Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts on Affirmative Action

Sondra Sotomayor will be confirmed without much difficulty. The debate over her selection will cause dialogue about affirmative action. Touchy issue for many, but an issue worthy of debate. I don't view the President or Judge Sotomayor as beneficiaries of affirmative action (even though on some levels they may be), since they qualified for their accomplishments on their merits. If one takes as a given that they were not aided by affirmative action, isn't this a strong argument AGAINST it? Shouldn't merit and qualification ALWAYS be the top criteria for advancement?

Even if one accepts the concept of affirmative action, I DON'T want it ingrained in our society. In my view, any argument that it should be permanent is racist. It's saying that there will never be equality based on merit, that we need "equalizers". I don't accept this. I always want any affirmative action to have "sunset" provisions in mind. Essentially, the imperfect remedy should end when the circumstances necessitating the solution have been minimized. We've come a long way, probably in spite of this "race based" remedy.

True story......About 18 years ago, I had an African-American high school intern working in my law office. One day we had a discussion about affirmative action, and I expressed the opinion that I found some aspects of it troubling. She asked what I meant, and I said that while I understood the need to redress injustices and equalize opportunities, that fundamentally it was making race a "factor" when in fact Dr. King had expressed hope for a world where race was not a factor, and people were judged on merit. She asked me if I were AGAINST affirmative action. I said that actually I was not, but I wondered if she thought someone who was against affirmative action was likely a racist. She thought about this and said she thought they probably were. I thought this was true in some situations, but the more serious racism came from liberal white people who were the biggest advocates of affirmative action. She asked what I meant, and I said, "Let me run a scenario by you. If it were common knowledge that there were relaxed criteria for minorities to get into medical school, and a liberal white person became ill and went to an emergency room, would they wonder about the qualifications of the African-American doctor treating them?" She said, "Nobody would think that way.....would they???" Ah, sweet innocence of youth!

I had to give an honest answer.....Sadly, not only do I think it would be true, but the more liberal a person is, the more likely this would apply. Call me a racist against white liberals, but this is how I see it.

When it comes to admission to schools, and access to employment, I have no problem with valuing "diversity", however one defines it. There IS more to school, more to life, more to "success", than grades and test scores.

Quotas are racist, any way you cut it. Maintaining them should never be an objective.

Diversity IS often a worthwhile result. Achieving it without quotas is a dilemma worthy of our attention.