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An Opinion on Affirmative Action

by Mariah Parker, Multimedia Editor

I can count the number of teachers of color in my life on one hand, and when asked how many of these I encountered through bona fide educational institutions, that hand gets shamefully pocketed.

The world is vast, perspectives innumerable. Why, then, is our information on ‘what it’s like out there’ largely disseminated by old white dudes?

It’s not a groundbreaking question– it’s the kind we came to Wilson to learn to ask– and the answers can be seen everywhere in our nation’s history.

The problem is clear, but the solutions are, well…problematic.

Consider, then, this hypothetical scenario: the search for a new faculty member comes down to two equally well-qualified candidates. One is white. One is Latino.

Who would you choose, and why?

When one brings up affirmative action as a possible response to the lack of faculty diversity, people, usually the light-skinned variety, tend to leap up in idealist indignation.

“Bringing on a new faculty member because she’s Latino is just as fucked up as bringing one on because he’s white,” I’ve often heard. “Making decisions based on race is always racism, and racism is always wrong.”

If ethics operated in a vacuum, I’d agree. However, studies have shown that, when identically-qualified testers of different races apply for a job, the white tester receives nearly double the positive feedback as the black candidate; in studies where the white tester presents evidence of a felony conviction, the white applicant with a felony still received 3 percent more positive feedback from employers than his black counterpart with no criminal background.

In this light, it seems as if affirmative action is already at work on the behalf of white men.

This isn’t a vacuum we’re talking about here; this is a society that has thrived on institutionalized racism for centuries. In reality, one choice lets the current academic conditions fester while another tips the scale toward a more egalitarian future.

Additionally, the Latino candidate in the faculty search hypothetical is not only more deserving (in terms of historical disadvantage) but also brings to the table something that the other candidate cannot: a highly underrepresented view of the world.

To say that we live in a postracial culture is to ignore generations of institutionalized oppression. It does nothing to eliminate the real issues at play.

You know what might actually help, though? Being ballsy enough to fight the racial status quo in a potentially unpopular manner. Not feigning colorblindness, but rather being bold enough to acknowledge color and embrace its differences.

As a supposedly progressive, historically radical, institution, we shouldn’t be afraid of making racial considerations when bringing on new faculty. We’re to receive the most well-rounded experience possible and to create social change; in my eyes, purposefully bringing on candidates of color enables both goals.


11 Responses to “An Opinion on Affirmative Action”

  1. I agree with the author insofar that white individuals have a competitive advantage during the application process just by being white. However, the author’s argument contains several implicit assumptions that are worth examining.
    Number one: in the author’s hypothetical scenario, she argues that the latino candidate can bring “to the table something that the other candidate cannot: a highly underrepresented view of the world.” This statement assumes that the white professor possesses (at least) an adequately represented view of the world (if not an overrepresented view of the world). In my experience, I have had enlightening conversations concerning race with both white and black individuals; critical insight, I believe, does not emanate from a certain skin color, but rather being honest about race relations in this country. While I agree that a conversation about race must include all races involved, I do not agree that what the (to return to the author’s example) latino applicant offers (an underrepresented view of the world) are grounds to hire the latino professor over the white professor.
    Number two: the author argues that what might help race relations is “being ballsy enough to fight the racial status quo in a potentially unpopular manner.” I am assuming that the author believes that her opinion is the unpopular way to combat the racial status quo. I disagree with this assumption. Affirmative action is, in fact, the “mainstream” way to combat racism and racial oppression. I am not aware of any other argument that is discussed on wide scale to combat racism besides affirmative action. I would argue that what we (this country) needs is an honest discussion about the potential for mending relations between the races in this country. Can a “post racial” society even exist? Is a post racial society desirable? I for one hope to never live in a post racial society; color blindness is not the answer to our supposed race problems in this country.
    Of course, I do not have the answer to those questions. However, I think that an honest discussion is necessary. Will it ever be possible for white and black job applicants to be considered on a totally equal basis? I do not think so. And I do not think that forcing color blindness on individuals is the proper course of action, either.

    Posted by Chandler Jones | February 16, 2012, 4:12 pm
  2. Chandler,

    1. The article does not imply that race alone should be the only consideration. It says that if both candidates are equally qualified, but one is not white and male, the candidate of another color should be hired due to their experience as a “minority,” which grants them a perspective that can better complement an education.

