On Affirmative Action

Last week, Mother Jones came out with an article about affirmative action as a case is likely to head to the Supreme Court. You can read it here.

Affirmative action has always been a touchy subject for me. I write this blog in the hopes of drawing attention to everyday racism and white privilege and ways to improve the situation, but I have mixed feelings on AA. Here is where I stand (in list tl;dr format!):

  • Affirmative action is a government mandate for institutions like work and education to increase racial diversity. But that’s just it, it’s a mandate. There are no instructions on how to accomplish this so several policies exists, most are flawed.
  • I used to believe that using race to decided on policies was counter-intuitive to battle racism and why can’t we just ignore race and based decisions on merit? I no longer believe in this ignorant color-blind concept. Racism is pervasive and inequalities based on racial lines do exists. It has been proven. It cannot be ignore away.
  • I do not thing affirmative action should be stopped.
  • But I do think actions along the lines outlined here in this article should be emphasized:
    ‘”Previous efforts to curtail what are known as “race-conscious” policies have shown that “universities don’t just throw up their hands and give up on racial diversity,” says Rick Kahlenberg, an education expert at the Century Foundation. “They look to race-neutral alternatives, some of which can produce substantial racial and ethnic diversity.” ‘

A little more on the second point where some believe merit alone should be the deciding factor. The plain truth of the matter is not everyone has equal access to education and money. A large reason for this discrepancy is race and poverty and those are inextricably linked. Yes there are poor whites who might not have had access to this or that (I was one of them!), but poor whites are very much a drop in the bucket if you compare those numbers to those of basically any other race. Race-neutral solutions should be found, but that doesn’t mean we should stop collecting racial information; because if we don’t know there’s a problem we can’t work to solve it.

Race is not an equal topic

Recent years have seen a depressing pattern in which notable “ethnic” political figures— from President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on down—end up having to extricate themselves from the tangles of racial politics, defending themselves from charges of “reverse racism,” “identity politics,” or the like. This may have much to do with the fact that, unlike their “nonethnic” counterparts, such “minority role models” are regularly asked to put on the public record—at lunches, award ceremonies, community events—lengthy statements of their views on America’s most explosive topic: race.

Slate: An Invitation You Can’t Refuse

Monica Youn is of course talking about the charges of “reverse racism” lobbed at Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayer, and that often, people of color are asked to talk about race and represent “their” race especially when achieving high office or appointments.

The charges of racism, because Sotomayer suggested that because she is a woman and a Latina, that she might have a better perspective than a white male judge, only really works if talking about race and racism was equal in this country. The sad truth of it is: it is not.

Whites do not have to talk about race. Whites do not have to defend themselves daily and especially when achieving high positions. Youn makes this point at the end of her article:

Frank talk about racial identity is neither racism nor its reverse and should be invited from “ethnic” and “nonethnic” figures alike. It’s hardly fair for minority candidates to be attacked for accepting invitations to talk about race when members of the silent majority are allowed to remain silent.

And that’s just it. While various ethnic groups strive to find individuality, acceptance and recognition of unique circumstances, mainstream America really only sees two “races”: white and not-white. Yet, whites often assume that since liberal teachings tell us that we are all equal, then the balance of these two races is just as equal. It is this myopic view where conservative pendants lash out when a person of color talks about race. They do not see, or they refuse to acknowledge the very real history and present reality of race in America.

Or maybe, just maybe, they are all too aware that with a black president, a powerful symbol of racial change, whites really will be seen as just another ethnic group.

It’s ethnic or something.

Check out this drivel posted recently about a Filipino named street in a part of SF’s South of Market District:

Hey, did you know that we have a Lapu Lapu Street? It’s true! Between 3rd and 4th on Harrison. What a crazy name! It’s ethnic or something. (Also: is that a little hedge maze a block north of it? That seems pretty.)

Fortunately, the commenters sorta set the record straight. But as any resident of just a few years (who pays attention) knows: that part of SF is known as Little Manila, thus providing the basis for such an “ethnic” name. Seriously, when did a city known for its diversity get so full of casually racist white yuppie transplant douchebags?

What is Intelligence?

Just read a great review of a review of James Flynn’s What is Intelligence?. Over at Offsprung. Amanda Marcotte goes on to describe some of the best ways to use the long-used I.Q. test to refute racism rather than (supposedly) bolster it.

Basically, the Flynn effect of I.Q. scores (that each generation is testing better than the last), causes test makers to recalibrate the test every so often, throwing a wrench in the old racist stand-by. If the I.Q. test is constantly changing, then how can any of the racial-gap data be accurate?

Of course racists assume an I.Q. test is an unbiased tool to measure intelligence, so that any disparity from two or more arbitrarily chosen people (i.e., race categorized) must be the result of fundamental genetic racial difference on intelligence. There are so many holes in this argument, it’s amazing it keeps getting posited. And now, thanks to Flynn’s book, there’ a few more holes.

Race Is A Lie

Race is a Lie cast I apologize to my six of so readers for being MIA, but what can you do? I got a few things for you coming up.

Recently I saw a play called “Race is a Lie” by River Jackson and starring Genevieve Jessee as Black, Kevin Copps as White and Amielynn Abellera as Other. I had a limited run here in SF and it was definitely worth catching.

The basic premise is about two cops, one older, male and black and the other is younger, female and black. Their case revolves around the murder of a small homeless child and their apprehension and questioning of the child’s mother, who’s race is somewhat ambiguous.

While the characters certainly touched on all issues with race as well as gender, age and authority, they do it all in rhyming verse. The delivery is so smooth and dialog written so naturally, that you barely notice it. I wondered if this was similar to how it must have been to see a Shakespearian play — with an intimate knowledge of the language and not getting hung up on it. As you can do doubt guess, the was exceedingly complex.

That complexity made it a very enjoyable experience, but if the goal was to impart some knowledge, the message was a bit garbled and confusing. The arguments and discussions between the two cops could have represented race tensions, gender tension and personality differences. No doubt this was the intended effect since even race issues are never really black and white. However sticking with the theme of this blog, I’ve managed to tease out a few of the race related issues brought up in this play:

Mr. White was very much an empathic white man character. Knowledgeable about race, despite his whiteness and added his view of the Civil Rights Movement in a different light because he was there. He was also sort of an insensitive know-it-all. Like me!

Ms. Black played up some of the stereotypes of being black and angry and being on her period. I thought those portion were a bit weak and there wasn’t too much to contradict her stereotypes. The entitlement the character felt to have Martin Luther King Day off from work (the day the play takes place) seemed a bit trite and forced. But together with Mr. White, they were the classic good cop/bad cop, which Black being the latter.

Other was perhaps the most interesting character. Being homeless and possibly mentally ill, she was portrayed as not only racially ambiguous, but also reality ambiguous. When was she flashbacking and when was she there with the cops. Was she an idiot, or more clever than you’d think. I find it interesting that the only race she claimed was two different tribes of Native Americans, possibly since Native Americans are either all mixed up these days, or virtually fantasy due to their rarity and genocidal decimation, thus leaving the viewer to decide.

All in all, the highlights of the play were certainly the rhyming verse and the complex portrayal of race and life in modern San Francisco. However, I felt that since there was no clear message, it might not have the most broad appeal.