Category Archives: affirmative action

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Cutting The Ties That Blind

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Image via The Guardian.

By Guest Contributor Thomas L. Mariadason

The iconography of blind justice is ubiquitous. Expressionless Greco-Roman goddesses stridently clutching scales adorn courtrooms all across our country. At this point, the imagery is hardly eye-catching, but its familiarity helps numb our doubts about the nature of judicial objectivity. Sightlessness, after all, is the supreme analogue of impartiality.

One small catch: the metaphor of blindness—an ableist trope that frequently undermines itself —also suggests the inability to perceive the realities before us.

In a heavyweight dissent to the flyweight opinion in Schuette v. BAMN, Justice Sonia Sotomayor knocked the shut-eyed obliviousness out of her Supreme Court benchmates, exhorting them “to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”

I’m with Kweli on this one: “Right about now I’m feeling very grateful we have a Puerto Rican from the Bronx on the Supreme Court.”
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Quoted: Selections from Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s Argument For Affirmative Action

Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, ‘No, where are you really from?’, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’

We are fortunate to live in a democratic society. But without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups. For that reason, our Constitu­tion places limits on what a majority of the people may do. This case implicates one such limit: the guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

Under our Constitution, majority rule is not without limit. Our system of government is predicated on an equilibrium between the notion that a majority of citizens may determine governmental policy through legislation enacted by their elected representatives, and the overriding principle that there are nonetheless some things the Constitution forbids even a majority of citizens to do. The political-process doctrine, grounded in the Fourteenth Amendment, is a central check on majority rule.

The Fourteenth Amendment instructs that all who act for the government may not “deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws.” We often think of equal protection as a guarantee that the government will apply the law in an equal fashion — that it will not intentionally discriminate against minority groups. But equal protection of the laws means more than that; it also secures the right of all citizens to participate meaningfully and equally in the process through which laws are created.

In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.

– From her dissenting opinion in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. Decisions can be read in full here.

Quoted: Inside Higher Ed on Meritocracy Vs. Bias

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“While the principle of fairness may be a driving concern in people’s attitudes towards policies such as affirmative action, social welfare, and fair housing, the malleability of white respondents’ attitudes towards the importance of university admissions criteria in response to racial considerations indicates that public opinion about the importance of such criteria is anything but fair, at least if the definition of fairness entails a procedural fairness by which all groups should be subject to the same procedural process, i.e., same weighting of admissions criteria, when determining whether an individual should be admitted to a prestigious public university system, an opportunity that will significantly shape that person’s life outcomes.” Read more…

– Frank L. Samson, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Miami, whose recent study of white adults in California revealed that they favor admissions policies prioritizing high school grade-point averages and standardized test scores, until they are focused on the success of Asian-American students.

 

Image Credit: James Almond on Flickr

Lunch Break Tidbits: Discussing Affirmative Action on Al Jazeera’s The Stream

Yesterday I appeared on Al Jazeera’s The Stream to discuss Affirmative Action policies in college admissions and hiring. Also on the panel were Ari Berman from The Nation, Jerome Hudson from the National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, Michigan Daily‘s Yash Bhutada and libertarian blogger Kristin Tate. With only 40 minutes to discuss what is a highly contentious and layered topic in light of the Fischer vs. UT SCOTUS ruling, here’s a wrap up and slight elaboration on some of the points made on yesterday’s show.

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Can Blacks Bum Rush The Show?: Bringing Diversity to TV

By Guest Contributor Patrice Peck, cross-posted from Zora & Alice

How can you notice that something is missing if you never even acknowledged that thing to begin with? The lack of racial diversity on the major television networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and The CW—clearly illustrates how an omission can actually be rather glaring. Yet, whenever critics draw attention to the lopsided numbers of lead minorities in television, writers, producers, and casting directors are quick to cry color-blind in hopes of white washing the issue with a fresh coat of guiltless naivete. When addressing this issue, television executives always point to profitability and markets as the main reasoning behind their casting while uncomfortably skirting around their propensity for narrow thinking, country club-style hiring, and disregarding racial diversity.

Then, this September, NBC inadvertently shed light on television’s homogeneity by picking up J.J. Abrams’ newest project, Undercovers, a show surrounding a married couple who leave retirement to rejoin the CIA. Abrams (Lost, Alias) and co-creator Josh Reims (Felicity) made headlines with their unorthodox casting of Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, both black actors, making Undercovers the second NBC show to feature a black lead couple (The Cosby Show being the first.)

Nonetheless, at a panel for Undercovers, Reims still insisted that when it came to casting the leads, both he and Abrams considered novelty as opposed to color as if the two weren’t synonymous in Hollywood. “[We said] Let’s just see every possible incarnation of person [so we won’t end up with] the same people we’ve seen on TV a million times … Boris and Gugu came in, and we sort of knew immediately, these are them. We didn’t go out of our way to say we are hiring two black people to be the leads of our show, but we didn’t ignore it either.”