    No, critical insight does not emanate from skin color. It emanates from how an individual engages their society. It emanates from life experience. A white professor, no matter how honest they are about race, will never truly understand the detrimental effects of racism. We, students, need professors who do.

    2. Affirmative action is not the mainstream solution. If it were, affirmative action would be normal practice and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    Warren Wilson does not practice affirmative action. It is an “equal opportunity” employer. Groupthink dictates that race should never be considered when recruiting employees or students because making decisions that are based on race is racism. In my opinion this is a cop-out that ignores history. Affirmative action has always been a reality, and continues to be a reality–that is, an affirmative action on behalf of white people that benefits white people.

    Are you going to argue that the reason Warren Wilson only has one black faculty is that white faculty are innately better-qualified? Do you see how dire the situation is, when there is only one black faculty at Warren Wilson?

    Do you really think that hundreds of years of slavery and racism can be undone by simply making the consideration of race inappropriate?

    I think what Mariah referred to as being “ballsy” is not only actively giving jobs to minorities, but also believing that it IS possible that one day black and white applicants will be considered on an equal basis. In the meantime we have to actively fight racism in our own communities, and that is what Mariah is suggesting we do.

    Posted by Christian | February 16, 2012, 5:05 pm
  3. Christian,

    1. Neither I, nor the author, stated that race should be the only consideration when considering potential job applicants. Here is my point: suppose that two applicants, one white and one latino, apply for the same teaching position at WWC. These two applicants are equally qualified; what I am suggesting is that race should not tip the scale towards hiring the latino applicant.

    2. You seem to be implying that simply because we are having this conversation that somehow negates affirmative action from being the mainstream solution to racism. In fact, affirmative action is the only solution that is discussed on wide scale. There have been several Supreme Court cases concerning affirmative action (Bakke v. California, for one example), and in my experience, I have never heard any other solution discussed.

    3. Did I state that white professors are better qualified than black professors, and that is the reason why WWC only has one black professor? I absolutely did not say that and further, I would never say that. Perhaps black professors do not apply to WWC for some reason. I cannot say why WWC only has one black professor, but I would argue that (in agreement with you) white professors are not “innately” better than a professor of any other race.

    4. I would like to address this question: “do you really think that hundreds of years of slavery and racism can be undone by simply making the consideration of race inappropriate?” First of all, this is exactly what affirmative action hopes to accomplish: make the consideration of race inappropriate for prospective job applicants. Not only does it make considering race inappropriate, but it favors one race over the other. So no, I do not think that affirmative action will somehow “undo” history.

    Here is what I am wondering: ought I be punished for the actions of other people? In other words, because racism and oppression have occurred in the past, and continue to occur today, should this somehow be held against me when applying for a job? I hope that I do not get turned down for a job as a result of the actions of others who happen to be white.

    Posted by Chandler Jones | February 16, 2012, 5:43 pm
  4. Chandler,

    1. I disagree with your position. A non-traditional background is a positive attribute that should tip the scale from one candidate to the other, if not for the reason of enacting social justice, then simply because the candidate who is not white will provide a different and extremely valid and lacking perspective.

    2. I am actually implying that because Affirmative Action is not standard procedure, it cannot be a mainstream solution. How can it be a mainstream solution if it is not standard policy? It is like stating that a tax on large financial transactions is a mainstream solution to the widening income gap because many people believe discuss it, though it is not policy.

    3. I’m arguing that if we are to believe that Warren Wilson is an equal opportunity employer, then what does the demographic of the faculty and staff tell us, when an overwhelming majority of the population that works here is white?

    4. I don’t think that you understand what Affirmative action is. It does not promote color blindness. Affirmative action occurs when an institution specifically designates a certain number of spots to minority individuals in the office and in the classroom. It means that an institution will go through certain measures in order to guarantee that a percentage of the population is from a non-traditional background.

    Finally, I don’t believe white people should be punished for the horrible atrocities that were committed by their ancestors, slavery, colonization and genocide of Amerindians, to name a few.

    What I do ask is for white people to acknowledge that they have incredible advantages in life today because of the legacy of hatred and oppression that was committed by their ancestors in the past. And I ask for reparation initiatives, such as affirmative action, to take place so that wealth and opportunity is distributed to people who are not white.

