Affirmative Action

affirmative actionM. Kelly Carr, an Assistant Professor at University of Baltimore’s School of Communication Design recently wrote a piece for the Baltimore Sun entitled Supreme Court signals the end for affirmative action as we know it.  The actions by the high court continue a disturbing trend in the erosion of policies that sustain socioeconomic justice for blacks and other minorities.

Affirmative action is defined as the taking of proactive steps to ensure that minorities and women are adequately (and therefore, from a historical perspective, increasingly) represented in today’s economy.  In an alleged post-racial America, this is a controversial topic; because, the presumption is things are not as bad and they used to be.  Additionally, if a sub-section of society is given preferential treatment then certainly it introduces biases into that system.

Affirmative action is premised on aiding a section of society to ensure an artifice—representation or to redress loss.  The Emancipation Proclamation was the original affirmative action—freedom of African Americans from slavery—following the Civil War.  The next major move for affirmative action was the Civil Rights movement of the fifties and sixties, where Black leaders with support from White Americans, won equal rights and representations for African Americans—or so they thought.

African Americans were given a start in this country. But this did not guarantee them any freedoms as written in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Thus began the establishment of a caste system that stratified America into those that enjoyed rights (whites) and those that did not (slaves).  Even after slavery officially ended in the United States, this caste system persisted—indeed, slaves were asked to make do with a mule and an acre of land, but nothing in terms of equal rights which might serve to blur the lines of this caste system.  This is not different from the religion based caste system that still persists in some communities in India.  Caste system, whether handed down through religious text or by one race’s fiat, seeks to enforce a dictum that one group of people did not deserve to have equal rights.  This is how blacks found themselves inhabiting shanties on the outskirts of most towns.  They were also forced to flee to areas that would accommodate them for fear of backlash from their former owners.

Despite the issues of commitment to diversity and promises of inclusiveness, institutional racism is pervasive in every walk of American life—from schools to factories.  Affirmative action is the only way to restructure this caste-system that continues to be imposed on the social order in this country.  In a putative post-racial society, however, the only acceptable social remedies are those that are on their face, race neutral.

Writing in The Review of Black Political Economy, Darity and Hamilton (2012)[1] espouse the view that to redress racial economic inequalities “Bold Policies for Economic Justice” must be instituted.  These authors offer two race neutral programs that could work toward eliminating racial inequality, while simultaneously benefiting all Americans.  The first is a federal jobs guarantee and the second, child development accounts.

Sadly, the notion that the correction engendered by affirmative action specifically, or race neutral policies, generally in society that overwhelmingly appear to benefit blacks is often represented as reverse discrimination.  Racism that precipitated affirmative action served to undermine blacks based on false criteria.  Affirmative action and facially race neutral policies that seek to facilitate racial and economic justice for blacks do not wish to do that.

[1] Darity, W. and Hamilton, D. 2012. Bold Policies for Economic Justice Review of Black Political Economy, 39(1):79-85. DOI: 10.1007/s12114-011-9129-8

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