Thursday, May 3, 2007

If Not Affirmative Action, Then What?

I am not nor have I ever been a proponent of free rides for anyone. It was taught me and I truly believe that if given a fair opportunity I can compete with anyone. The issue becomes "a fair opportunity". What constitutes a fair opportunity? This is the issue that has divided this country and will continue to do so until we reach a consensus of what a fair opportunity entails.

For example, it used to be fair for over 3oo years in this country for white males to be the only ones to fully experience the freedom that this country provided. They were the only ones who could own property, they were the only ones to vote, and they were the only ones to attend school. This arrangement was considered fair at the time. Any other race or gender was not considered worthy to partake of these privileges. So for 300 years, you have one group that has exclusive rights to all the economic, educational, and political resources available. This group prospers and generates opportunities for others in this group to do likewise. Now granted everyone in this group may not be personally involved in the subjugation of the other groups, but they are reaping the benefits of this subjugation. They have less competition for the available resources thereby increasing their chances of success. I do not want to delve into the emotionalism of this issue, but merely the factualism of it.

So now after these 300 years of complete monopoly, we want to say, "You know what, we were wrong, let's start all over with a clean slate." We will make the playing field level from now on. None of these other factors will have any influence on our decision making. You have been given inferior education, job training, and representation in the past, but today we are even. It is wrong to discriminate against anyone and we will no longer stand for it. We will now let you compete with us on an even plane. We won't hold your inferior schools, economic circumstances, or past discrimination against you, we just want to be fair today. Even though, for many years members of your group were indiscriminately subjected to this institutionalized racism that was supported by the majority of our citizens and those who did not support it still benefitted from this system, we want to be fair today. But today it is unfair to use race as a criteria even for making up for past injustices. We will just pretend those "little indiscretions of the past 300 years" didn't happen. Live and let live. Forgive and forget. If you work hard you can make up the difference in no time. The problem with trying to right past wrongs is that there is never anyone to take responsibility for them. Each generation points to some past generation as the culprit, but this isn't about blame. It is about how we as a society can move forward into the future with a system that will help to overcome this 300 year head start in a fair and equitable way. It's funny how we used the court system to make up for women's rights and there was no large scale outcry of reverse discrimination. Is this fair?

I don't have the answer. I am open to any suggestions. But until we begin to tackle this issue head on there can be no justice. I do not propose "free rides" or "lowering standards" as alternatives. Instead of lowering the standards for any group we should figure out a way to raise the standards for that group to fairly compete. This will require an investment in time and money on the one side and an investment in hard work and effort on the other side. There will be no system that everyone agrees with. Any system will hurt some group. But we should be able to come up with a system that hurts the fewest people while at the same time ensures the most success.

If not affirmative action, then what?

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