    Consider this scenario:

    If a company sets up a factory in your town and contaminates your river, ruining your livelihood and the means of subsistence of your family and neighbors what should be done?

    Can the CEO come to you and say: “well, we’ve replaced management and none of the members of our board were around when the contamination happened, therefore we don’t need to clean up your river or pay you for reparations because none of us were responsible for it.”

    Do you accept this argument, even though the company is making record profits?

    Posted by Christian | February 16, 2012, 7:44 pm
  5. I don’t agree with the idea that a “historical disadvantage” should be a factor. Let’s face it, humans enslaving and/or discriminating against other humans (regardless of race) has always been a part of life here on earth. This is not to say that it is right, but hopefully you can see that it is futile for people spend their time and energy trying to “make up for” such an overwhelming history of human abuse. At some point in history, every “type” of person that exists has been discriminated against. People could spend all of their time fretting over the past and holding grudges, but where would that get us? The focus should be on the present.
    In addition, the proposed method of “making up for” past discrimination is more discrimination! Two wrongs don’t make a right.
    Because we do not live in a utopian society, racism exists. Because racism exists, people of different races experience society differently. Because of this, people of different races/cultures can offer a perspective that is often markedly different. Considering different perspectives is a huge component of education. Therefore, incorporating a racially/culturally diverse staff into a university is extremely desirable.

    Posted by RC | February 16, 2012, 10:01 pm
  6. First off, Mariah, thanks for putting your opinion out there. Ethics as they play out in our every day lives operate so far outside of a vacuum its ridiculous. Deep-seeded, hard-wired systems of racial (and gender and sexuality and economic) stereotypes operate in hiring procedures just as they operate in our day to day interactions with our world around us. It’s tough to talk about it – but it’s important. Especially at an institution that professes to be a progressive environment interested in increasing the diversity of its students and faculty.

    Anyways, having said that, I also want to say that I think that I understand a bit about where Chandler is coming from. At least with the comment about should they shouldn’t be punished for the actions of others (in reference to ancestry).

    I get where they are coming from with this. I’m white with Danish and Swedish ancestry. I am the child of generations of Scandinavian immigrants that arrived in the US around 1910-1920. While there is, clearly, no way to completely prove this, but as I understand it, my “ancestors” didn’t have anything to do with this country’s legacy of slavery and the atrocities committed against the native peoples of this land. My family didn’t own slaves, nor were they here when native peoples were being forcibly removed from their lands to make way for white settlers.

    However, that being said, the fact that I am white still represents that legacy. Yeah, my family ancestral roots had little to do with many of the seminal events that have contributed to the current climate of racism in this county, but that still does not make me as a white person exempt from doing any kind of work to aid in the dismantling of that climate.

    This is yet another reason why racism is so very very fu*ked up (not that I as a white person experience racism). The pervasiveness and strength of the legacy of white dominance in this country has set up social infrastructure that – whether I want it or not and regardless of what other things about my identity that might work against me within larger social systems – will always privilege me over a person of color. This system of racism has granted me advantages that I haven’t earned – even in situations where the ones that I have earned, such as applying for a job, should be the only ones that matter. The way that society operates right now, I am more likely to get a job than a person of color who is just as or in some situations even more qualified for the position (this is, of course, not a guaranteed fact for every situation – it is what is statistically likely to happen).

    Anyways, I guess the point of this rambling is, Chandler, I understand where you’re coming from, thinking that it’s not right for white people to “pay” for atrocities committed by their ancestors or the ancestors of others. I agree with you there. But I don’t think that implementing elements of affirmative action into hiring practices here at Wilson will make anyone “pay.” I think that the backgrounds and perspectives of faculty candidates are crucial to consider when considering who to hire – and race (and gender and sexual orientation) are undeniably significant factors in a persons background and perspective.

    Affirmative action is not a complete solution to the problem of racism. Racism as a societal problem cannot be fit into an equation or a program or any sort of strategic plan and simply be “solved.” For race to dissolve as a category that advantages some and disadvantages all others will take much overhauling of so many cultural and societal institutions.

    Racism doesn’t have a quick fix, but I, even as a person that has white privilege, wholeheartedly believe that affirmative action is a step in the right direction.

