Anyone who has grown up and received education in the United States is sure to have seen videos and stories of racism and apartheid, lynching and slavery, blacks and whites and the struggle for equality that is interwoven in America’s history. Many people have witnessed extreme racial inequality firsthand. We’d like to say that those days are over and racism isn’t a problem anymore; however, racism still exists all around us, though it’s subtle and systemic rather than overt as it used to be. Racism is cultural and policies like affirmative action are a necessary step toward equality.
Affirmative action is a series of executive orders issued from 1961 to 1967 that were meant to enforce the nondiscrimination mandate of the Civil Rights Act. Affirmative action simply enforces that employers “not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color or national origin,” and “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin.”
Institutions of higher education use affirmative action in order to diversify the student body. The Associated Press reported on evidence submitted to the court in Fisher v. University of Texas reporting that states like Texas are more diverse now because of affirmative action measures. There seems to be a popular myth that universities have a racial quota to meet, but quotas are illegal and are not part of affirmative action policies.
Even with a diverse campus, many ethnic groups stick together and form cliques. Asians hang out with Asians, blacks hang out with blacks and Latinos hang out with Latinos. In May 2012, guest columnist Kenny Catlege said that multiculturalism is a failure precisely because “when diversity and multiculturalism are forced upon us, we self segregate.”
Sure, cliques happen on campus and in society in general as evidenced by all the different cultural groups and societies that have formed. Has anyone considered why individuals stay with other individuals of the same ethnicity? There’s a level of safety that staying with members of your group provides. No one questions you about your background or traditions. Everyone else in the group just gets it, so to speak. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.
But we should also consider all the people who break the boundaries and don’t settle with the clique and move beyond their comfort zones to cross bridges and build relationships. Understanding and compassion for other ethnic groups and cultural backgrounds blossoms from relationships formed by people who have ventured beyond their cultural borders.
This learning and understanding is what diversity movements are about and this is why policies like affirmative action are necessary. Diversity policies encourage and facilitate compassion and understanding for those who are willing to reach out.
Catlege’s most poignant argument came at the end of his column in which he urged the university to “stop promoting diversity at our expense.”
Again, quotas are a myth and are against the law. Affirmative action is an absolutely necessary step toward diversity. What if a few — whites — had to sacrifice so that everyone — minorities — could have an equal opportunity at life? Here’s a scenario to demonstrate how society already caters to the dominant group — whites — and how it could shift itself to be all-inclusive rather than white-exclusive:
Computers and computer accessories are manufactured for right-handed people, the majority. Using a mouse is difficult for left-handed people, the minority. Scroll keys are on the wrong side of the keyboard, the mouse points in the wrong direction and in general, everything is positioned for the comfort of right-handed people. Righties don’t even consider the discomfort of lefties, but it’s guaranteed that lefties feel their exclusion every time they use a computer.
Now imagine if computers and their accessories were manufactured for neutral-handedness. Righties would have to sacrifice devices manufactured exclusively for their comfort so that lefties could also enjoy comfort at the computer. But that sacrifice wouldn’t be felt by righties, though lefties would immediately notice an improvement in quality of life.
Should anybody be judged by his or her skin? Of course not. But it’s hardly ever the case that things are how they should be. People are indeed judged by their skin or background or sex or any other factor and policies such as affirmative action and diversity training are a necessary step in the right direction. True equality will not come from rainbows and dreams, but will come from working hard toward establishing it across the nation.
By Rachel Elmalawany