Monday, February 6, 2012

Black History Month and affirmative action - 2012

Growing up you learn to appreciate history, if only in an effort to not repeat the mistakes others have made through out history. Things like the horrors of slavery, treatment of native Americans or the brutality of the Civil War. It's sort of funny looking at how history is written, some sort of fixation on the bad which has occurred rather than focusing on the lighter sides of things. Think that Tiger Woods will ever be remembered as a family man? How bout that OJ Simpson was actually a half decent football player?

Race is always a difficult subject to talk about - say something controversial and you'll have swarms of lawyers at your door step looking to pad their pockets with oodles of cash - but I have to did we get here? Why is it such a bad thing to call into question the merits of things? Why can't we talk about touchy subjects and not worry about things. February is a great time to discuss affirmative action and the merits for both the work force and educational settings while at the same time remembering the history of how we got to this state of society.

What is racism? It's the preferential treatment of one group of people versus another based on some physical or genetic aspect. What is affirmative action? Basically it's the legal foundation for reverse racism, that is to say, that in a given situation, preferential treatment of a protected person is legal. It was originally implemented to promote diversity in educational settings and later extended to the work place. The theory here being that by offering a move diverse learning experience, students will be better prepared for the work place and will increase the competitive advantage which American institutions bring to the world market place.

Inherent to affirmative action are multiple layers of racism. That, without some sort of legal protection, minorities or another protected group would never be privy to the same  higher education or employment opportunities as their non-protected counter parts who take these things for granted. I read this as meaning that there is a general understanding that the skills and education performance for a protected individual is below that of an unprotected group of people. In addition to this general understanding, that the better equipped non-protected group should for some reason be discriminated against due to the fact that they arbitrarily fit into that non-protected class of peoples.

To me, this comes off as nothing but racist. Why should equally qualified students jockying for the same spot at a university be subject to differential treatment. Isn't the purpose of higher education to produce a highly qualified individual which contributes to society? If the university is no longer accepting the best student for a given position, isn't that somehow defeating the purpose of higher education at the cost of the other student's education?

I want to attempt a bit of a social experiment here, encouraging people to share their results. Think about high school or college - was there ever really a cross pollination of ideas across races or was there a stigma that like should hang out with like. I attended a well-to-do private high school with one of the most diverse campuses in the country. The one thing which always stuck out in my mind was the formation of cliques - Asians were always with Asians, Blacks were always hanging out with Blacks, Latinos with Latinos and so on. It makes sense, people want to be around people which similar experiences with them - it's a comfort factor that we all inadvertently became imbued with. Even in the classrooms for group projects I found groups were almost always homogenous.Even in groups where diversity was forced, I feel that the overall outcome was unchanged, meaning regardless of the experiences of the group we would have gotten the same grade on the project.

I am slightly jaded in the sense that I know of a few students with lower SAT scores and academic records being accepted into programs which I also applied to only to personally receive rejection letters. I'm pretty jealous of them, I'll admit it... but my argument still stands true - diversity would exist without affirmative action and the use of affirmative action is racist. Why can't we learn from the mistake that racism in any form (even reverse racism) does not benefit society?

I'd like to pull particular attention to two of my favorite Black inventors: Lonnie Johnston (inventor of the Super Soaker) and George Washington Carver (invented peanut butter)


  1. It's difficult for me to empathize with your assertion that reverse racism even exists and that things like affirmative action are bad for society.

    This cartoon expresses best what I would say:

  2. nullpointerexceptionalFebruary 6, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    I'm not looking for empathy but rather a broader discussion around the merits of providing preferential treatment of a person based on the concept of a physical trait (such as skin color in your cartoon). If you have two people applying to a school such as Joe and Bob. Joe is better than Bob in every possible measurable way. Higher SAT scores, more activities, higher average GPA why should skin color be an avenue to elevate Bob over Joe in the selection process? Because I'm gay I should be accepted into the program to meet some quota of diversity? (Not the case but provided as an alternative example).

    My post is more along the lines of, race and 'protected persons' should not even exist as a concept - let the free market sort out the best candidate for positions. Legal protection like this only promote more racism and more entitlement. If anything, laws should prevent this very classification from even occurring...

    That being said, racism and discrimination still exist. The only way to eliminate them is to stop treating people differently.

  3. A hard pill to swallow, but I tend to agree with this post—in the long run. (1) Preferential treatment is not good for the preferred class as a whole, but only serves to "soften" the preferred, and (2) preferential treatment only serves to reinforce racist tendencies/resentment, even in those originally disinclined to make race-based judgments.

  4. I see what you're saying. I think it would be easy to have a free market system like the one you suggest--if (and it's a big IF) a society treats all individuals within itself equally already. Which can explain why we need preferential treatment right now--our society doesn't treat people equally, so for now we need something to make up the difference.

  5. nullpointerexceptionalFebruary 7, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    I agree that in order for it to be effective, everyone would need to be treated the same.
    What I'm really looking for is more people thinking "hey these guys are just like us" but that's a hard message to get across.

    I look at it this way, in general, protected parties are at some sort of disadvantage when it comes to schooling, mentoring, experiences, etc (if they were not, AA would not exist). Rather than waiting until college or applying to jobs to "make up the difference", focus earlier in the life of that person. It's easy to change bad habits on both sides of the fence if you start sooner. AA is one of those things that sounds great, but doesn't have an end game (sure it has a purpose but the current implementation is hard to gauge) - if you change it's purpose to be very specific, such as the equal education and mentoring services earlier in life then you have something to gauge progress by (increase in academic standing etc).

    One of my colleagues on this blog has an interesting take on public education which I'm pushing him to publish.