    Posted by Jay S. | February 17, 2012, 12:48 am
  7. RC,

    What? While it is true that slavery has occurred at different times and in different places around the world, there is something horribly problematic with your statement. Never in the course of history has there EVER been an atrocity as detrimental as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Over the course of 400 years over 25,000,000 people were murdered or sold into chattel slavery. Here is where a major distinction lies. This is the first time when chattel slavery occurred. African people, enslaved by white Europeans were seen as property, they had no rights, and could never gain them. In all other cases of slavery, this was not true.

    You also say that through out history everyone has been discriminated against at some point in time… I guess this is partially true. But when has there ever been a time when white people have been the overwhelmingly oppressed group? When did Africa wipe out half of Europe’s population and force them to provide the labor and resources to build new nations on land that they stole from somebody else? Never. That’s when.

    I have a real problem with you saying that we should just let the past be the past. By that statement alone, I can tell that you are white. Please, try to find a non-white person who has that view of the world. I guarantee you, you will have a hard time with this.

    But I am also confused… In your first paragraph you seem to be arguing against Affirmative Action on the basis of reverse racism (which, for the record, does not and can not exist). But then you seem to be all for racial/cultural diversity in the University. So are you for Affirmative Action? It seems like you are. But you are against the idea that people of color’s unique perspectives of the world are caused by racism and discrimination on the part of white people? That they are simply because of cultural diversity? Like I said, I’m kind of confused.

    Look, it’s time for us white people to start owning up to things. Yeah, WE didn’t do anything 400 years ago, but we still reap the benefits of the effects of our ancestors’ actions. We still live in nice houses and go to nice schools because of it. Things have been overwhelmingly easy for the white race (yes, white is a race) through out the history of our world. I don’t see an issue with giving non white people a little head start in things.

    It’s time to stop acting like third graders when it comes to race relations.

    Posted by Robert | February 17, 2012, 1:53 pm
  8. Christian,

    I would like to begin by addressing the question that you posed to me at the end of your last post.

    The beauty of a corporation is that the individuals who make up the corporation (shareholders, board members, CEOs, etc.) cannot be personally held responsible for the actions of the corporation. In other words, if a corporation contaminated the river that I depended on for water, I could not personally sue the CEO of that corporation. I would have to sue the corporation itself. So, the court case would always be Jones v. Starbucks, and never Jones v. Howard Schultz. Therefore, the CEO of that corporation could never say “we replaced our board members and therefore can no longer be held responsible for the past actions of the corporation.” Doing so would nullify that business from being a corporation. The corporation is always responsible for the past actions of the corporation, no matter how many times board members or CEOs might change before the dispute is settled.

    However, let’s suppose that we can use the example of a corporation. To use this example, all white people, since the founding of America, would have to be in a corporation. Let’s call this corporation “White People!” To be part of White People!, every white person would have to buy stock in this corporation in order to share in the benefits of the corporation, and also to be held responsible for the actions of the corporation. If all white people, since the founding of America, did buy stock in White People!, and White People! was the source of racial oppression and injustice, only then could all white people be held responsible for the actions of every white person from the past. A similar argument is advanced in Charles Mills’ “The Racial Contract.” I reject this line of reasoning.

    I agree with you that white people have an advantages in life today. I acknowledge that. Where I disagree with you is on the issue of “reparation initiatives.” I do not think the way to “fix” the race problem in this country is by giving certain races explicit preference in job applications, interviews, etc. To me, that will only conjure up more hate and contempt among the race that is explicitly punished for the color of their skin. Affirmative action accomplishes the exact same goal that it hopes to defeat: punishing an individual for the color of their skin.

    This is just a point of clarification: I know what affirmative action is, but I can see why would think that I don’t. Here is what I said: “First of all, this is exactly what affirmative action hopes to accomplish: make the consideration of race inappropriate for prospective job applicants. Not only does it make considering race inappropriate, but it favors one race over the other.” So, my first sentence was off base, but my second qualifier sentence stated what affirmative action hopes to accomplish.


    Posted by Chandler Jones | February 17, 2012, 2:12 pm
  9. Jay S.,

    You make some good points. I particularly like your point on genealogy and how your family never actually perpetuated slavery in America. That ties in nicely with the corporation example.

