By Sasha Robinson, ERC Intern
I was born white and naive, raised ignorant to the benefits I gained from being white and the issues plaguing minority children: gang violence, drug abuse, poor education, and dismal living conditions. This lack of understanding stemmed from the idea that since everyone was equal, race did not matter. I was unaware of how my whiteness affected my life, how much easier my life was because of the color of my skin. Not only did I fail to understand the current, implications of my privilege, but I was also unsuccessful in understanding the historic implications of whiteness and how my family and I benefited from the color of our skin.
With white privilege comes preferential treatment for jobs, schooling, and housing based on an arbitrary characteristic, the color of one’s skin. Due to these advantages, members of the white population were able to make a disproportionate amount of progress relative to the progress of minorities in America. As I learned more about the injustices happening in my neighborhood—racial profiling, the opportunity gap, and covert racism—I realized that I was not only benefiting from a racist system, but in blindly accepting the laws and social norms, I was perpetuating the discriminatory ideals that created these issues.
Attempting to rectify the quickly widening achievement and wealth gap between whites and people of color during the 1960’s, legislative measures were taken. First, Brown v. Board of Education overturned Plessy v. Ferguson stating, “‘separate but equal’ doctrine was unconstitutional” and “set an important precedent challenging the unjust racial hierarchy that then prevailed in public education.” Schools began integrating as a result, but overt and covert racism permeated every classroom and school bus. Despite the open attack on racism, consequences of systematic racism were becoming more evident. People of color were unable to procure white-collar jobs, lacked the educational background and support needed to excel in the predominantly white public education system, and as a result remained in the lower socioeconomic levels. In an effort to combat the disparity between races, affirmative action was created.
President Lyndon Johnson “understood that a just nation and government could not ignore the racial disparities of his time—in employment, income and poverty. He knew that the unjust root causes of those disparities demanded government and societal action.” Affirmative action is an example of compensatory justice, compensating individuals for the harms they have suffered by merely being born a minority in America.
The 1960’s were filled with equalizing legislation: the Civil Right’s Act, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Housing Act of 1968, and Title VII. Affirmative action was just another policy implemented to “compensate for this country’s brutal history of racial discrimination by giving some minority applicants a leg up.” Affirmative action originated from racial inequalities, specifically the opportunity gap. Affirmative action is “correcting for the effects of unequal preparations, educational disadvantage.”
However, opponents to affirmative action argue it is reverse discrimination, even unconstitutional. “There is a reservoir of resentment and bitterness in much of white America, particularly among white men, against an effort to eliminate discrimination by giving preferential treatment to people of color, who are seen as undeserving.” Many white people feel entitled to spots at a university or jobs because they believe they are more qualified than people of color, arguing that “less qualified” minorities are taking spots reserved for hard working (white) people.
Others argue that Affirmative Action did it’s job, it had it’s time. They may say, “It’s 2014, an era of color blind equality. We do not need affirmative action because there is no more racism.” That is where they are wrong. It is impossible to compensate for centuries of discriminatory practices with a mere fifty years of mild reparations. In 2014, people of color still live below the poverty line in disproportionate numbers, are forced to endure racist police practices like “Stop and Frisk” and other War on Drugs tactics that specifically target members of minority communities, and the lingering effects of redlining affect housing prices and educational funding in urban, already underfunded areas.
Embracing the ideals of meritocracy, some say, “If you work hard enough you can get what you want.” Yet the myth of meritocracy suggests that many lack the opportunities to succeed; this is especially true of people of color. Many call for a total meritocracy, yet the system does not distribute resources evenly leaving a disproportionate number of people of color in poverty. There is a direct correlation between family income and scores on standardized tests. It is more likely that black students will perform poorly, as they lack the resources and funds to properly prepare for these standardized tests. Sadly “we’re using certain aptitude tests to credentialize a social oligarchy and we’re mistakenly calling it merit.”
Those against affirmative may only see black gains as a cost to whites. However, many fail to acknowledge the institutionalized racism in America, perpetuated by ignorance and white privilege, and the necessity of affirmative action to remedy social injustices.