’t apply all of the machinery of racism and sexism for hundreds or thousands of years on people and their descendants, then say the field is level and we should run everything magically on merit. You can’t even prove you’re capable of that as a society. All evidence – and it mounts every day – suggests America has no interest in a merit based system of access. America isn’t capable, ready or willing to enact actual equality. So you have to give up some fraction of what you own (owe, really) because you don’t want to straighten the level where it really matters. You don’t want to stop gentrification or pay for good schools or give women equal pay or stop police abuse or pay reparations, so guess what: you have to make a piece of what you got at least give the appearance that we live here too. Trust me: you’re getting off light.
Affirmative action is what you have to pay until you decide you’re going to stop being horrible in dozens of other areas of life.
The consideration of minorities isn’t because minorities are less-than. It is because America knows it is less-than and rather than be more-than, it would rather stay unequal in a hundred areas to pretend it is equal in a dozen areas.
Want some math? Let’s do some math vis-a-vis social studies.
Here is a heavily abbreviated list of areas in which America has shown little to no interest as a society in rectifying on behalf of minorities. These are all things that unduly affect minority populations either in their construction or application. Whenever I’m talking about systemic racism/sexism, this is the level 101 version of that machine.
Also, this list just sticks to how America treats Americans. If I ran it abroad you’d be crying halfway through.
1. Inequitable political representation
2. Police abuse
3. Lack of police prosecution
4. Representation in movies/TV
5. Unfair representations in news media
6. Underrepresentation in news media
7. Misrepresentation in textbooks at every level
8. Importation of drugs
9. Over-accessibility of poor-valued food/alcohol/cigarettes/drugs
10. Lack of hate group oversight
11. Occupational segregation
12. Class inequity
13. Differing wages based on gender
14. Housing discrimination
15. Denial of basic public services
17. White flight
20. Lack of educational recruitment (beyond sports)
21. Lack of workplace recruitment (beyond the military)
22. Denial/inaccessibility of health services
24. Underrepresentation in education material at elementary level
25. Underrepresentation in education material at high school level
26. Underrepresentation in education material at college level
27. Unfair public restroom access/enforcement
28. Actual religious freedom
29. A genuine separation of church and state
30. Manifest Destiny/American Exceptionalism
31. Whitewashing of history
32. Racist mascots
33. Gun control
34. Inequitable health care
35. Food deserts
36. Normalization of Whiteness/The Otherness of Non-Whiteness
37. Normalization of structural racism
38. Ineffectual immigration policies
39. Disparity in criminal charges
40. Disparity in criminal sentencing
Now here is a list of nine things affirmative action is applied to daily with varying degrees of affect (mostly fail), all of which generate great despair in White America. The items on the second list have little overlap with efforts on the first list. Mind you, these affirmative action considerations are barely double digit requests; they mostly consist of people trying to get things up to a population percentile (not merely national, but also area specific. Ergo, Detroit is something like 82% Black. It shouldn’t be held to a 12% representation of Black folks in almost any area) just as a starting point for conversation. The application of affirmative action to any of these areas takes nothing – NOTHING – away from the general condition of White America. In fact, the application of affirmative action in these areas in earnest would improve the lot of White America if it weren’t spending more time and effort trying to dismantle what little we’re asking for than it would take to honor it.
a) Reasonable number of college admissions
b) Equitable access to credit for homes and businesses (money we have to pay back!)
c) Fair application of basic public, tax-payed services
d) Fair representation in business contracts
e) Fair representation in management positions of large companies
f) Fair representation in the job market at jobs above entry-level
g) Fair representation in news coverage
h) Reasonable representation in government (local, state and national)
i) Equitable representation of issues when representation in government is not possible
What kills me is the assumption that anybody that can survive the stuff on the first list is somehow sub-standard when offered something off of the second list, which they still had to earn. I haven’t met a minority yet that said, “Man, I can’t believe I got this job, I am SO unqualified.” That might fly on an episode of black-ish, but not in the real world.
My point is when you consider the short list of things affirmative action is frequently used to address against the ENORMOUS list of things America has no vested interest in fixing – you know, actually attempting to level the playing field instead of pretending it’s already level – it kind of makes anybody arguing against affirmative action sound ridiculous.
Trust me: if America was serious about addressing even half of that first list – just the stuff that is literally killing people, for starters – we’d be happy to consider talking about giving up affirmative action. As it stands, America isn’t even at the starting gate.