    However, you also make a point that I disagree with. You stated that you agree with me, insofar that white people should not “pay” for the injustices carried out by white people in the past. You used the word “pay” in quotations, and I was wondering: did I use that word somewhere, or did you put the quotations around it to emphasize your own point? I checked my earlier posts and did not see anywhere that I used the word “pay.” This may seem pedantic, but I think that it is an important point to discuss. Affirmative action does, in fact, make white people “pay” for history, and for the current actions of white people.

    This is also a point that I think needs to be addressed. I am white. My mom has been divorced twice. I do not remember ever living in the same home with my mom and dad. When I was in elementary school my father was sent to prison. For the rest of my under 18 life, my dad was usually in prison. My mom mainly raised me until I was in sixth grade, when she remarried. My stepfather was a terrible person and I hated being in my own home because of him. When I was a senior in high school my again got divorced. I am from rural Indiana, where I grew up in the middle of corn fields. My mom built a house next to the house where my great grandparents lived, and my great uncle lived there when I was growing up. I have too many cousins to keep track of.

    Now, I feel like my own life experience is as valuable as that of someone who is black or latino, but for different reasons. What I am ultimately against is discounting the life experience of someone who is white simply because they are white. It is as if we assume that race relations exists in a zero sum game, where for every non-white person that gets a job over a white person, race relations move one point closer to being solved in this country.

    Posted by Chandler Jones | February 17, 2012, 5:28 pm
  10. Chandler

    I’m not going to continue this discussion because you are making it about yourself when the issue is not about you or your life story.

    Though its typical, in my experience, for people “of the lighter-skinned variety” to get up in arms and make discussions about race issues about themselves rather than about the problems at hand.

    If you want to believe that your problems demonstrate how white people can have as “rich” backgrounds as people of color then I hope that helps you cope with the ugly reality of this racist country.

    You seem unable to grasp the part about how most of the professors here can easily relate to your experience, are fully aware of that type of reality and how many staff and faculty come from similar backgrounds.
    I understand that you don’t want to pay for the atrocities that were committed by people of your race in the past and I understand that you have no problem reaping the benefits of that legacy either.

    I will also console you by reminding you that you have not to worry! Because you are white the odds are overwhelmingly on your side, so when you compete with a latino woman or a black man for that great job chances are you will get it. Congratulations, you’re white! You don’t have to worry about (what you refer to as) “our supposed race problems.”

    Back on topic: there is only one black faculty at Warren Wilson College.

    Posted by Christian | February 17, 2012, 6:14 pm
  11. Christian,

    I cannot express my disappointment with you. Rather than continue a fruitful discussion, you choose to no longer respond because I am not wholeheartedly agreeing with you. Unfortunately, this is the way life is. How do you grow without engaging with those who disagree with you? Further, you are being close-minded. I am openly discussing this issue with you, pointing out our similarities while also pointing our points of divergence. I am sincerely sad that you have chosen to end this debate.

    I also take issue with you saying that I have made this debate about me. I suppose that I could have used the life experience of another white person to highlight the diversities in each individual’s life. However, I used my own, and by doing so I did not mean to make this debate about me. Moreover, how often do you meet a white person that will tell you that the United States is a racist country? I do not meet many. And right now I am agreeing with you that the United States is a racist country. Yet, I love this place; I want it to get better. That is the point of this debate.

    What do you mean by “lighter skinned variety” anyhow? Latinos have lighter skin, as do some African Americans. Are you including those people in your “lighter skinned variety?” If not, I suggest that you say white people.

    Still, you are saying that all white people have very similar experiences, and when you have talked to one white person, well you have pretty much talked to them all. I reject this notion. I was close with my professors at WWC, and did not talk to a single one who had a similar background as I did. I’m simply contending that you cannot discount the experience of a white person simply because they are white. Is that unreasonable?

    I am going to end this by doing a self assessment of damali ayo’s “i can fix it” guide for white people to end racism.

    Actually, I take that back. I don’t want to seem like I’m making this all about me. I thought it would be a good idea since you judged Freesia McKee on that basis in a column in the Echo. I, however, do not want to distract from the issue at hand: WWC has one black faculty.

    Why is that the case? It would be helpful to know how many black applicants apply for professorships at WWC, and of those, how many get interviewed or denied for interviews, the causes for being denied, etc.

    Posted by Chandler Jones | February 17, 2012, 7:01 pm

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