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In defense of affirmative action

By LaShawnda

I’ve always been puzzled by anti-affirmative action people. Affirmative action has never been about taking away from people who already have. It’s about providing opportunities for those who don’t have. Whether people want to admit it or not, American society is biased. It is biased, primarily, in favor of white males with black women primarily seen as non-competitors, with everyone else in between. So speaking from the bottom of the socio-economic totem pole, “Why is the man trying to keep me and others down?”

Honestly, I didn’t think this was something Barack Obama should’ve addressed outside of his actual presidency. The affirmative action debate is fraught with so many racial over- and undertones, I thought any position he took would be held against him. That surprisingly he covered it well during the April 16 debate against Hillary Clinton. I didn’t think Hillary would have any problems addressing affirmative action, but I was even more pleased with her reply.

I started writing this piece in response to Ward Connerly launching an initiative to block race, sex or ethnicity from playing a role in college admissions and hiring procedures by placing the issue on ballots. Connerly is founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute , a national NPO opposed to racial and gender preferences. Ward Connerly’s unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that legal recourse is still necessary in American society is offensive and ignorant. Or perhaps he is truly idealistic. Perhaps in his mind we have reached a level in society where gender and race are not visible to the naked eye. Where powerful people look down on the masses at their feet seeking education, employment, shelter, food and opportunities and see only, skill, ability, experience, initiative and performance. Perhaps that’s the scenario in Connerly’s mind and I shouldn’t judge him too harshly because I’m not able to see what he sees from my vantage point at the bottom of the totem pole. Or maybe he should come back to where he started, reacquaint himself with the obstacles minorities and women face daily in pursuit of basic things like education, good jobs with benefits, and homes in nice neighborhoods. Perhaps he should think about where he was before he was inducted into the Old Boys Country Club rubbing elbows and strings with other political puppets.

(continued) During the April 16 Democratic debate in Philadelphia the two candidates were asked about their positions on affirmative action. Obama had said previously that his own children should be considered privileged when the time comes because of the affluence Barack and Michelle have attained. Unfortunately, the hammering Barack received during the debate kept his answer centered on black versus white identification. As an example he said because his black children come from an affluent family affirmative action should work more in favor for the poor white child. That was not the crux of his argument. However, George Stephanopoulos kept hammering and interrupting him on minor details of lesser political issues. As a result, Obama didn’t speak to the big picture. Although I liked his answer, he was unable to shake his defensive mode and move into a dominant offense.

Obama: The basic principle that should guide not just affirmative action but how to admit young people into college generally: How do we make sure we are providing ladders of opportunity? How do we make sure every child in America has a decent shot at pursuing their dreams? Race is still a factor in our society and I think that for universities and other institutions to say, ‘We’re going to take into account the hardships that somebody has experienced because they’re black, Latino or [interrupted by George Stephanopoulos] a woman. I think that’s something they can take into account, but it can only be in the context of looking at the whole situation of the young person.

I still believe in affirmative action as a means of overcoming both historic and potentially current discrimination, but I think that is can’t be a quota system and it can’t be something that is applied without looking at the whole person. Whether that person is black, white or Hispanic. Male or female. What we want to do is make sure that people who have been locked out of opportunity are going to be able to walk through those doors of opportunity in the future.

Hillary had a similar response but more detailed, which excited me. She gave one of her few straight, concise answers on this campaign trail. She focused on education and mentioned what she is against (No Child Left Behind as it is currently operating) and she mentioned programs she support (early childhood education, universal prekindergarten and more college aid). She implored the audience to look at what we are trying to achieve. “There is a gap in achievement and a gap in income, but there is no gap in potential. We should create conditions to allow people to live up to their God-given potential. Let’s affirmatively invest in our young people.”

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