Racism and affirmative action

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There are at least three matters over which absolute resolution is unlikely ever to come.  One would have to be the sadness—even profound grief—we feel over the loss of a loved one.  The second is reluctance to pay taxes even when a solid case is presented showing the universal benefits to all by their collection.  The third in this trilogy is race relations.

Every nation in the world has some minority members among its population.  The United States, having a citizenry that’s as diverse as any other nation on the planet, has had serious, ongoing problems with race relations throughout its history.  Further, the case of a black man as U.S. president has proven again that racism in America is so hardened there’s little chance of anything resembling its significant diminution soon.

The latest dust-up comes to us compliments of the U.S. Supreme Court.  A couple of weeks ago the highest court in the land hit affirmative action programs in the solar plexus mighty hard when it upheld the right of states to ban racial preferences in university admissions.

The origin of the court’s decision was a case brought by the state of Michigan.  There, in November, 2006, approved by 58 percent of the voters, affirmative action was banned.  However, the ban has been contested by those opposed to it and ultimately went to the high court for resolution.

The case was not approved by unanimous vote among the justices.  In fact, two justices, Sonia Sotomayor, in this case the minority opinion author, who was helped by affirmative action, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sotomayor’s endorser, objected because the ban “ignores the importance of diversity in higher education” and “creates a two-tiered system of political change.”

My experience in reading and thinking about affirmative action is that I’ve probably heard as many arguments for as against.  My personal opinion on the subject is that no group should be favored over another group based on skin color or gender.  It most certainly was not right when schools and employers blatantly favored white men in the past and it’s not right to favor minorities and women now.  In a more perfect world,  blindness to everything save qualifications for school entry or a job would prevail.

However, when affirmative action is used to help minorities and women we end up with reverse discrimination.  Social engineering of the affirmative action kind put in practice is a devaluation of the hard work of applicants based on unfair considerations that have nothing to do with ability and potential.  Further, it breeds enhanced racial tension and gender resentment, more of which we do not need.

Instead of affirmative action, we could do much better at educating and training all our citizens so that every child has the opportunity to compete on a level playing field with every other child, notwithstanding economic advantage or lack of same.  Examples of ways we could find the money to mitigate disproportionality include requiring the nation’s big corporations to pay taxes, reducing the purchase of unneeded armaments, bringing home troops now bivouacked overseas with former enemies now allies, and using more community service tasks and parole-like supervision for those who’ve committed non-violent crimes, instead of prison time where incarcerated are close to two and one-half million Americans. In other words, it’s very doable should we set our actions to its implementation.

Every American should be granted the assistance he and she needs to succeed while making remedial interventions standard fare: Other successful nations behave this way.  Otherwise, we shall continue to get what we’ve always got and that’s worked very poorly.  Affirmative action is not the answer because it does not do right and commits overwrought generalizations:  It is downright wrong-headed, generally unworkable, inherently unfair, continues prejudicial practices and Oregon ought to join the other states that have ended it.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)

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