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Senator Jim Webb Aruges Against Affirmative Action, Says It Does Not Benefit Blacks

by Latoya Peterson
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White privilege is a myth? Do tell…

In Jim Webb’s latest op-ed for the Wall Street Journal (titled “Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege“), he turns the traditional narrative for ending affirmative action on its head. Instead of using the same old racist platitudes, the Democrat from Virgina uses history and acknowledgment of structural inequality to propose a radical rethinking of government programs. But check the bait Webb uses:

I have dedicated my political career to bringing fairness to America’s economic system and to our work force, regardless of what people look like or where they may worship. Unfortunately, present-day diversity programs work against that notion, having expanded so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white.

In an odd historical twist that all Americans see but few can understand, many programs allow recently arrived immigrants to move ahead of similarly situated whites whose families have been in the country for generations. These programs have damaged racial harmony. And the more they have grown, the less they have actually helped African-Americans, the intended beneficiaries of affirmative action as it was originally conceived.

My, my, my. Webb’s op-ed makes some very astute points but also trades on the idea that race is a zero-sum game. For this reason, the piece both succeeds and fails. Continue reading

Affirmative Action Revisited

By Guest Contributor Jenn, originally published at Reappropriate

I saw this short post on Time’s Detroit Blog today: Still Getting It Wrong on Affirmative Action. In it, blogger Darrell Dawsey comments about the recent news that civil rights groups in Michigan have brought an appeals case challenging the constitutionality of a rcent ballot measure banning the practice of affirmative action in Michigan state schools.

Dawsey doesn’t get into the constitutionality of affirmative action in his post; rather, he complains about the persistent perception of affirmative action as merely a “race thing”. Dawsey writes:

Yes, I think affirmative action is a palatable, if mild, remedy to the ongoing discrimination that women and people of color face in Michigan and around the country. But this take isn’t about cheering the court’s decision to hear the challenge to race preferences or even affirmative action itself, for that matter. Rather, it’s about the implications of the persistent, narrow belief that affirmative action is just a set of “racial preferences” — when the truth is that the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action have been white women.

No, I’m not saying that  blacks, Latinos, Arab-Americans and Asian-Americans haven’t also benefited. (The University of Michigan, for instance, has 11 percent fewer minorities than in 2006, in part because affirmative action was outlawed.) But it’s the idea that these minorities, not white women, are disproportionately helped by affirmative action that inflames much of the opposition that we saw here three years ago.

I agree with Dawsey: affirmative action suffers a public relations problem. Affirmative action is frequently discussed in terms of race — both by proponents and opponents of the practice. Yet, the reality of affirmative action is far more nuanced: affirmative action not only is intended to benefit members of all underrepresented ethnic groups (Native Americans, and underrepresented Asians to name a few), but it also benefits applicants who come from other underrepresented backgrounds including class, gender, and faith.

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The Melting Pot 2009: Job Applicants Choose Assimilation as Means of Economic Survival

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

melting potWhen I hear the words Ellis Island, one of the first things I think of is not the New York point of interest or tiring travel across waters to reach the grand goal of the U.S. of A. and its related Dream. The first words that come to mind for me are “name changes” and “assimilation.” But with the recent economic crisis and the lagging recovery process, Ellis Island comes to mind. Only this time, instead of Eastern Europeans, Italians or the Irish knocking on the door of American opportunity, only to learn that their identities must be altered or ensconced, their traditional cultures erased for the sake of infinitely approaching some Nordic white ideal, the group scrambling for the promised land of economic security and job market acceptance is black.

That’s not to say that blacks in America have never sought assimilation as a means of achieving social acceptance and equality, in fact both during and following slavery, some black Americans employed various methods of mirroring the white majority as they recognized it could mean a chance at social and class mobility. Black immigrant groups arriving to America also faced a similar challenge. Having lived in countries where race-based terminology and categorization, media representation, and general opinion of blacks may have varied from those in the United States, only to arrive and gain an externally-defined identity based on perceptions of black Americans, black immigrants may also have felt or still feel the pressure to change or deny elements of their culture, nationality, ethnicity, and ultimately race.

In the aftermath of the recession, as the competition for the limited jobs that are available has sharpened, few applicants have room for error. Unfortunately for blacks living in the United States, one possible means of avoiding the potential disaster of not even getting a foot in the door at hiring companies is deleting any and all signs of their race. It is common knowledge that “ethnic sounding” names or, in other words, names that are not of Western European, particularly Anglo-Saxon origin, often lead to discriminatory hiring practices.* Even among these names, there are specific ethnic groups whose names are least welcome in the corporate world. Unfortunately, blacks are often the common victims of this discrimination, the bearers of African-American names, despite their qualifications, often being relegated to the bottom of the résumé stack. 

However, most of the fears of being rejected from job opportunities are spread through anecdotes or are the result of self-fulfilling prophecy based on a perception of inadequacy from simply being black (i.e. assuming the hiring party is white and would not be interested in taking on a black employee, thus not applying for the job at all), research often following as a result. Several studies comparing the successes (or lack thereof) of blacks and their white peers have been conducted (particularly as a means of measuring the success of affirmative action policy implementation and its continued need), though all ended with the same result: even with equal levels of educational and occupational experience, white candidates are more likely to be hired following the interview process than blacks. Continue reading