Paul R. Lehman,Opinion misguided on Affirmative Action and State Question 759

October 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Posted in Affirmative Action, African American, Bigotry in America, blacks, college admission, desegregation, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, integregation, justice, Oklahoma, Oklahoma education, public education, segregation, state Government, whites | 3 Comments
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The “Opinion” writer for The Oklahoman has again brought up the topic of State Question 759 which to ban Affirmative Action in state government. This time, however, his comments are misguided and illogical. The title of the article is “Merit must trump race in state government,” shows just how confusing his thoughts are on Affirmative Action. Until Affirmative Action was put in place, race was always used to keep African Americans and women out of state government. Before Affirmative Action, merit was not even a consideration for office in state government. However, since opponents of the state question have voiced their opposition to it, those for its banning are offering their views.

One of the primary problems involved with banning Affirmative Action is the lack of understanding about what it concerns. Many of the opponents of Affirmative Action focus simply of college and/or university admission programs that supposedly favor African Americans applicants over European American applicants. Therefore, since these programs single out race as the criteria for acceptance, the programs must be discarded. What is missing from this action is the reason for Affirmative Action in the first place. Nowhere in this legislation are mentioned the words African Americans, blacks, Negroes, Colored or any other noun describing or identifying an ethnic group. But, because of the efforts of African Americans and other Americans citizens, the measure sought to make unconstitutional discrimination of people for reasons of race, color, sex, creed, or national origin.

If we were to stop and look at the record of American society in the areas of school admissions for women and other ethnic Americans prior to Affirmative Action, we would see a marked change for the betterment of those applicants. Also, if we checked the record for women and ethnic Americans in fields and professions like, firefighters, law enforcement, postal workers, medicine, law, and construction, we would hopefully understand just what Affirmative Action has done and continues to do for society.

However, since the “Opinion” writer focused on African Americans specifically, let us look at what President Lyndon B. Johnson said about this measure he signed: “Nothing is more freighted with meaning for our won destiny than the revolution of the Negro American…[we were called Negroes then]. In far too many ways American Negroes have been another nation: deprived of freedom, crippled by hatred, the doors of opportunity closed to hope…But freedom is not enough.” He explains what he means by that last statement: “You do not wipe away the cards of centuries by saying; Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair….”

The article states that “Affirmative action’s harsh reality is to harm those it is supposed to benefit. In their book, ‘Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students Its Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit it,’ authors Stuart Taylor and Richard Sander outline affirmative actions destructive consequences.” Indeed, the authors document cases where institutions admitted students who were not academically prepared for the rigors they faced. Although the focus was on African Americans, this situation applies to students of all ethnic groups. The problems in Affirmative Action are the results of institutions attempting to put it in force. Contrary to the “Opinion” writer’s support of banning the program, the authors made recommendations to make the program more effective.

Unlike President Johnson’s comment about unfairly expecting people having been deprived of freedoms to go right into competition with others who have had more experiences and opportunities, some Americans expect African American students to do just that—compete in an unfair arena. They think to do otherwise is to discriminate against the European Americans. To be sure, the problems created by institutions attempting to impliment Affirmative Action are real and serious, but not unsolvable. What seems strange regarding Affirmative Action is the fact that it was created to address the years of discrimination and unfair, unjust, and unequal treatment of African Americans in general, but women and other ethnic Americans as well, but when the program is implemented, arguments by European Americans charging discrimination are brought to the fore. Evidently, some people believe the problems of the past can be addressed by not disrupting a thing in the present. Go figure.

Regardless of the many problems associated with institutions implementing Affirmative Action programs, the fact that doors of opportunity have been opened to African Americans, women, and other ethnic Americans is a positive change for society. The idea that merit alone should be the key to admission leaves much to be addressed. Since we know that many African Americans represent the lowest level on the economic and unemployment ladder, we also know that the level of education received by African Americans living at that level will also be influenced. So, why would the expectations for students coming from underserved institutions be placed at the same level with those coming from middle-class and affluent communities? Who decides what merit is? How is merit acquired? Where is merit acquired? Who decides who get merit? What good is merit if having it does not address the primary problem of diversity? As the title of the “Opinion” suggests, “that merit must trump race,” what’s to prevent the status quo from remaining the status quo if only the same people qualify for merit?

Yes, we agree that implementing Affirmative Action has and will continue to create challenges for society, but we also know that going forward allowing more Americans to participate in and contribute to society is better than going backwards. Banning Affirmative Action as State Question 759 wants to do is a step backwards. We need to stop looking at this program thinking it applies to educational institutions, but consider its over-all contribution to society.

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3 Comments »

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  1. Absolutely agree. This underscores the reality that the racial construct is still firmly in place and it is so pervasive the opinion writer might be oblivious to his participation. A “merit only” process is fair only if there is a level playing field. The writer either can’t see or doesn’t care that it is not. Both attitudes are symptoms of the construct. In football for example penalties are used to maintain the level playing field. Usually a single player commits the infraction, but the entire team pays the price. The point is there is a price or there is no penalty, and if there is no penalty, the game is fixed.

  2. democracies and a free press, but tellingly, they have chosen to tackle the issues of settling gender and ethnic/racial inequality in markedly different ways. In India, after independence in 1947, “ethnic and racial minorities quickly received guaranteed seats in all political assemblies” (Krook 2), as this was seen as the largest source for potential unrest and inequity for the nascent nation. However, the bold move to preferentially incorporate ethnic and racial minorities into the political, educational and economic spheres of India society had led to a relative disregard for gender inequality. The main reason has been primarily due to lingering questions about how to resolve caste and tribal quotas with reserved seats for women. After the 1971 census revealed that only a small number of women had occupied positions of political power over the previous twenty years, however, the government began to view women’s under-representation as a problem. (Krook 9) But both the focus and idea of affirmative action has been quite distinct in India, with ethnic and racial rights being the focus of the program and its choice for preferential policy, including the extensive use of quotas, as the means.

  3. Supporters of affirmative action believe that the perceived injustice to the dominant group is not supported by facts. They point to statistics that suggest that affirmative action has not resulted in fewer opportunities for white people. For example, white enrollment in universities has increased along with minority enrollment. In 1973, 30% of white high school graduates attended universities; in 1993, after widespread implementation of affirmative action policies, that number had risen to 42%.


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