It seems like at least once every semester we find ourselves having a debate in the editorial section of the school newspaper regarding race and race related issues. I will try to be as objective as possible, but as an African-American citizen in the U.S., this task proves difficult when discussing race and race relations. The February 25 edition of The Snapper featured an Op-Ed article concerning Affirmative Action and, despite being a young person of color, I will admit that I have my own reservations about this legislation. As someone who lives with the social reality of race in this country and who is familiar with, but not an expert on, Affirmative Action I found the article terribly misinformed and one that highlighted ignorance when considering race issues in general.
I begin with an excerpt from the article, which provides the most prominent example of this statement:
“One of the underlying purposes of Affirmative Action is to make amends for slavery through money… So I do not understand why my taxes are being put into programs to make amends for something that happened to someone’s great-great-great-great-great grandparents.”
I find a number of things interesting about this. First, I have to consider the idea that the author did not take the time to truly think about this statement before they wrote it. It appears as if, at the risk of taking their words out of context, they equate Affirmative Action to retribution for slavery.
Considering the social history of our nation, I’m certain that Affirmative Action was created to combat the discriminatory and unconstitutional practices by American whites for the one hundred years following the emancipation of African American slaves. Additionally, it was not just the black Americans from the southern United States that were excluded because whites refused to hire “coloreds” or didn’t want “n-words” in their institutions of higher learning. Also, I consider the groups that are not descendants of slaves who are also protected by Affirmative Action (women, Latinos, people with physical/mental disabilities, Native Americans, etc.) and benefit from its existence. Though I might not have been in the shoes of my “great-great-great-great-great grandparents,” I’m sure my grandmother, who grew up in Jim Crow era North Carolina, or my friends with the “stereotypically black” names who have knowingly been passed up for jobs would definitely disagree with the notion that Affirmative Action is not necessary. I hope that the young opinion writer gets a chance to take an African-American history or Social Problems course in the future, which I believe would broaden their perspective on several issues, not just those concerning race.
Next, I consider the root of the position that the author uses to further their argument. There are two sets of ideologies that I think create the foundation of their rationale. The first (which I hope isn’t the case, but since this is a nation built on the premise of individual rights, everyone is entitled to their beliefs), is the white nationalist perspective which tends to downplay the social injustice that raised the need for Affirmative Action by highlighting often hypothetical, yet occasionally occurring phenomena that appear to be forms of “reverse discrimination.”
The fact remains that whites are still the social, economic, and political majority, and a privileged class in our nation. For every one occurrence of “reverse racism,” I could point to the hundreds of thousands of inner-city children suffering from the cycle of poverty that plagues neighborhoods comprised mostly of people of color due to poor-quality education and few job opportunities.
The second set of ideologies seems to be the most common among people of many races and classes, i.e., the incredulous idea that racism, prejudice and inequality no longer exist in America. I often liken social injustice to that annoying relative that always seems to be around during the holidays; you might not talk about them directly, or acknowledge their existence, but the truth is that they are still in the room, eating all of the good stuff from the buffet. I believe that we are just as far now from reaching equality as we were in 1964, but now inequality exists in limited access to opportunities as opposed to being given them in the first place.
Yes, we no longer have to pass literacy tests, or aren’t required to prove that our grandfathers weren’t slaves, but there is still a $21,000 disparity between median household incomes. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, $55,530 for white non-Hispanic households and $34,218 for black households, which doesn’t reflect equality by any means. To go beyond the data from the U.S. Census Bureau that shows the median for black households is 61.6 percent of that of white households, the poverty rate is more than twice as high (2.7percent of whites vs. 7.8 percent of blacks) and women in our workforce only earn 77 percent of what men earn. Nothing about these numbers reflect social justice to me.